The Perfect Match
In the small orchard behind Bag End, the heavy sunshine of late Solmath was pleasantly tempered by fluttering shade. Though the apple trees, planted so long ago by Bilbo and old Holman, were gnarled and twisted now, they bore their veil of springtime pink and white, faithfully every year; and faithfully every year those delicate flowers matured to this colourful crop of generous fruits: green as new grass, or warm yellow, or blushed with red and orange. Only one type of apple was ready for picking as yet – a rosy russet, sweet and very early, with the aroma (and better still, some of the taste) of strawberries.
Sam had been picking such strawberry apples as were ripe, a deft twist telling him whether to take or let be for now. Almost like having strawberry season again before winter sets in. ‘Tis just a shame that the apples aren’t keepers, and their season nigh on as short as the berry’s own. Still, his master’s appetite for their delectably juicy bounty, and his generosity to neighbours, friends and selected relatives, ensured that the blessing never went to waste.
A shout from the lane had called Sam from his task, and he returned now, deep in thought, to where Frodo was sitting, companionably close to Sam’s apple-picking basket. He approached his master tentatively.
Frodo was half lost in leaves and dappling shadows, on the stone bench under one of the apple trees; half in leaf and shadow, and half in the scope and sphere of the elvish saga he was chanting softly, from the heavy volume spread on the seat beside him. The slow music of his voice, and his elegant fingers keeping time, set a rhythm within Sam that had little to do with elves and everything to do with…
“Mr Frodo?” It came out as a hoarse whisper, and Sam had to clear his throat.
He would not normally have dreamed of disturbing his master; on the contrary, Sam was all in favour of Frodo being completely immersed in a book of any kind, for as long as possible. Such abstraction provided Sam with some memorable moments, when he could gaze openly, unnoticed and safe from fear of being caught. But desperate times needed desperate measures, so he steeled himself to speak now.
“Mr Frodo, sir?”
Frodo blinked, and his hand stilled. Sam could almost see him wrenching his mind from that tale of high adventure, back to the Shire and Bag End. “Sam? What is it?” And despite the interruption, Frodo gave him one of the smiles that had such a devastating effect on Sam’s… composure.
Sam swallowed, hard. Keep your mind on the team, Sam. This is neither the time nor the place for your foolish dreams! “Mr Frodo, you know you said that you used to play for the Buckland Tweens?”
Frodo somehow crossed the chasm between Sindarin and cricket without any obvious sign of strain. “Yes,” he said cautiously, “but it was a long time ago. I haven’t played since I left Buckland. Why? You probably know far more about the game than I ever did.”
Sam couldn’t believe this; but refusing to be side-tracked, he plunged into his explanation. “The thing is, Mr Frodo, it’s Will Moreby. His brother, Rob, just brought me the message. Will was over at Sandersteads, helping with harvest, and this morning, he slipped off one of the stacks, so Rob said, and he landed awkward, and broke his leg.”
“Oh dear, I am sorry. I hope it has been properly set, or he’ll have trouble with it all his life.” Frodo knew what a blow such injury would be to a working hobbit. It was lucky, he thought, that Will had no family to keep as yet, and that he still lived at home with the Moreby clan. At least there would be no –
Suddenly, Frodo had an uneasy feeling that he knew what was coming; why Sam was telling him this in such a serious way, having asked about his cricketing experience. The Hobbiton XI relied heavily on the superior batting skills of Will Moreby, and the final of the Four Farthings Trophy was tomorrow...
“No, Sam!” he said positively.
“No?” Surprise, that Frodo had caught his meaning so quickly, was soon followed by disappointment; and when Sam’s soulful eyes suddenly lost their sparkle, and his expectant look faltered, Frodo felt as though he had just kicked an optimistic puppy.
“No, Sam, really,” he repeated, though with much less conviction. “There must be someone better that you can ask, someone who has played recently?”
“But that’s just it, Mr Frodo – there isn’t anyone else, what with harvest and accidents and that nasty stomach upset going around.”
Frodo could feel his resolve crumbling. Sam was asking for his help, and with such a pleading air; how could he refuse, even though it would probably mean a great deal of embarrassment for himself?
“Sam, I haven’t so much as picked up a cricket bat in years, let alone played,” he temporised.
“You never forget it, sir,” Sam urged, helpfully. “I always think that I’ll have forgotten how to bowl, come the start of the new season, but it comes back. Soon as I get the ball in my hand, I’m away again.” Sam was famed throughout the Farthings for his fiendish spin bowling, and in particular his lethally accurate googly, which were two of the main reasons that the Hobbiton team had reached the Trophy final this year (the other, it had to be admitted, was the reliability of Will Moreby’s batting).
“I would just let you – the team – down, Sam, really I would!” Desperately now, though he knew that he had already lost.
“There won’t be a game if you won’t play for us, sir! I wouldn’t bother you, Mr Frodo, if it weren’t urgent, you know I wouldn’t. Please, Mr Frodo?”
“Sam, I–” He had been going to say that the team might be better off conceding the game than relying on his talents (which had been erratic even when he had played for the Tweens); but now Sam was standing before him, hands clasped behind his back, and he was rocking slightly from foot to foot.
Frodo had seen this stance often, when Sam was a youngster. It was not exactly wheedling (whether for time off to play, from his Gaffer, or for another story or two, from Bilbo), but rather a look so blended of hope and wistfulness that he was well-nigh irresistible; it was all the more effective, as Sam was patently unaware that he was doing it at all. Neither Bilbo then, nor Frodo now, could withstand that anxious, wishful diffidence (though the Gaffer, being made of sterner stuff, had given in far less readily). When Sam looked at him like that, there was nothing, absolutely nothing in the world, that Frodo would not do for him.
For Frodo's susceptibility was many times increased, these days, by the deeply concealed feelings he had for Sam. He could not think that Sam would welcome such attentions from his employer, and he kept them under as firm control as possible; though never so successfully as to deny himself the pleasure of simply being in Sam’s company, whenever he could find excuse. And whatever else came of this unwise cricket match, it would give him the opportunity to be with Sam in his leisure time. He had never yet played with Sam – cricket, that was. Nor anything else, he thought with an internal sigh..
“Very well, Sam.” He sighed aloud now, ostensibly for the impossibility of denying Sam his request, but more for the impossibility of what he would have liked to request of Sam. “But very low down the order, and be it on your own head when I make a fool of both the team and myself!” The last came out with a grin, seeing Sam’s face light up with relief, and joy, and something more…
The sudden solution of his problem with the team, the sheer elation that Mr Frodo would do this for him, when he so clearly misliked the thought, and the effect of Frodo himself, all light and shadow in the burning summer heat… all of these things came now between Sam and his usual propriety. He seized Frodo's hands to tug him to his feet, flung his arms around him and danced him around in fast circles.
Frodo’s head spun dizzily; not from the speed, but at the feel of Sam’s hands, warm and strong around his waist, Sam’s laughing breath so sweet against his cheek, and the one thought in his mind: My Sam! You are holding me!
Suddenly, Sam recalled that he definitely ought not to be handling his master so familiarly. He let go hastily and drew back; not noticing, in the embarrassment at his own serious social gaffe, that Frodo's hands had been on his shoulders, that he had matched Sam's whirling steps, and that he had not let go until Sam had done so.
"Sorry, Mr Frodo!" Sam blushed and looked away. "Thank you, sir. I know the team will be pleased. At least we can play, now, whatever you say about your batting, and I know that you'll do us proud!" He turned back to his master, to repeat his thanks; but there under the dappled shade was Frodo, flushed and smiling from their impromptu dance, and somehow waiting… Long months of caution and concealment fell suddenly away; and the intended look of thanks and of confidence in Frodo’s abilities, segued seamlessly, irresistibly, into confession at last of the love and longing that Sam felt for him.
“I–” Frodo’s reply faltered and died, as he understood what Sam was telling him, so silently, so clearly now. He saw, not the wishful diffidence of the young Sam, but the open yearning of grown Sam, with tenderness and so much wanting in him. And Frodo knew that his own face must show the same disbelief and awe and certainty as Sam’s; knew beyond any doubt that whatever request he had of Sam, might now be asked, might now be answered; that the love he so wished to give to Sam would be welcomed and returned.
“Oh,” he said.
For long moments, they stood, simply looking into each other's eyes, then Frodo raised his hand slowly for a first wondering touch of love. "Sam?" Sam's eyes drifted shut as he leaned into Frodo's caress with a sigh of happiness. He turned his head, and his lips brushed liquid warmth to the very centre of Frodo’s palm; Frodo shivered, and his fingers fluttered helplessly on Sam's cheek.
“Hey! Anyone there? Frodo, where are you? Sam?” Merry’s call broke in on their sudden awareness.
“Frodo must be in the garden, he’s not inside.” Pippin’s voice floated through the open kitchen window.
Frodo groaned aloud, and his hand fell reluctantly to his side.
Sam ducked away quickly, and was amazed to hear his own voice, strong and level as usual, saying, “I’ll get on then, Mr Frodo. I’ll finish up here and then be off to tell the lads, and see to all the arrangements. Thank you, sir.”
“Sam, please, I–” but Sam had disappeared to the furthest end of the garden, taking his apple basket with him. Frodo sighed and turned to meet his guests, searching under layers of frustration and longing for a suitably cheerful greeting. I don’t need them here just yet. I need to be with Sam…
“Frodo! There you are! What’s for tea?”
“And it’s so nice to see you too, Pippin!” Frodo knew he would have to play host in as normal a manner as he could manage, or there would be questions that he couldn’t yet answer for himself, let alone for these two.
His cousins were avid cricket fans, and the Four Farthings final drew hobbits from all over the Shire. Merry had written to Frodo, warning that he and Pippin expected to stay at Bag End for a few days, and adding, mysteriously, that he had news for Frodo which he hoped the latter would approve. Frodo had wondered what in Middle-earth Merry could have been up to now, that could possibly need his approval; the days when he had needed Frodo as a shield from the consequences of his youthful folly were long gone.
Merry looked hard at Frodo. “You look a little flushed,” he said shrewdly. “What’s up?”
“Nothing.” He should have known; still, he ought to be able to divert curiosity for now, at least. Turning to collect his book gave him a few seconds to collect himself, too, and he managed a grin as he faced his cousins again, and said, “I may just have let myself in for a humiliation, I fear! Poor Will Moreby has broken his leg, and Sam has inveigled me into being the replacement bat for tomorrow’s match.”
“What!? You?” scoffed Pippin, dancing ahead towards the kitchen. He had noticed, in his search for his cousin, that the tea-table was already laid and awaited only the guests and whatever good things Frodo had hidden away in the pantries. The air was redolent of baking, and Pippin was rather hoping for one of Sam’s celebrated tea breads; possibly the nearest and juiciest thing he knew to a loaf of solid mixed fruits.
“You don’t play cricket, Frodo,” he said, rather patiently, as though Frodo might be ignorant of the fact. “Sam would have been much better off asking me! I quite fancy playing in the final, since Tuckborough managed to lose to Michel Delving in the semis, despite my stylish contribution! I’d enjoy the chance to take revenge.”
“Stylish? Reckless, you mean – that was a total cow-shot, the one you were out to! And anyway, you’re being unfair to him,” said Merry. “Frodo used to play for our Tween team. Not too badly either, but I should think he must be rusty, by now.”
“It was not! And if Frodo hasn’t practised since then, let alone played, he’s got no chance!”
“But he was a natural, you know, though his form was a little erratic, as I remember,” Merry said, judiciously.
“Pah! There’s no replacement for training, and Frodo hasn’t done any at all.”
“He keeps fairly fit with all his walking, though.”
“It’s not the same. His reflexes won’t be–”
Frodo broke in, half-irritated (he had, after all, the same concerns as Pippin was voicing) and half-amused. “When you two have quite finished talking about me as though I weren’t here, I should remind you that I have one big advantage that you don’t, Peregrin Took!”
Doubtful, as he knew himself to be a good, if unorthodox, cricketer, and more than willing to counter any argument Frodo might advance, Pippin drew himself up for battle. “And that is?”
“At least I qualify for the Hobbiton team!”
Dissection of the drawbacks – extensive – and advantages – minimal – of the Hobbiton XI, lacking their anchor batsman and having only Frodo as a replacement (though with the undeniable bonus of Sam’s bowling), kept the cousins bickering happily throughout the generous spread of tea-time delicacies. Amongst these, Pippin noted with approval, was a warmly golden tea bread, obviously of Sam’s making.
With his cousins’ attention divided between the satisfactions of comfort food and cricket, Frodo was free to brood on what had happened, there in the orchard; on what he had seen then in Sam’s face.
More and more often, of late, he had found himself teetering on the brink of – of – What? It had been as difficult to decide what he might do, as it would be to do it. He wanted so much to tell Sam… to ask Sam… For all his words and book-learning, Frodo was finding that affairs of the heart were not necessarily best expressed aloud. He had touched Sam now, however briefly; no longer a friend’s touch, but the caress of a lover. And Sam had answered him with such love in his eyes… had feathered a kiss into his palm, which tingled still… He looked down, almost expecting that the caress might be visible, so sweetly did it burn.
“Frodo?” Merry’s voice seemed to come from a distance.
“You were miles away.”
No, I wasn’t. I was in the orchard with Sam. He held me in his arms… his lips sparked fire into my hand… His eyes… he was telling me that… that he loves me, as I love him…
“Sorry, I was thinking. What did you say?”
“I was asking if you still had your whites.” Merry was beginning to wonder about Frodo’s abstraction. “Are you getting cold feet over playing?”
“No, of course not. I couldn’t let Sam down, now.” Or ever… “Whites? Hmm. I’m not quite sure where they would be. Or whether they will still fit, when I find them.”
“Any old white shirt would do,” Pippin said thickly, around the last of a more than ample slice of Sam’s fruit bread. “You must have one somewhere, but you won’t have any other white trousers hanging around, I shouldn’t think. And what about pads, and your bat?”
Frodo did know where to find those. Sam had unearthed them from a chest he had been tidying during a singularly wet spell, and had insisted on oiling the bat, and replacing the old straps on the pads, even though Frodo had said he no longer needed them. Sam had kept them in trim ever since; he just liked to take care of things. For me…
“So it’s just the trousers? Well, you can’t borrow Sam’s, that’s for certain!” Pippin giggled at the thought of Frodo’s slender frame, swimming in the excess fabric that Sam’s trousers would provide.
“Sam doesn’t even have spare whites, and well you know it!” Frodo had snapped it before he could help himself. He was suddenly aware that both his cousins were staring at him. “Well, he hasn’t,” he said in a conciliatory tone, which fooled neither of them. He had surprised himself with the vehemence of his outburst, and he blew out a breath, trying to release some of his feelings – he was nervous, anxious, and eager, all at once… and more than a little frustrated. If only his cousins had arrived later! Much later…
“Frodo?” Merry’s voice was both curious and sympathetic.
“Sorry! I – I’ll just go and look for them,” Frodo said hurriedly, and escaped to his bedroom. Activity seemed to ease the tension; as he rummaged in the wardrobe, he felt himself begin to relax a little, and even to forgive his cousins their untimely arrival. He rather thought that his cricket whites might be folded away in the bottom of – yes, here they were.
The shirt was definitely old and had worn rather thin from much laundering, but it was still pristine white and it did fit reasonably well. He flexed his arms and played a few strokes with an imaginary bat. Perhaps the shirt clung just a little more snugly than it had the last time he had worn it, but it wouldn’t impede his batting. The flannels were a different matter. Quite apart from the fact that they had yellowed rather badly, they were definitely somewhat tight, and the moths had been busy, just where a weakness in the cloth might prove embarrassing. He bent and stretched a few times and the sudden parting of fabric confirmed that he would not be able to wear these again.
He became aware that he had an audience. His cousins were standing in the doorway, determination writ large upon them. Without a word, they advanced, and in a neat flanking movement, forced him to sit on the bed between them.
“Yes?” he said, as forbiddingly as he could manage, for a grin was also hovering.
“Not making a very good job of it, is he?” Pippin remarked conversationally.
“Pretending he doesn’t know.” Merry nodded sagely. “Head in the clouds, that’s our Frodo.”
“Silly really,” Pip put in, “when they could be so happy together.”
“Almost as happy as we are, I expect.” And Merry reached across Frodo to clasp Pippin’s hand, palm to palm.
“As happy as–?” Frodo looked at his cousins. Had he not been so preoccupied, he would already have noticed an extra edge of fondness to their interminable bickering an extra glow of happiness about them. “Merry! Do you mean…?” The two had always been close – together through japes, scrapes and their resultant troubles – but Frodo hadn’t expected this. He realised rather guiltily that he had been too engrossed in his own feelings for Sam, to notice any change in his cousins’ feelings for each other.
“Of course. I suddenly realised that I was only truly happy with Pippin, and,” Merry paused, “well, who else would have him?”
“Oy! I’ll get you for that!” Pippin complained.
“Later!” Merry said, with a grin.
Pippin opened his eyes very wide. “I’m taking that as a promise,” he said, and smiled invitingly at Merry.
“That’s wonderful! I’m so pleased for you both,” Frodo said, around the sudden lump in his throat. “I really am. But what has it to do with me having my head in the clouds?”
“With you and Sam, you mean?” Merry corrected him.
“Everything!” Pippin pronounced sweepingly. “You’ve been watching him like a lovesick swain for months…”
“I recognise that look,” Merry said. “I saw it often enough in the mirror, before I came to my senses.”
“And now, we think that it’s time that you stopped shilly-shallying…”
“And did something about it.”
“But I don’t know–” Frodo stopped himself. I do, don’t I? Now…
“Sam worships the ground you walk on,” Pippin said gently.
“We’ve seen it for ages, but it was only when we realised how wonderful it can be, when you finally admit what you feel for each other–”
“That we decided you two ought to stop dancing around the issue–”
“Talk to each other–”
“And start dancing with each other!” Pippin finished, wiggling his eyebrows suggestively.
Frodo blushed. “I’ve never–” But we did... though I don’t think Pippin means that kind of dancing…
“We hadn’t either. Learning is a lot of fun!” Merry’s happiness was infectious, and Frodo threw his arms around the pair, and hugged them.
“If you say so – you always did lead each other on, and I should think you’re still doing it!” Will Sam and I learn such things together? Lead each other on? Oh, I hope so!
“Seriously, Frodo, we want you to be happy, too, and we know that you would be, with Sam.”
“And we give you fair warning,” Pip wagged his finger under Frodo’s nose, “that if things don’t change for the better, and soon–”
“We shall shut the pair of you up together in this very room–”
“And we’ll not let you out until we’ve heard…” Pip paused to select words which weren’t too explicit.
It was Merry who ended the sentence, “–the bed springs squeaking in protest!”
Frodo laughed despite his embarrassment. “All right, I’ll talk with Sam. Really I will, but not until after this match.” I need to be with Sam…
“Speaking of which, you can’t wear those flannels, Frodo. One good dive after the ball, and, well–”
“All your assets will be on display!” Pippin threw up his hands in mock horror.
“Which would probably interest Sam no end, but I think the prim and proper ladies of The Shire might be more than a little shocked!”
“In fact,” said Pippin, “it’s a good thing I brought my whites, in case they needed a twelfth man. You may borrow my flannels, so long as you don’t split them in a deliberate attempt to get Sam’s attention!”
There were no two ways about it, the Michel Delving innings had not gone well – unless you were a Michel Delving supporter.
Sam sighed. It was all his fault. Well, perhaps not all his fault, for the Delvers’ two opening batsmen had been in very good form, and had put together a respectable partnership. Although the remaining wickets had fallen more cheaply, 159 runs made a tall order to fill, what with Will Moreby not playing.
And the size of that score was partly Sam’s fault. He simply had not bowled his best today; the wickets that he had taken had been more by luck than judgment. It had been fortunate for the Hobbiton XI that their quickies had bowled well, for Sam had not, and he knew it. His mind had been distinctly elsewhere, and was refusing to regret the fact.
The Four Farthings final was held at the cricket field in Hobbiton, just behind the Ivy Bush tavern on the Bywater road. Sam had been here since very early morning, for he had not slept well, what with one thing and another. And after what had happened in the orchard, it had been mostly the other, if truth be told…
As team captain, it was Sam’s responsibility to ensure that equipment, officials, and – most vital component of any hobbit match – refreshments were all properly organised. He had welcomed the Michel Delving XI when they arrived, and shown them to the Ivy’s bathing room, which did duty for a changing room on match days. He had gone out onto the field with the umpires and Seb Carter, the opposing captain, for the ceremony of the coin toss, which Sam had lost – he should have known then, how things were going to go, he thought, for he had mislaid his lucky silver penny, which had been tossed at every one of their matches to date. Seb had elected to bat, which had put Sam’s team in the field.
Sam had performed the myriad tasks that fell to the lot of team captains, just as usual, and he hadn’t really been there for any of them. His mind had returned, again and again, to the orchard at Bag End, to that moment when Frodo had touched his cheek, so lightly that he might have thought he had imagined it, but that he could still feel it vibrate all through him. And no matter how briefly, he had kissed Frodo’s palm, and Frodo’s fingers had quivered on his skin… A single instant of touch – a lightning crack of illumination – had changed everything for Sam. His master, his Mr Frodo, had suddenly, unbelievably become his Frodo…
He had not seen Frodo since then; partly because he had leave, as usual, to see to his captain’s duties, and partly because he had felt shy about returning to Bag End whilst Mr Merry and Mr Pippin were there. Having made up his mind to speak at last, he really did not need anyone else around. It was just that… he didn’t know how to say… how to ask...
Sam had long known that he loved Frodo; his body and his dreams told him quite insistently that he desired him. But it had not been for him to speak; not until Frodo’s eyes, and that heady caress to his face, had shown that he was not alone in his wanting; and perhaps words would not be needed at all. Which was one reason, Sam thought now, why his mind hadn’t been entirely on his bowling.
The other was that moment when the sturdy, chattering Hobbiton team had emerged from the dressing room into the sunshine, with Frodo in their midst, a rare lily amongst homely marigolds. He was all in white, as Sam had never seen him. His wayward curls seemed almost black now, with still the copper highlights which so enchanted Sam, as they looped and coiled around pink cheeks, delicately flushed from excitement; the rosy lips were deliciously determined, as Frodo anticipated the battle to come, and his eyes sparked a fire impossibly bluer than ever. Sam was all but undone on the spot.
He had followed his team onto the pitch in something of a daze, and his field placings and other decisions had been made automatically, for when he couldn't see Frodo in person, that vision in white floated before his eyes, and either image or reality had distinctly impaired his ability to think.
Once the innings had begun, Sam’s concentration improved slightly. He had been steadied by the familiar snick of willow on leather and the natural rhythm of his bowling; the ripples of applause around the ground, and the bowler’s impassioned plea of “Owzat!” to the umpires. The teamwork he had worked so hard to nurture amongst his players, was still there, even with an untried replacement, and they played to a good standard despite having less than half of their captain’s attention.
Most of it was fixed firmly on his master, his Frodo… Despite such long absence from the game, he had fielded well; too well for Sam’s peace of mind He moved with such grace and stealth, and threw the ball with such accuracy, that Sam was torn between the physical effect that Frodo was undoubtedly having upon him, and the sudden realisation that Frodo was actually a fine, natural cricketer, whose contribution to the team was infinitely more than the stop gap he had seemed to be. He had taken a blinder of a catch, on the square leg boundary, but Sam’s… heart had swelled from the sight of Frodo, curls a-tumble, flying through the air to meet the ball, rather than enthusiasm at a wicket taken.
But, there was simply no getting away from it, the Michel Delving innings was going to be a hard act to follow. As Sam munched half-heartedly at a solid wedge of stand pie, he tried to review the options for batting, and only succeeded in selecting the best place to stand and eat his share of the team’s picnic lunch.; best, that was, from the point of view of watching Frodo, who was sitting with his cousins on a blanket in the shade of one of the sweet chestnut trees, amid the noisy throng of picnicking spectators.
The cousins were chattering furiously over their plates, Pippin waving his arms and obviously expressing his thoughts on the morning’s play. He got up suddenly, and wielded an imaginary bat in illustration of a particularly inept stroke by one of the Delvers, then again in his own inimitable style. This irritated Sam not a little, for Pippin had seriously impeded his view for several minutes.
Frodo was picking quietly at his meal, his eyes unfocussed; he looked more dreamy and disconnected than Sam had ever seen him. Sam longed to go and speak to him, but his own state of mind was rather uncomfortable as it was – thank the stars for loose trousers! – and he didn’t think it fair to inflict his presence on Frodo, who had enough to worry about, batting for the first time in goodness only knew how long. Though Frodo didn’t look worried; bemused, possibly, but not worried.
Then, as if he could feel Sam’s eyes upon him, Frodo raised his head and those disconcertingly blue eyes locked onto Sam’s own gaze. Suddenly the noisy crowd, the cricket ground, and all of Hobbiton faded, disappeared; and in all the world there was only this: a meeting of desire, shimmering the sultry summer air…
Too soon, the warning bell clanged loudly, shattering their silent communion. Lunch was over; it was time for the Hobbiton innings to begin, and the noise and bustle of the day resumed its course. The picnickers rose, packed away the remaining food (a very small item, this) and returned once more to concentrate on the cricket. Reluctantly, Sam took his eyes from Frodo, and set his mind to the encouragement of his opening batsmen.
Delvers, umpires, and the two Hobbiton lads took the field. Things began badly, with Mac Banks caught for a duck in the first over, going for a shot he should never have played at all, let alone in a match as important as this. After a word or two from Sam, things calmed a little, and the score mounted steadily to 34. At this point, Seb Carter obviously decided it was time to apply a little more pressure, and he threw the ball to Joe Shepherd. There was an audible intake of breath amongst the Hobbiton supporters, for Joe was the Delvers’ secret weapon; when on top form, he had been known to skittle out the opposition for less than a run apiece. It was soon painfully obvious that Joe’s bowling was very much on form, for Hobbiton wickets began to fall remorselessly and the total of runs could only inch towards 50.
Frodo had strapped on his pads, knowing that it couldn’t be long before he was needed. He picked up his bat, and played a few practice strokes to invisible balls, now rather relishing the prospect of playing again, after so long.
“OWZAAAT!” Joe screamed. The umpire raised his finger, and the fifth wicket had fallen.
“Up to you now, Frodo,” Merry said encouragingly. “Good luck!”
And suddenly, Sam was there beside Frodo. Silently, he grasped Frodo’s shoulder and his fingers spoke encouragement, concern, and love. Frodo grinned, and said, “Don’t worry, Sam. Whatever else, I do remember how to duck a demon bowler!”
The first ball went wide, and Frodo didn’t need to play at it. The less mannerly portion of the Hobbiton crowd jeered at Joe’s unusual lapse of skill, and Hobbiton’s score went up by one.
The second ball had both line and length, but Frodo was more than ready for it. There seemed to be all the time in the world to select where to play it. He rolled his wrists as he remembered from long ago, and the ball flew sweetly to the mid-wicket boundary. Four runs. Sam was right. You never really forget.
What Frodo had forgotten, was just how much he had enjoyed playing, and that, erratic though his form had been, on a good day, he had played quite well, and scored freely. Today felt like a very good day. Without having to look, he knew that Sam was watching him. Not simply watching the match, as the chattering, enthusiastic onlookers were doing, but watching Frodo; he could feel it like a blessing on him. He took a deep breath, and determined to play his best, so that Sam might be proud of him.
His Hobbiton team-mates observed Frodo’s technique with approval. They analysed his stroke play, admired his accurate placing, and applauded as the score rose encouragingly. There was a growing optimism amongst them that, if Mr Baggins could only keep this up, the Michel Delving score wasn’t really too unattainable.
But for Sam, it wasn’t only the score that was rising… He sat on the grass, slightly apart from the rest of his team, and their discussion passed him by, unnoticed. He had no thought for anything or anyone other than Frodo, standing at the crease, lithe and free; and so beautiful. He saw the slight hitch of Frodo’s shoulders, as the bowler approached; the firm forward stance as the ball flew towards him; the flex of muscle in shoulder and thigh as he executed a perfect cover drive, or a majestic sweep. He watched the descent of his bat in a languorous arc, the meeting of the ball in some other-worldly, fey spirit, as though time paused for Frodo to select a shot and complete it. Sam had no idea where the runs were coming, nor how many; he was watching Frodo’s every movement, his sublime batting and elegant follow through, the concentration as he relished each stroke, his sheer presence as a batsman. And Sam knew, all the while, that Frodo was as aware of him watching, as he was of Frodo.
“Bet you’re pleased, Sam? Frodo hasn’t lost his touch after all!” Pippin had come up behind Sam. “What did you put him in at 7 for? The game would have been over an hour ago if he’d opened. Oh, well played!” He almost spilled his ale, trying to join in the roar of applause as yet another ball was skimmed, almost effortlessly, to the boundary. “Wouldn’t have thought Frodo had it in him.”
Sam managed briefly to take his eyes from Frodo at the crease, to give Pippin a Look. “Reckon Mr Frodo can do anything he sets his mind to,” he said shortly.
“Of course he can.” Merry was here too. Sam felt he should have known – never one without the other. And suddenly, he wondered about that, as though revealing his love to Frodo had increased his awareness of what others might feel.
“The thing is, Sam…” Merry paused, for thought, seemingly.
Pippin leapt in with, “Sometimes, Frodo just needs a bit of a push. Like the batting – he’d never have done it if you hadn’t asked him.”
“And Frodo would do anything for you, Sam.”
“Happen you’re right,” Sam said vaguely, but he had once again dismissed everything but the sight of Frodo.
Where running was needed, he seemed to fly down the pitch, limbs moving fluidly over the hard-packed turf, his dark curls flying light and bronzed by the warm, run-honey light of late afternoon. When Frodo lifted his arm, to draw a shirtsleeve across his brow, Sam drew a sharp breath at the sheen on Frodo’s forehead, that he couldn’t see at this distance, but which he knew on his own skin. And that same dampness was causing Frodo’s whites to cling to his body. The fine old linen shirt outlined every contour of his back, and as Frodo turned, its translucence revealed copper nipples through a film of white; the borrowed trousers mapped every tantalising inch of what they concealed. Sam’s fingers curled tightly, and his breath came shorter now.
Then, slender and confident, brushing tendrils of damp hair impatiently from his face, Frodo faced the last ball of the over. It was a beauty. It was a gift. He timed it perfectly, and with a lofted sweep, sent it powerfully to – and yes – over the boundary for six. Hobbiton had won! There was a storm of cheers from their supporters, and polite but disappointed clapping from the Michel Delving contingent.
But Frodo’s mind was less on the result of the match than on Sam. He glanced quickly to the edge of the square. His team-mates were all rushing onto the field, in a frenzy of congratulation and rejoicing. There was much backslapping and cheering, and the ritual handshakes with the dejected Delvers. And in the midst of the jubilant Hobbiton team, all complimenting him extravagantly on his perfect century, Frodo felt completely alone; for Sam was not there.
He isn’t coming. All at once, Frodo realised how tired he was. He had been batting for more than two hours, and the sun was still very warm. He lifted the clinging linen from his skin, and grimaced at the sudden ache in his shoulders. He was hot and sweaty and exhausted; and Sam was not there…
His cousins joined the flood of rejoicing Hobbiton supporters who surged forward, offering admiration that Frodo could well have done without.
“Told you you’d be knackered!” Pippin crowed. “Never mind, a good bath and you’ll be on top of the world again!”
“Wow, Frodo! I don’t remember you playing that well for the Tweens,” Merry burst in. “We’d never have let you leave Buckland if you’d played like that for us!”
“It was just a fluke,” Frodo said. “On another day, I’d have been out first ball.” But not with Sam watching me. With Sam’s blessing on me, I could bat forever. I wish he were here.
“Come on, Mr Frodo.” Sam’s voice at his ear, soft and rather throaty. “Let’s get our hero cleaned up for the celebrations! I’ve got the water all hot, in the baths.”
“Yes.” Frodo could manage no more, for as he turned to face Sam, their eyes met, and Frodo warmed at the pride he saw there, and the love that Sam was showing him, deliberately this time. Sam gazed steadfastly, and Frodo smiled slowly. “Yes,” he said again, and his eyes gave all his own love to Sam. Almost casually, Sam flung his arm over Frodo’s shoulder, and ushered him towards the inn.
“They do know! When did that happen?” Pippin chortled. “I wonder if we looked as happy as that, when we realised?”
“'Course we did – we are!”
Merry and Pippin grinned at each other, and followed the two teams and the crowd of spectators streaming towards the hospitably open door to the Ivy Bush. The cousins had drinks to set up, for the winning of the Four Farthings Trophy was no longer the only cause for celebration.
As they walked, Pippin had a sudden thought. “How’s Sam going to… cope?”
“Cope? Cope with what?”
“In the bath. With his…” Pip gestured discreetly towards his midsection. “He’s pretty wound up, you know. One look at Frodo in the altogether, and he’ll… well, he’ll go off like a rocket!”
“Sam must have known that – his hair was wet, didn’t you notice? He’s had a quick splash while he was seeing to the baths. He’ll just leave the team to it.” Merry raised an eyebrow, and gave a fiendish smile. "Well, he'd better!"
The taproom was still crowded, late into the evening, and the air was thick with pipe smoke and hilarity. The presentations and speeches had been made, and Frodo had naturally won the ‘Hobbit of the Match’ award (free ale at the Ivy, for a month). Sam had been adjudged the ‘Hobbit of the Series’ (free ale for a month at a designated tavern in each of the Farthings), which had surprised him, given his performance today. The Michel Delving team and their supporters had departed in defeat, and the Hobbiton celebration had really got under way. A hearty stew was served, followed by a vast apple pie with plenty of fresh cream; and now the ale flowed freely, and conversation and song were rife. Merry and Pippin were in the thick of a group whose increasingly drunken rendition – in multi-voiced disharmony – of a particularly salacious cricketing ditty, engaged the attention of almost all of the revellers.
Frodo and Sam had found a small table in the darkest and quietest corner, and were sitting quietly over their ale and the dish of salty nibbles, thoughtfully provided by Tom Noakes in the interests of inducing thirst in his customers. A listener catching only snatches of their conversation might even have thought they were discussing the game; which was fortunate, for soon, they were interrupted.
“Well done, Mr Baggins, sir, you certainly saved the day for us! This one’s on me.” Mac Banks dumped two mugs of ale on the table from a clutch held rather precariously in a wildly waving hand. “Never knew you could play like that! Giving our captain the benefit of your experience, are you?” He missed the look that passed from Frodo to Sam, and the swift smile they shared, as they thanked Mac for their drinks.
“Your bowling weren’t right on form today, were it, Sam? Didn’t bowl as many maiden overs as usual, did you? Them maids’ll be right disappointed!” Guffawing at his own wit and much too far gone in ale to remember that the quip was the oldest in the long list of silly and often suggestive cricket jokes, Mac staggered off to join the noisy throng.
“Not exactly a maid I have in mind,” Sam growled into his mug, and Frodo stilled, closing his eyes as anticipation fingered its way slowly up his spine, then down to areas even more receptive.
Sam’s voice came suddenly husky. “And the way you’re batting them eyelashes at me, I’ll have to bowl you over, and no mistake!”
“Samwise, are you accusing me of flirting with you?” Frodo asked, his voice demure; but sooty lashes fluttering on very pink cheeks dared Sam to deny it.
“Seducing me, more like! From the very minute I laid eyes on you today...” Sam was no longer teasing; it was fortunate that their corner was dark, and that no-one was looking their way, for his want was laid bare in his face. His hand slid across the table, ostensibly reaching for the new mug of ale, but managing a gentle brush to Frodo’s fingers. “And it shouldn’t be possible for batting to be so wanton!”
“I wasn’t doing anything on purpose.” Frodo returned the caress, no longer caring if he were seen, so much did he need to touch Sam’s skin, however briefly. “Not then, I wasn’t…” His fingers slid delicately over Sam’s strong brown hand, then drew slow circles on the inside of Sam’s wrist.
Sam shivered, and took his hand from Frodo’s reach. “Not that it don’t feel wonderful,” he said apologetically, “but I can’t take much more of it right now!”
Frodo felt as light as air, and as free, floating in a haze of love that wrapped them safe to each other. “But Sam, I thought that you, as a dedicated cricketer, would appreciate forward play? I was taught that you never score, if you stay on the back foot!” And his toes skimmed lightly over the curls on Sam’s feet, inciting a flutter of Sam’s skin that tantalised a slow path up to the curls on his head, then settled enthusiastically in the tighter tangle below his waist.
Never, in any of his erotic dreams, had Sam conceived of his master bantering with him in this way, using the words he loved so well and wielded so expertly, to stir Sam’s desire so deeply. It needed a great effort of concentration for him to say, “Never seen you so forward before!”
“You never invited me to play before today,” Frodo said solemnly, adding, in a much lower tone, “You don’t know how long I have wanted to… play with you!”
“You can play with me any time you like,” Sam choked, and then, recalling that they might be overheard, he cleared his throat and said aloud, “Any team would be the better for stroke play like yours.”
“Nothing wrong with my stroke today,” Frodo murmured softly. Sam’s suddenly indrawn breath might have seemed unnecessary to anyone who couldn’t see beneath the table, where Frodo’s foot was now sliding languorously up the back of Sam’s calf, the silky hair setting Sam’s skin alight with longing. “In fact, I have a feeling that my touch might not have deserted me just yet…”
Sam gasped, hiding it in his mug of ale; he swallowed, took a deep breath, and said, “Perhaps we could find out? And if you show me some of your stroke play,” he whispered provocatively, “I could maybe show you my googly?”
It was Frodo’s turn to breathe hard. “Sam! I won’t be able to walk back to Bag End if you–”
“If I what?” Sam asked with a sly smile, delighted to be getting his own back a little in this seductive play of words.
“If you don’t stop offering to show me your balls!” Frodo ducked his head, and even in their shadowy corner, Sam could see a deep blush spread over his cheeks.
“What else should a bowler offer to show? And I bowl a neat googly, though I do say so!” As Frodo looked up, eyes dancing, Sam wiggled his eyebrows. They collapsed into giggles, and Sam had to make a deft save of their mugs.
In the same instant, they sobered, and Frodo asked, quietly, “Will you come home with me?”
“Yes.” And Sam’s answer was for the question Frodo had not asked.
It was not so easy, of course. As they moved to leave, their hands were seized by Merry and Pippin (both well into their ale by this time), and they were swung into a victory whirl. In an instant, almost everyone in the inn was on his feet, and a long line of hobbits formed, kicking and jigging an erratic path through the tables and chairs, to an insistent chant, whose volume and rhythm compensated only somewhat, for its discordant din. It was some minutes before Frodo and Sam could extricate themselves, and give their goodnights to the jubilant, drunken dancers. Pausing at the bar, to deposit funds for the next round of beer, Frodo made for the door with Sam close behind him.
Merry wove his way unsteadily towards them. “We’ll be along later,” he said. “Prob’ly much later!” He tried to wink lasciviously at Frodo, found it too much trouble in his present state, and instead, gave him a quick, tipsy hug before returning to the jollification, where the shimmying snake of unsteady bodies was cavorting to another enthusiastically rhythmic, if tuneless, refrain.
Outside the Ivy Bush, the air was cool and refreshing after the thick fug of the inn. The noise of the celebration faded, as they walked slowly beyond the spill of light from the doorway.
“They… they’ll be drinking ‘til dawn!” Frodo said, in an attempt at composure.
“Happen so,” said Sam, but he wasn’t really interested in anyone or anything else, now. He took Frodo’s hand and threaded their fingers gently together. “Not as I don’t want to, but if I do more than this,” he confessed, “we’ll be lucky to make it to a quiet nook, let alone to Bag End, and there’s a lot of prying eyes atwixt here and there!”
The sound that Frodo made in his throat might have signified agreement, but its effect on Sam definitely did not improve the situation…
“I suggest,” Frodo said, finding a voice which was considerably less steady than his words indicated, “that we discuss the stars. As we walk. Or something.”
Sam’s suppressed whimper didn’t help much, either. They had progressed less than two dozen paces from the inn door, and Bag End was as far away as the moon.
With great resolution, Frodo took his hand gently from Sam. “Samwise, we are going to make it home! Respectable hobbits simply do not kiss in The Street…” he faltered as he realised that they had not yet....
He should not have said it, for Sam’s mouth was suddenly on his; they were in each other’s arms at last, and respectability now seemed but a small price to pay. Sam’s lips were soft and seductive, parting eagerly to the gentle question of Frodo’s tongue, and for minutes uncounted they kissed, ever more deeply, enthralled by and lost to the rhythm as they moved against each other.
The slam of a door, echoing along the silent street, startled them apart.
“Not here!” Frodo managed, though every instinct demanded to know why not.
“Field?” Sam gasped suddenly, as memory cut through the growing haze of desire.
The cricket pitch was deserted, though the latest of the celebratory songs could be heard faintly in the distance; closer at hand, the grasshoppers called ceaselessly. The late evening air was warm and still, and the hedgerow fragrance of honeysuckle spread far and wide, enveloping them like a caress. Light from the inn windows stretched scarcely any distance across the dewy grass, and under the stately chestnuts that ringed the field, lay shadows dark and deep as any pair of hasty lovers might wish. They slipped into that darkness, and sank down to the cool green moss, fumbling frantically now with buttons and ties, sighing against each other’s skin at last.
And although Sam desperately wanted time to know what he held in his arms, naked and pliant, Frodo’s lips were on his again, and his long day of torment came suddenly to fruition as he moved against Frodo and released, fast and satisfying, panting Frodo’s name in a breathless litany.
Frodo’s soft laugh was sympathetic. “You never told me what a quick bowler you could be, Samwise!”
“Depends on the need!” Sam said, breathlessly. “I needed you very badly,” he added, with no teasing to his voice now. He shifted carefully to lie beside Frodo, propping himself on one elbow as he leaned for a lingering kiss. “You have no idea, have you, what you looked like out there, tempting me out of my mind? All day, I’ve been watching you, wanting you.”
“You have me, Sam. And I have you!” And Sam’s heart sang for the elation in Frodo’s whisper.
“And now that I have you,” Sam nuzzled gently into Frodo’s hair, “and I’m not in such a hurry no more,” nibbling his way gently around the curve of Frodo’s ear, “I’m thinking to show you,” his tongue traced a slow path to another kiss, “how well I can play…” He offered a last, lingering kiss before rising reluctantly to kneel by the paler shadow on the shadowed velvet moss. “When I’m not distracted from my wits, that is!”
“But Samwise, it’s so dark under here… How will I see – Ohhh!”
“Like that! Well, now, everybody knows that a spinner’s skill is in his fingers,” he brushed them lightly across Frodo‘s face, “so you’ll just have to concentrate on these, won’t you? See, the secret of bowling a googly, is in the flick…”
Sam’s voice becomes a distant murmur of love pent up so long, as his fingers flicker and spin a seeking fire from velvet black; and Frodo's awareness narrows down to only this: sensitivity set free beneath Sam’s touch…
Fingers, feather-light, slide from dark, sensuous and slow…
…a kiss; mouth catches gentle, sidelong sweep, unhurried asking…
…sure stroke flows smoothly, sweet and wanton, ever downward…
…teasing tweak rouses somnolent nipples to taut sentience…
…fevered heat of blind, slow sipping, slow slipping circles…
…whispering of love through tightly tangled curls…
…for fluttering flame of hot, caressing tongue …
…together now, and melded by the same primeval, ageless call…
…the long, slow wash of pleasure surging back and forth and on and on…
A faint breeze dispersed the frantic crescendo of sharp breaths, muting a sharper cry, veiling their long-spun sighs of sated bliss in a susurration of deeply furrowed chestnut leaves. At length, the lovers stirred to life, untangling from each other, to lie close and caress, drifting happily in a waking dream of scented darkness, warmth and love.
Suddenly, Frodo yawned, then gave a low sound which wrapped a chuckle into a sigh.
“Am I boring you?” Sam asked, skimming a line of kisses whose final destination awoke more than a little interest in Frodo, tired though he was.
“You’ve simply worn me out, what with inducing me to play for the team, and seducing me into the bargain!”
“I never did! You were the one seducing me, remember? Ah!” Sam squeaked as Frodo administered a well–placed nip, then murmured appreciation as he soothed it with a kiss.
Frodo sat up reluctantly. “I could lie here with you, all night,” he said, “ but the sun comes early, and will show more than we would want anyone to see! Perhaps we should make the effort and get back to Bag End before I do fall asleep on you?”
“But of course – you don’t really think I‘m going to leave you here, do you!” But what might have been a jest, was not, for Sam was tense and waiting, under Frodo’s gentle hands. “Sam, why would I not want you at Bag End? If this is right, here, then it’s right at Bag End.”
“But I’m only–”
“You are my Samwise, and I am only your Frodo. I want you there with me, Sam. Please?” He stifled Sam’s unknowing sigh of relief with a kiss, soft and patient. “Come to bed, Sam? Though I may be too tired to do more than give you a goodnight kiss! I should just like to fall asleep with you.”
“Aye. That would be grand. And,” Sam kissed provocatively now, “we have the morning to look forward to.”
“It is almost morning already, Sam!” Beyond their leaf-shadowed haven, the dark had thinned, and the stars were fading fast. It was just possible, in the hint of dawn’s coming, to tell black shapes of inn and stable, cottage and mill.
“You know what I mean!”
The thought of waking from sleep, side by side, was more than tempting enough to spur them into seeking out their scattered clothing, and they were aware now of a cool crispness of the air, descending on their nakedness. Then Sam insisted that Frodo’s shivers needed gentle chafing, which Frodo refused unless he could return the favour, and suddenly they were giggling like young lads, warmed now by more than friction. Dressing became a soft and satisfying game of buttons and intermingled kisses.
As they emerged at last onto The Street, Hobbiton was deserted, still and waiting in the half-dark, and even the Ivy Bush lay quiet in sleep. They wandered unsteadily along, exhausted but more than content; not speaking except through touch of hands and occasional swift kiss, trusting their secret to remaining shadow as they climbed The Hill to reach Bag End at last.
Sam paused in the gateway, feeling as always, the loss of the familiar in the disconnection before dawn. The garden lay drab and lifeless yet, mysterious shapes and pools of dark engulfing lily, rose and stately larkspur, painted pinks and buxom, laughing daisies all alike. They slept in shrouded colour, dreaming of the sun to spark once more their beauty from its light. The chill before sunrise could not quell the scents that stole from secret flowers to float their perfumes wide upon the cool, crisp morning air. A lone bird called once, impatient for the new day to begin.
“Sam?” Frodo realised that Sam was not climbing the steps with him. Though he was dizzy now, with tiredness, he turned, waiting patiently as Sam stood by the gate. Was he still worrying? Worse still, was he having second thoughts? Frodo had dreamed for so long, that he might be with Sam like this; the thought of Sam turning away now, going home to Bagshot Row, hurt more than he could have said.
“It’s just–” Sam looked at his beloved garden, shadowed still with the remnants of night, and at his master, his Frodo.
“What?” Frodo would not beg. If Sam would go, then he must go.
“–that something you know so well can suddenly seem so different, and you have to learn it all over again.” Sam shut the gate behind him, and Frodo released a breath he hadn’t known that he was holding.
“Like I need to learn you again.” And heedless of the growing light, Sam caught Frodo into his arms, and kissed him, gently at first, but with increasing hunger.
“You ought to be tired,” Frodo whispered, shaky with relief.
“Not too tired for this!”
“Samwise Gamgee, are you insatiable?”
“Only for you.” Sam smoothed a wayward curl gently from Frodo’s face and said, simply, “I’ve wanted you for so long.” As the first ray of sunlight shimmered over the horizon, Frodo smiled his happiness, and Sam would have been hard put to say which was the more dazzling to his eyes.
High in the sheltering oak the lone robin called again, was answered by a rising trill from the wren in the turf wall, another deep within the hedge. The blackbird carolled suddenly, swooping through the orchard, his mate replied; from every side a new voice and another. The chorus swelled until The Hill echoed and sang to the growing light and warmth. Hidden flowers slipped once more from shadow, to grace the garden with its long-accustomed beauty. Heady fragrance flushed anew from all the bloom of yesterday; was coaxed from sleep within unfurling buds of rose, spicy phlox and regal lilies, tall and fair.
Then, hand in hand, the lovers passed through the round green door, and closed it firmly on the rising dawn.
A new day was begun.
2 teams of 11. Playing area is the square, the batsman stands at the crease, in front of a set of 3 short poles, linked by smaller pieces of wood (bails) = the wicket – at either end of a 22 yard (hobbit cricket = 10yd?) pitch. Each end defended by a batsman through a series of 6 balls by one bowler, called an over. An over with no runs scored is called a maiden over. Batsman at one end takes bowling, runs to opposite end, fellow player runs to end where 1st batsman was. This counts as one run. If the ball goes over the boundary rope before being stopped, 4 runs are credited, and you don’t have to run; over the rope before touching the ground = 6 runs.
And the googly really is a ball bowled by a leg spinner.
Still baffled, and in need of a laugh? Try here.
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