The Heir of the Hill

by Lothithil

Chapter 6: Smoke and Thunder

Twilight in Hobbiton, late in the summer.  It had been another sultry day, and Samwise son of Hamfast had worked very hard making sure the cracked ground had received enough water to keep the gardens refreshed during the drought that they were suffering this year.  The corn was withering everywhere that the hobbits had been unable to bring the water they had drawn from the shrinking Pool and the trickling Water.  A month without rain had left all the land dry and dusty.  Sam had blisters on his hands from fetching water and carrying buckets uncountable up the Hill to the gardens, trying to keep the vegetable alive.

Still, he did not neglect the flowers.  Most of the blossoms had dropped off in the heat, but the greenery still needed water or they would all die and go to dust.  When the sun had relented and his chores were complete, he carried more water to the Bag End gardens and carefully moistened the roots of each beloved plant.

He was finally taking his rest, wiping the sweat from his face when he heard the door of Bag End open, and Frodo Baggins stepped out.  He was dressed in simple clothes, and he had a bucket in his hands.  He saw Sam and smiled, swinging the pail.

"Looks like you are way ahead of me, Master Samwise!  I was just going to fetch water for Bilbo’s flowers, and you have already done it!  Thank you!"  He frowned then and looked at Sam’s hands and the broken blisters that were bleeding slightly on his dirty fingers.  "Now that won’t do at all, Gamgee!  Come inside straight away!  Let’s get those hands clean."

Ignoring Sam’s protests, Frodo ushered him inside, and he used heated water that he poured from the teakettle into a basin to bathe Sam’s hands, then bound them with soft bandages.  Sam hissed a little, but did not complain, and when Frodo had finished he stood up to go home, feeling most awkward about taking so much of Mr Baggins’s valuable time.  "Good night, Mr Frodo!  Thank you, I should be off home now.  The Gaffer..."

"Is down at the Green Dragon with Bilbo, drinking a pint," cut in Frodo with a smile.  "That’s okay, Sam.  Go ahead if you wish.  I am going out, too."  He picked up his walking stick that leaned near the front door.

Sam hesitated, one bandaged hand resting on the half-open door.  "Are you going to the Green Dragon, too, Mr Frodo?"

"No, Sam.  I am going for a walk.  The evening should be less hot, and I have been cooped up too long.  I want some air!"

Sam stared hard at the floor, working up his courage.  "Are... are you going to see them, sir?"  An eager light was in his brown eyes.

Frodo rocked back slightly, surprised by the look on Sam’s face.  "’Them’?  Whoever do you mean, Sam?"

Sam’s voice sank into a whisper, "Elves, sir!  Are you going to see any Elves?"

Frodo laughed and shrugged; he motioned for Sam to proceed outside and closed the door behind them.  Already the night was cooler and in the distant east, clouds were catching the very last vestiges of light though the sun had long disappeared.  "I don’t know, Sam.  They come when they wish, and even then they don’t speak to me very often.  I never know when I will see them.  I just like to walk under the stars.  Sometimes I get lucky, and I see them glowing beneath the trees, moving westward."  Frodo had a small sad smile on his face while he said this, and sighed softly.

"Could I, that is, may I... maybe, if you did not mind the company... go with you, sir?  I would very much like to see an Elf,"  Sam whispered this last word, as if speaking aloud about them would scare them away if they could hear.

Frodo laughed softly again.  "If you like!  I would enjoy your company.  But you have worked hard today, and missed your supper watering the poor garden, by the looks of things.  Luckily, in my pack I have a generous package of food, and if you care to walk with me to the Piney Knoll, we shall take a late supper there, and sit and watch the clouds cover the sky.  Won’t it be grand if it rained tonight?"

"Very grand and welcome, sir!" said Sam happily.  He was so excited he hurried down the garden path and out the gate, forgetting to allow Frodo to exit first.  He caught himself and mumbled an apology, but Frodo was unconcerned.  They walked together off into the growing night, warm and hazy, cicadas singing weakly in the dry bushes and fireflies sparking brighter than the stars that twinkled faintly in the grey sky.

As they walked, Sam’s initial excitement ebbed and now he was feeling somewhat guilty.  He had been visiting with Master Merry of Buckland on and again all the summer and the year before, trading news of Bilbo’s doings and any lore of the Elves that either had heard.  Since their only source of information about the Fair Folk was Bilbo himself or Frodo, little was there to be told that the other did not already know.  Yet still the shame of spying on his masters had grown in Sam, and he was now very conscious of his sin, sitting here next to Frodo and sharing his meal.

They were sitting on a small hill, on the very eaves of the small grove of elder trees that grew on the colourfully mis-named Piney Knoll.  Leaves still green but dry from the baking heat of summer rustled overhead, and the grass was warm from the unrelenting kiss of the sun.  They stretched out their legs and watched the clouds in the east climb into towers, blocking out the wan stars.  Small flashes of red lighting flickered inside them, and Frodo was telling a tale about how hobbits had long believed that such lights were actually the breath of dragons.  He was chuckling, leaning back on the dry grass.  His pipe was loaded and unlit; the ground was so dry, he hesitated to strike a spark to light it.  

Sam listened to Frodo’s story, tales about dragons made his stomach go all funny.  He watched the sky nervously, knowing that if any dragon did appear, they would doubtless find a naughty young hobbit tastier than any other prey.  He had a sudden urge to confess his pact with Merry Brandybuck, and was on the verge of telling Frodo all, when a sudden strong, cool wind came buffeting the trees, and a few drops of moisture fell on their surprised faces.

"Looks like we may get that rain after all, Sam!" said Frodo, leaping up and stuffing everything back into his pack. "We will never make it to the Hill before this hits.  Let us go into the Knoll.  I know a dry cave beneath a dead tree where we can shelter this out.  Come on!"

The wind was pulling at them strongly, and the clouds were leaping across the sky.  The grey blanket overhead was becoming a strange shade of greenish brown, and the stars had fled before the winds.  Night birds were noisy suddenly, and the raindrops became large and more frequent.  Just as they reached the cave, the sky opened and a great deluge was released.  

Frodo stripped off his coat and wrung it out, laughing.  Sam had unwound the bandages from his hands and discarded the stained, soggy strips of cloth.  He winced at every lightning stroke, and trembled at the thunder that sounded so close.

"Don’t worry, Sam!  This will blow over quickly, and we will be dry as ever when we finally get home!  How are your hands?"

Sam mumbled something, and sat down, depressed.  He had to tell Frodo what he had been doing.  After a long minute, he said slowly, "Mr Frodo, sir?  May I ask you a question?"

"Of course, Sam."  Frodo was striking a flint, trying to get his pipe lit.

Sam took the flint from him, and struck expertly, sending a fat spark right into the tinder and setting the chip ablaze.  Frodo praised him and lit his pipe, puffing it into a bright cinder.  He passed it to Sam, who drew on it and passed it back.  "Mr Frodo, do you get tired of it, sir?  All the folks pokin’ and pryin’ into you and Mr Bilbo’s business?"

Frodo puffed thoughtfully before he answered, wondering what was really going on inside his gardener’s curly-haired head.  "I don’t think about it much, Sam.  What people think and what they do, I have no control over that."

"Yes, sir."  Sam was silent for a while, and they passed the pipe back and forth for a few moments, listening to the rain.  "Still, it must be annoying to you to be talked about, when you hear of it, eh, sir?"  He wondered how he would bring himself to tell Mr Frodo everything, and yet not break his promise to Master Merry.  A miserable position for an honest young hobbit!

Frodo shook his head, oblivious to the source Sam’s discomfort.  He decided that the gardener was merely nervous about the lighting and rain, and was talking just to hear a voice.  "When I think about it, Sam, I guess I must interpret it as a great compliment!  After all, if folk are going to talk about my Uncle and me, then we must be fairly important or interesting, and that is quite flattering.  There is so much to talk about, here in the Shire!"  Frodo’s sarcasm was totally lost on Samwise, who felt even more miserable now.  He drew a breath and was fighting to spit out the words, when he saw a glimmer through the trees, and he gasped, grabbing Frodo’s arm.  "Whazzat??"

Frodo sat up and looked, but he saw nothing.  He chuckled again and lay back.  "Nothing, Sam!  Just the leaves catching the light!  Your eyes are going funny on you, staring into the night!"

Sam ignored Frodo’s laugh, and he continued to stare into the trees.  A fair face framed with long silver hair wreathed in leaves was staring back at him, or seemed to be.  When he blinked with the next flash of lighting, the vision was gone, but for a lingering luminescence under the trees.

This sight struck Sam dumb, and even if he could have found the words inside himself to tell Frodo that he and Merry had been conspiring to read Bilbo’s book, he could never have said so here, where an Elf might overhear.  He sat and watched the rain fall, and Frodo finished his pipe and began to sing a song that made the drip from the leaves and the crackle of thunder sound like music that was crafted around the words.  The two hobbits waited for the storm to pass, and the smoke from Frodo’s pipe hung in the air, a sweet scent mingled with the summer rain.