The Gardener's Tale

by Varda


Chapter 1

War changes everything. What was Frodo to Sam, or Sam to Frodo, before the war began? They could have gone on as they were, master and servant, all their lives, a polite nod in the morning and evening, a friendly chat over the hedge occasionally, no-one to see Sam's wistful gaze after his master as he set off for some summer ramble in the Shire, book in hand.

Sam had drifted into the job of gardener at Bag End when his father The Gaffer got too old to do the job. Hobbits are not the most imaginative people on earth, and the adventures of Bilbo had only earned him the title Mad Baggins, and in the pub the Gaffer got a good deal of not so well-meaning scorn over his son's fondness for spending more than just his working day in his employer's house. The Gaffer himself was quite worried, truth to be told. Bilbo had taught Sam to read and write, which is getting a bit above your station, in the Gaffer's view.
But for Sam, those mornings when Bilbo called him into the sunlit parlour to show him some old poem or map were magical. Bilbo had a way of explaining things that made them easy for even someone like Sam. He was full of old songs and stories and without much encouragement would tell Sam about Elves. Elves. More than anything, Sam yearned to see Elves. He thought he had seen one once under the leaves of a wood, but they had laughed him out of the idea in the Green Dragon. But some day, maybe. The Gaffer wondered darkly what on earth he wanted to see an elf for. And muttered he would come to a bad end some day.

Things changed a bit since Bilbo left, so suddenly. The Gaffer had retired and he did everything in Bag End. This meant being in the house too, looking after Mr. Frodo's things. He would get the water hot in the morning and sometimes wake him up. Frodo had a way of sleeping, like a child, with his arm behind his head. He never woke up grumpy, like the Gaffer. He always woke up with that beautiful smile and 'Morning, Sam!' Mindful of his dad's warning that these were gentlehobbits and he should know his place, he would shyly acknowledge the greeting and hurry out. But despite the Gaffer's words, Sam often thought Frodo needed looking after. Sam always remembered he was an orphan. That to Sam was a terrible fate. He had grown up in a big noisy family hobbit hole with lost of brothers and sisters and could not imagine being all alone in the world. And to lose your parents to drowning! Sam shuddered at the very thought. He always said he would never be got into a boat, no not for any money. He would drown like a hobbit in a river. He often paddled in the pool at Bywater with Rosie Cotton and her brothers but would never go further in or dive. He had more sense than to get into a boat!

He admired the way Frodo kept Bilbo's birthday and still showed him old maps and books. He got very angry when people said he was as cracked as the old hobbit. But he had to admit Frodo often seemed to be in a world of his own. He seemed to have grown a bit absent-minded and distracted, especially lately. One morning Sam had pulled back the curtains and Frodo had not woken up. Sam, after hesitating for a moment, had shaken him gently and he had started up as if out of a nightmare. He clutched something in his hand, something on a chain. He looked wildly at Sam as if he did not know him. Sam put a reassuring hand on his shoulder, but then he seemed to come to himself and gave a nervous little laugh. Sam hoped he had not taken a liberty, but he had been concerned.

Frodo went out a good bit, tramping about the Shire. He knew a group of younger hobbits, ones not as conservative as their elders, Pippin Took and Merry Brandybuck and Fredegar Bolger. They would go with him on his walks in the Shire. Sam would be working in the garden as they went down the path and up the lane, singing a hobbit walking song. They might call out a greeting to him as they passed. When they were gone Sam would gaze sadly after them. More than anything he would have loved to have gone too. He would turn to the hedge with a sigh. Tom Cotton said he was drinking too much.

Then one day Gandalf showed up. Sam was wary of Gandalf. He was afraid of spells and things like that. 'Light the fire in the parlour!' said Frodo, although it was a sunny spring day. He did so then set to work outside. There was a mountain of work to be done. The parlour window was open and he could hear the two voices rising and falling, Galdalf's strong deep voice and Frodo's bright musical voice. Suddenly Frodo's rose to an anguished cry. Sam halted, nearly dropping the shears. The whole garden seemed to be suddenly still; no bees droning or birds singing any more. The thought of Frodo afflicted with terror made Sam's heart stand still too. He crept up to the window and listened. Dumped into the middle of a conversation the subject of which he had no idea Sam struggled to understand what he was hearing. But he could detect urgency and fear, even in Gandalf's voice. Then they began to speak of Elves, and Sam's heart swelled with desire to see Elves. He forgot where he was and leaned on the pyrocanthus bush. He bit back a cry and sucked a scratched hand. When he caught up with the conversation again he heard Frodo say 'well I suppose I must go, alone, but I feel small and desperate....' A wave of grief rose up in Sam. All the love he had felt for Frodo and had never admitted, not even to himself because it was not proper, overwhelmed him. Frodo going away! He would never see him again! And not just that but leave in fear and desperation! With no-one to look after him? It was too much to bear! A great sob rose up in Sam's throat and he could not stifle it. With his hand clamped over his mouth he realized all had gone still in the room. He backed away on all fours, still gripping his shears. Suddenly a long arm shot out through the window and he was seized firmly by long bony fingers and hauled bodily into the parlour. Above him towered the wizard, his face dark and threatening. In the corner of his eye Sam could see Frodo, looking almost as alarmed, staring at Gandalf in surprise.

    Something simple and innocent like a gardener eavesdropping, is no longer simple or innocent when war approaches. 'What did you hear, and why did you listen?' the wizard blocked out his view of Frodo. Nervously Sam fumbled his way though the bits he had heard. 'So now you know that Frodo is going away?' said Gandalf in a softer tone. Sam scowled stubbornly. 'That was why I choked, which you heard. It burst out of me, I was that upset.' 'It can'be helped, Sam' said Frodo sadly. Sam looked at his master, and saw that he was sorry, not just to be leaving Bad End, but even to be leaving his Sam. 'But keep it a secret...' Gandalf gave a grim smile. 'No. Better than that, to shut you up and punish you...you shall go away with Mr Frodo.'

All those days he had been left behind when Mr Frodo had gone off walking with Mr Merry and Mr Pippin, or only to read under a tree somewhere, were wiped out. He was going away with Mr Frodo! Clean out of his head went all the dark and dreadful things Gandalf and Frodo had been talking about, and not even noticing the strange sad smile on Frodo's face Sam leaped up and down for joy and then to his own surprise, burst into tears.

All the furniture had been sold off and Frodo was standing in the empty hallway. He was looking at himself in a dusty mirror. Sam came up behind him. 'I've put on weight, Sam!' Sam scowled. He could see never see anything wrong with Frodo. 'This trip will help me to get into shape!' Sam looked at their reflection in the mirror. In the gloom Frodo's pale face shone slightly. He was taller than Sam but not as broad or strongly built. Behind him Sam's weather-beaten face could hardly be seen in the dark glass, he was like some shadow of his master. Frodo put his hand on Sam's shoulder. 'Sam, I don't think I'll be coming back.' 'Well' stammered Sam, feeling embarrassed. 'If you don't, neither will I.'