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Pipes After Supper

Chapter 1: Pipes After Supper

by Ariel

Pipes After Supper
By Ariel (lgreenaw@kcnet.org)

Beta’ed by Narya Celebrian and Nilramiel
Rating: G, no profanity, sex or slash.
Characters: Frodo and Sam, and a butterfly or two.
Disclaimer: The characters are Tolkien's - I make no profit but my own pleasure from using them in fiction.
Story Description: One evening on Tol Eressea, Frodo and Sam have a little talk about tobacco and the nature of love.

The late afternoon was passing into a gentle evening when the two former masters of Bag End, Hobbiton, sated from a delicious supper and desiring pipes afterwards, retired to the side garden. Inside Bag End West, Tol Eressea, the melodious voices of Frodo’s ladies’ could be heard rising and falling as they laughed, chatted and washed the meal’s dishes. The sound was a comforting balm in the golden air. Frodo removed the coat he’d worn for supper and draped it over the back of the weathered garden seat. A brilliant turquoise butterfly, disturbed by the movement, flitted delicately over the silver wood and disappeared into a patch of heather by the gate. Frodo settled back against the bench and surveyed the western sky. The sun had not yet touched the bright mountain peaks, but its slanting rays were already mellowing. It was a fine evening.

Samwise Gamgee settled on an old wicker rocking chair beside him. It creaked as he eased his sturdy form into it and he sighed in contented answer. The curative airs of Tol Eressea had lifted years off of him, but he still appreciated a sit down after a hearty meal. He ran a hand through his grey curls. If he had bothered to look in a glass, he would have noticed they were slowly turning back to a sunny golden brown.

“A perfect evenin’ for a pipe, I’d say,” he sighed.

Sam put his feet up on a mossy stump and fished in his pocket for his unadorned clay pipe and a soft leather pouch. The little bag was skillfully stitched and decorated with elvish designs that had faded from years of use to a whispered pattern of elegance. Sam smiled in anticipation and opened the flap.

“Ah,” he sighed taking a long, appreciative sniff. “It may not be Longbottom Leaf, but it’s a fair substitute. Mr. Merry did himself proud with this, I’d say.”

Frodo pulled out his own pipe, a long stemmed, delicate affair, skillfully wrought and chased with silver filigree. It looked rather new compared to Sam’s plain clay one, as if it had hardly been used. He looked into its empty bowl and then up to his friend with what could only have been called a playfully plaintive expression.

“Well, Sam. Are you going to sit there and extol the virtues of that pipeweed or are you going to share it?” Sam grinned, blushing just a bit, and held out his hand. Frodo gave him the new pipe and sat back to watch as his friend, with practiced ease, filled and packed it with the precious mixture. “What did Merry call this variety?” he asked.

Sam pushed his thumb into the bowl once more for good measure and handed it back to Frodo. “’Westward Hope’”, he replied fondly. “I think it was on account of you, Sir, though I can’t be sure. Merry once said he thought Shirefolk gave you less credit than was your due. Pip too, if my memory’s still to be trusted. I expect we all tried, in our own fashions, to remind folk a’ what you’d done. Even if you weren’t with us yourself, you were always there in our hearts.”

Frodo’s contented smile warmed. “As you all were ever in mine,” he said and then inspected the packing of the finely chopped brown leaf. Finding it satisfactory, he stood and stepped back into the smial for a taper to light them. Sam smiled as he watched him pass and thought again how good it was to see his old master looking so fit, happy and content at last.

It had been 6 months now, but then, time did move strangely on this isle. Perhaps it only seemed like six months had passed since Sam’s ship had sailed into the quay at Avallone. He hadn’t known what to expect, but the vision that greeted him on the dock was exactly what his weary heart had needed to see; Frodo, looking exactly as Sam remembered him from the old days in the Shire. He rushed forward and took Sam into a tearful embrace. The old hobbit could hardly believe it. Seeing Frodo again, and seeing joy in his eyes, was the answer to his life’s fondest wish. Sam could have died at that moment and felt his existence was complete.

Sam had become an old grandfather with white hair and joints so stiff he could barely get out of bed in the morning, but the years had not touched Frodo. Sam had truly expected that when he saw his friend again, Frodo would show all of his 114 years and be bent even further with age than Sam himself. But seeing his master as young and spry as the days before he’d left on the quest was the answer to a wish his heart had not even dared to hope. He should have known the elves would give Frodo a life at least as fair as the one he might have expected to have in Middle Earth – or, because they loved him as dearly as did Sam, one better than any hobbit had ever experienced; bereft of any imperfection, even the blemish of age.

Frodo returned and held out a lit taper. The thin, wax covered filament sagged but Sam maneuvered his packed pipe under it and drew deeply. The weed caught, glowed in the clay bowl and smoked. Sam sat back and Frodo placed the flame to his own bowl. Sunlit smoke drifted up to hang playfully over their heads and a fragrant scent as smooth as old leather and as comforting as warm milk filled the little garden. Frodo sat back down.

“I dare say this pipe will need to be broken in,” he said contentedly. “I’ll not fault the elves for craftsmanship, for it’s as fine a piece of work as I have seen, but as any new pipe does, it bites a bit. I can taste the wood as much as the pipeweed!” He laughed and drew another long draught on the stem. “Still, I shan’t complain about that either since I myself brought neither pipe nor pouch with me!”

Sam blew a smoke ring and watched it drift upwards. “I don’t recall you takin’ a pipe much near the end there, Sir,” he said thoughtfully. “I only brought the seed with me on the chance you might appreciate Mr. Merry’s efforts and all. He got mighty learned in herblore, he did. Wrote a book of his own, too.”

“I would say he became quite accomplished, if this weed is an example of his mastery. Even through the new pipe, I can tell the quality.” He blew a ring of his own and sent it scuttling playfully towards Sam’s. The two blended into a single cloud of golden-lit smoke and then dissipated. “‘Westward Hope’ you say?” Frodo took another long pull on his pipe and studied the horizon, though from the look on his face Sam doubted he even saw the setting sun. His eyes had a faraway cast as if he strained to remember the dearly remembered faces of those he would never see again in this life. Sam fell silent too. He had spent many long years in the same pursuit.

In Bag End’s study on long evenings after supper, Sam would often lean back in the little chair and gaze out over the desk at the darkening sky. In the first days after Frodo left he would often find himself remembering his master and wondering if indeed Frodo still lived and breathed in some foreign land beyond the sea. But as the months passed it became harder and harder to recall Frodo’s face. Even in that little room, where the memories of him seem closest, something had begun to fade. Then one day, as he walked into the study he suddenly realized what was missing. The room used to smell like Frodo. No longer. Even the last touch of his friend’s essence was gone and the room smelled of nothing more than faded sunlight on old books. The pain of loss had struck him then keen and sharp, and Sam broke down and wept. For all the sweetness of his life, he would have wished for one more blessing – to have been able to share it with his dearest friend, or at least to know that Frodo also had such happiness as he himself enjoyed.

That long forgotten scent lived in Sam’s memory and as he’d held the strangely youthful form on that sunlit dock the treasured musk brought it back, strong and clear. It was smell, more than any other sense that convinced him this WAS his dear master and not some fancy of elven magic and wishful thinking. After so many years and at the ends of the earth, he was at last with his dear Frodo again.

“You worked hard to bring it to me, Sam. It may have been a labor of Merry’s love to breed this variety, but you put an awful lot of time into getting a crop of it grown and I thank you for that.”

Sam raised his eyebrows and shook his head firmly. “No, Sir, it twern’t me that did the real work! I’m still a bit too old for such labors. No, Sir, it was mostly your ladies that grew them for you. They did the plantin’, the weedin’, pullin’ off the suckers and makin’ sure the plants grew straight and true. And then when it came time to harvest, they took over that old shed up the hill a ways and I showed ‘em how to bundle and hang the leaves till they was not too dry and then let ‘um cure till they was right fit for smokin’.” Sam took an appreciative puff on his pipe again, savoring the flavor. “No, Sir, the only real work I did to bring this weed to you was the choppin’ of the leaf.” He paused and an appreciative smile grew on his lips. “Of course, I could take some of the credit for it, I suppose. I did supervise, and guiding those sweet lasses through their labors was a job for an experienced hand.” He winked amid the swirling tendrils of drifting smoke and Frodo laughed out loud.

“Yes, and of course being surrounded by dozens of lovely lasses as they worked held no enticement for you?”

Sam cocked a worldly eyebrow at his master. In this sort of matter he considered himself, a married hobbit who had fathered his share of children, a bit more expert than Frodo was. He held his head up proudly, undaunted by his master’s teasing. “I may be old, Mr. Frodo,” he said with mock severity. “But I’m not in my grave yet.”

At that Frodo roared with such laughter that several of the ladies peeked out of the open window to see what was the matter. They saw their red-faced lord in such mirth that tears rolled down his cheeks, and his dear Samwise trying very hard to look indignantly proud – but not succeeding very well. At last even he could not resist his friend’s merriment and joined Frodo with a deep, belly-shaking laugh.

When Sam had set off for the West it had been in answer to one of his fondest dreams, but the hobbit ladies who accompanied Frodo to meet the ship were a marvel he had not even considered.

There were dozens of them – all as fair as elven maids but definitely hobbit lasses. Some were dark haired with eyes of warmest brown, and some had locks of gold that might rival the brightness of his own Elanor’s hair. Some were buxom, and some as slim as elves, but all seemed in the full flower of their prime. How they had come to be there was a mystery, but Sam knew better than to question such a gift. Though they had accompanied his master to the quay to greet him none had ventured forth as the two friends embraced. They obviously knew of he and Frodo’s long friendship and were moved to tears to see them meet again at last. On the long ride back to Bag End West, Frodo had introduced them one by one and told a bit of each one’s story. It seemed they all had crossed the wide ocean as Sam had, and for the same reason; because of the great love they bore Frodo. They lived comfortably together in a large and homely smial and took care of his master’s every need. It warmed Sam’s heart to know that even while he could not be with him, Frodo had been lovingly cared for by his own kind.

Frodo wiped his eyes and settled back but the grin he bore could not be dimmed. He and Sam sat quietly for a long while just enjoying each other’s company, the cozy garden and the fine pipeweed. At length Frodo spoke.

“You know, Sam, a couple of the ladies have approached me about you.”

Sam looked at Frodo with surprised curiosity.

“Yes,” Frodo continued. “Two of them so far. They came to me separately and suggested I ask if they could be of help to you in your little smial. To take care of you the way they do me here in Bag End West.”

Sam looked surprised. “Oh, Sir, well, that’s right generous of them, but it’s not such a bother to me. I mean I’m feeling spryer every day I’m here and it’s not such a big home that I…” He paused and a thought struck him that he hadn’t considered. His eyes grew wide and his face flushed quickly. “Oh my, Sir! You don’t mean..? Oh, dear me…” He swallowed and looked suddenly very uncomfortable. “You… you don’t think…? Oh, Sir… You don’t think…? Oh, dear me!” Even the poor old hobbit’s ears were turning red. “What exactly did they mean by ‘take care of’? If… if you take my meaning, Sir?”

Frodo tried hard not to laugh again at his friend’s sudden chagrin. “Oh, Sam! While I know all the ladies are as fond of you as I am, I am certain these only wish to care for you, to cook and clean and do your washing. I feel quite certain you could keep your honor intact if that is what you are worried about.”

“Oh, yes, Sir, I am sure they are fine upstanding lasses. Please don’t think I’m not pleased by their willingness to offer, but…” Sam looked very troubled. He laid down his pipe and stood. Then, wringing his hands a bit, he began to pace in the little garden. Frodo’s smile faded.

“It was a kindly intentioned offer, I am sure, Sam, but you are not bound to take it. I know they would think no less of you if you did not.”

Sam looked even more troubled. “I know, Sir. It’s not that I’m not grateful, it’s just that…” He looked pleadingly at Frodo as if begging not to be placed in a position to have to make such a choice. “Well, Sir, it’s just that it wouldn’t seem right somehow.” The old hobbit stopped his pacing and gazed over the smial’s rounded roof, back towards the east, towards the lands he had left behind. His aged face softened as he studied the darkened horizon and he relaxed, as if the knowledge of the distant sea or some memory comforted him. “It’s just that…. I loved my Rosie, Sir.” Sam looked Frodo in the eye and a slow, sad smile crept over his face. “I loved her more than anything.” He looked towards the east again and Frodo could see his thought was far away in time and space. His voice dropped to a whisper. “My Rosie was a blessin’, an’ no mistake. She was like ….good, dark earth with warm sun on it. She was… the beginnin’ of everything and the place everythin’ came back to. She made me feel whole and all in one piece, so to speak. Why there were times I felt like I had no place to call home,… except her… “ He looked at Frodo again and his eyes were wide, piercingly clear and honest. “She was the finest lady I’ve ever known, Frodo. She filled me up inside. A good lass’ll do that. An’ I just don’t think there’s enough heart in me ta keep my Rosie’s memory and still be fair to those lasses.”

Frodo sat in silence taking in all his friend had said. Hobbits rarely spoke so openly of such serious matters, and that Sam had shared this with him touched his heart. He took a long pull on his pipe and watched another brilliant blue butterfly flit over his knee. The slanting rays of the sun caught its metallic wings and it sparkled cheerily.

“They’re good lasses too, Sam,” he sighed at last, releasing a cloud of dimming smoke. “All of them.” He leaned forward and looked up at his friend earnestly. “Though I’d argue that you have more heart than any 10 hobbits, I think they’d understand, and would respect your wishes. But if you’d rather not take them on, I’ll let them know.”

Sam looked down, troubled again, but said nothing. He scuffled back to his chair and settled on it. Frodo looked thoughtfully at him.

“You know,” he began slowly. “I always thought it was my nature. Bilbo was a bachelor all his life – he said he simply never found the time or inclination for marriage. We were so much alike I always assumed we were alike in that as well.” Frodo’s gaze narrowed on the golden orb that had just touched the horizon. His eyes caught the light and glowed as brilliantly as the butterfly had earlier. “My life was full and rich. I had friends, a home, and a future. I never felt there was any lack. I was… comfortable.” He looked down. The butterfly had settled onto the hair on his foot. Its touch was not quite strong enough to tickle. “I think, now, that some of that might have been the influence of the ring. While I had it, I did not feel the need for anyone or anything. It ‘kept’ me, though I never realized it till it was gone.” Sam shuddered with sympathy but Frodo seemed as if he had long ago accepted this fact. “Afterwards there was no time. There was the rebuilding and the reordering of the Shire. I was busy and happy enough. I never even thought of it…” This time a shadow did cross Frodo’s features. “No.” he whispered. “That’s not exactly true. I did think of it. I was so happy for you and Rosie. You took such perfect care of me it felt like I was part of a family again. The love you shared was such a wondrous thing to behold that for the first time in my life I began to regret what I might have missed.” He shrugged. “But I knew what the ring had done to me. What it had ripped away. There just wasn’t enough left in me to be filled by anyone.”

Sam picked up his pipe again but it had gone out. His hand trembled on the cooling bowl and he hastily blinked back his tears. Though Sam had understood all these things, he had never heard Frodo speak of them. Perhaps there had just never been the time before or just the right moment for such weighty words, but to hear his master utter them broke his heart. These pains were long past and they both now lived in a world of joy, but the memories still lingered.

“Then, I came here,” Frodo continued, and in his voice Sam heard something different; an awakening, a wonder that was touched with the hint of joy. He wiped his eyes and listened. “At first, things were much the same. The pains still assailed me and darkness was in my heart, but the healing airs of this sweet land and the tender care of my ladies healed me. In time I was able to leave the shadow behind.” Frodo smiled to himself, much as Sam had done remembering Rosie, but there was no sadness in it. “I finally felt myself again, Sam. Really healthy and hopeful. I think the ring must have been working its evil will on me for a very long time, for I could not remember what it was like to be truly free of it.” The lovely blue butterfly rose again and this time chose Frodo’s knee as a perch. He laughed. “It was wonderful, Sam. I can’t even begin to tell you. It was like awakening after an illness you never thought you would recover from to find you are suddenly and unexpectedly well. It was more than I dared hope for and all that I could have wished.”

Frodo’s voice had softened as seemed appropriate for such heartfelt words but there was laughter in it and joy seemed fairly ready to burst forth into song. Sam knew there was more to come by the tone of Frodo’s voice and he was filled with delighted anticipation.

“Perhaps it was because I was healthy at last that I realized that there was still something missing from my life. I had no idea what it could be, but though I had a home, Bilbo and the ladies to care for me, I felt like there was some measure of life I had never reached… And then, one day, I was out walking, taking the air along the sea cliff…” He paused and looked out at the setting sun. The last crescent of gold was disappearing over the horizon. Its rays caught Frodo’s eyes again, and in the growing dimness and with the fire of growing excitement in them, they fairly glowed. ‘It’s coming out in a minute.’ Sam thought and he fidgeted eagerly in his chair.

“One of the ladies was below me on the sand,” he said reverently. “She was walking and singing in the loveliest voice I had ever heard. She didn’t see me and I didn’t wish to disturb her so I hid from sight hoping she would pass by.” Sam could see a new expression crossing Frodo’s face. It was one of sweet agony and deep desire. Frodo obviously saw some cherished image in his mind’s eye and was enchanted even by the memory. “She didn’t leave but continued to sing and after a while curiosity got the better of me. I peeked out from my hiding place to see why she tarried.”

“She was dancing, Sam. Dancing in the waves. Or perhaps just playing with the daring surf, but she moved with such grace and strength it looked like dancing to me. Her hair was falling in damp ringlets from a gathered bun and her skirts were tucked up into her apron to keep them dry. Her arms were slender, white and lovely and they flashed in the sparkling sun. I could see her legs in the shadows of her skirt and they were a muted and shapely mystery. She was kicking at the shimmering waves and when one slim leg would peek from the folds, it flashed dazzlingly bright. Oh Sam, the elves are lovely to look upon, but they aren’t real. They are almost beyond our reaching out to touch, but this lady…. “ Frodo paused and Sam could see he was trembling. “I had never felt such a surge in my blood. She was as beautiful as an elf maiden but closer to flesh and bone, heart and sinew. I could see where the spray had moistened her skin and where the tendrils of her hair clung to her neck. It was full summer and torrid even by the seaside. Her skin glimmered from more than the spray. I saw the soft curves of her body and I knew how she would feel in my arms. She would be warm and would smell like wind and surf on delicate skin. I knew then what it would feel like to lay my head upon her white breast. I wanted to place her on high, revere and honor her, but at the same time take her down into the sand and lay with her unashamed to the sky above.”

Even Frodo’s voice was shaking. Sam could feel the passion in his words, and knew well the feelings of which he spoke. A vision of his own Rosie glimpsed through a window as she kneaded bread came back to him. The rhythmic press of her palms into the dough and the way her body had moved as she rolled the firming mass had stirred him that way too.

“What did you do, Mr. Frodo?” Sam asked softly, not wanting to pry but with the heat of remembered desire making him bold.

Frodo looked down. The metallic blue butterfly had alighted on his hand and there slowly beat its wings back and forth in the fading light. Very carefully, Frodo lifted the creature and brought it level with his face. The brightness of his eyes was matched by the insect’s dazzling display.

“I did nothing,” he sighed at last. The butterfly, stirred by his breath, lifted and fluttered away into the gloaming. He dropped his hand into his lap. “I watched her until she tired of the game and then stayed by the cliff long into the afternoon pondering what had chanced there.” He turned to see Sam’s knowing and understanding smile. “It was an awakening for me, Sam. I have felt desire before, and reverence for a lady,… but this was…different. I can’t even describe it.”

“If I may be so bold, Sir, it sounds like love to me, ” and then Sam chuckled at Frodo’s sudden blush. The old hobbit put his pipe back to his mouth with the air of someone greatly satisfied. “Did you ever tell the lady, Sir?” he asked. Frodo laughed softly and shook his head.

“No, I never did. I have never told anyone of this before.” He looked gratefully at Sam. “Up till now, I’ve had no one to tell. It would not be fair to say to one lady among many that she was the one who stirred me first. I love them all and equally. They are all ‘good lasses’ as you put it. It was more chance that placed this particular lady in my path at the just right moment than any virtue she alone possessed. No Sam, you are the first to know of it.” Now it was Sam’s turn to blush. “I’m glad you’ve come,” he said, and the warmth of his words filled Sam with joy.

“Oh, Sir. It’s I who am gladder of it. Seein’ you so blessed and healed up is a balm for my heart, surely. I did what I could to keep you safe, but you had hurts I couldn’t comfort. It’s always pained me that I couldn’t help you more, that I had so much and you’d gotten so little for all your troubles. I’m glad I’ve come too. Here at the end of all things, to see you’ve gotten the reward you’ve deserved all along. I’m glad I’ve lived to see you happy.”

Frodo laid a hand along Sam’s arm and his eyes sparkled. “Here at the end of all things,” he repeated. Now Frodo had all his treasures in hand at last; his dearest Bilbo, his beloved ladies, and finally Sam at his side as well. He lifted up his pipe and looked into its cold bowl. “But it looks like we’ll need to relight these to make our joy complete. Have you got some more, Sam?”

“Sir, I’ve got a shed full. Take as much as you care for!”

And at that, Frodo got up, handed Sam his pipe and took the taper inside to light it again. Sam tapped the pipes on the edge of his chair, spilling the half burnt leaf into the garden and kicking the little brown bits neatly into the flowerbed. He had them both re-filled and expertly packed by the time Frodo returned. As he put the little clay pipe to his lips and drew in the first pull of the fragrant weed he looked up at his master. Frodo was lighting his own second bowl, and though his features were dimmed in the half-light of early evening, Sam could tell the expression on his face was one of supreme contentment. Frodo was happy here. The muted whisper of crickets chirping in the distance replaced the delicate silence of butterfly wings and the sounds of merry voices raised in song came drifting to them from the kitchens. The two friends smoked on in silence, delighting in the delicate harmony of insect and feminine voices and joy filled both their hearts.

Sam’s last and dearest wish had been that Frodo would someday find the love of a good lass and that it would fill and complete him. He had abandoned all hope for it after his master left, but here, at the ending of all things, and in a way Sam could never have imagined, he had finally seen it come to pass.

The End.