Better Once than Never by Celeritas

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He’d been all nerves then, too.  She’d wondered at that at the time—Buckland was a queer place to be sure, but Sam had a good head on his shoulders, and it wasn’t like he was going over the Mountains or anything.  Or had he finally—finally—got up the nerve to ask her, just as he was going away?

They didn’t have much time, so they just walked down to the Water and back, talking of nothing that really mattered.  He wouldn’t even look at her face.

Finally, when the farmhouse was just in sight, he took both of her hands in his, looked right at her—was he finally going to ask? she wondered—and said, “Well, Rosie, I guess this is good-bye.”  And then he burst into tears.

“Sam!” she said, more out of shock and the need to say something than anything else.  She put her arms around him, rubbing his back and letting him bury his face in her hair.  “What are you blubbering away for?  It’s only Buckland, after all, and it’s not like you’re never going to see me again.”

She had meant for it to comfort him, but somehow it only made things worse and he began to sob into her shoulder.  “Oh, Rosie, Rosie, I’m so sorry,” he said—or she thought he said, for he was talking into her neck, now, and weeping and hiccoughing besides.

“Why, Sam!” she said, though now she was worried, too.  “Whatever are you sorry for?  You are going to see me again, aren’t you?”

“I—I don’t—”

Sam.”  She took a step back from him, lifted his chin up, and looked him in the eye.  Her heart was pounding.  “You’re going to see me again, aren’t you?”

He swallowed twice before answering, and she couldn’t even tell the array of emotions that passed over his face, so quickly they flitted across it.  Finally, though, he settled on determination, the kind of steely look that she’d only ever seen on him before when he was tackling a particularly difficult weed.  “Aye,” he said.  “I will see thee again, Rose.”

She smiled at that, and with maybe a little too much lightness in her voice, said, “Well, then, there’s nothing to apologise for, is there?”

“No,” he said, and she could tell he was troubled again, “I guess there’s not.”  And then he took her in his arms and he kissed her—not one of those courting kisses that was acceptable in polite company, but the kind that you wished would never end, that set her stomach flipping and her heart racing, and ah! it was over too soon.  He let go of her, and she put her hand to her lips, as if to confirm that he really had just kissed her like that.

“Sam,” she said softly, but she couldn’t get anything else out.

“I love you, Rosie,” he said, and then he turned around and left.

Her head was whirling when she went back to the house, and she knew her cheeks were red.  But she couldn’t make heads nor tails of what had passed between them, not until they got word, much later, that Mr. Frodo and Sam and Mr. Frodo’s cousins had all gone into the Old Forest and never come out again.  Then, she thought, and she thought, and she wondered, and she remembered Sam’s promise to her and the kiss he’d given her and they both became treasures to be hoarded up when the times got darker.

And he’d made good on the promise—better, even, for who could have expected Sam Gamgee to come riding up on a pony, clad in mail like a knight, to pop down for a visit while rescuing the Shire from ruffians?  He’d taken off the mail long since, and never put it on again, which Rosie thought was a shame—he did look ridiculous, true, and far outside his station, but he looked so grand all the same!  Since then he’d done so much to help the Shire and its people recover, and he’d gotten so much braver and wiser, and folk said such good things about him, and her heart swelled with pride whenever they did.

But he was a bundle of nerves around her, and no mistake!

It was not that something had come between them—at least, she didn’t think that was the case.  No, the few times they’d managed to slip off for a bit of a private chat he’d been just as loving, just as kind, just as respectful to her as he’d ever been. 

It was—well, if she didn’t know any better, if she hadn’t seen the way he acted around other people, she’d say that he was shy!  Shy as he’d been when they’d first started courting, at that!  And that was something Rosie had to marvel at—he knew her feelings for him, and she was sure he knew what her answer would be if he ever got around to asking for her hand—so what could be getting him so worked up now?  Surely he didn’t think himself so changed by his journey that she could no longer love him?

And he hadn’t once kissed her since he’d gotten back, and that frightened her.  True, he’d been busy—first with tracking down the storehouses where the ruffians had hid away grain, so that all would be able to eat well over the winter, then with taking down, rebuilding, digging, and planting, and always, always with looking after his master, whom her father had let live with them while Bag End was under repair.  But surely he had a quarter of an hour to spare for her?

She sighed.  There was no use getting worked up over it.  “Don’t complain about what you can’t change,” her dad always told them, “and if you can change it, change it!”

And heaven help her, she was going to change this around, if she could manage it.  Yule was coming, and while Mum and Dad ran a little wassail at home, she, her brothers, Sam, and Marigold would go out wassailing from house to hole to house, all throughout Bywater and Hobbiton.  There’d be no parents, and no Mr. Frodo to intervene or distract them, and a sprig of mistletoe at every home.  And if that wasn’t enough to get to the bottom of this, there would be wassail at every home, too, and she’d gone wassailing with Sam enough years to know that it would help loosen his tongue.

She’d talked with Marigold about the whole thing, and together they had come up with a fail-proof way to make the holiday enjoyable.  It was, therefore, inevitable that something should go wrong.

 

*  *  *

 

Lily Cotton was in the kitchen, chopping up the suet for next year’s mincemeat, when Mr. Frodo stepped inside with a large wooden box.  She did not recognise his step at first, but when she finally turned around to see him, bowed her head just a little and said, “Good afternoon, Mr. Frodo.”

“Good afternoon, Mrs. Cotton,” he said.  “I was wondering if you had given any thought as to what you would be doing for the wassail this Yule.”

“Ah!  Truth be told, I hadn’t given much thought to it at all!  We usually just do a simple ale, and mincemeat tartlets—this’ll be next year’s batch—and a nice roaring fire, and that’s all most folks need!”  She threw the last of the suet into her largest mixing bowl, wiped her hands on her apron, and rummaged around in a drawer for her paring knife and the lovely apple corer that had been a cousin’s birthday gift from thirty years ago.

“You don’t brew your own ale, do you, Mrs. Cotton?”

Lily started coring the apples.  “Bless you, no!  We usually get a barrel of the Dragon’s best…”  Lily faltered.  “Oh, dear me.  All this merry-making is liable to make a body forget all that we’ve been through…”

“Listen, Mrs. Cotton.  I have a proposal to make.  It’s been my considerable pleasure these past years to run one of the best wassails in the farthing, and this year we hobbits are in more in need of some holiday cheer than ever.  Unfortunately, my home is in no fit state to entertain all of Hobbiton and Bywater, and I don’t think either of the inns is in sufficient repair, either.  Now, I don’t want to interrupt your own family’s traditions, or make you do more work than is strictly necessary, but I was wondering if I might share mywassail with yours.”

Lily swallowed.  On account of all the help they hired during the planting and harvest, the Cottons’ parlour was quite spacious, but it still couldn’t hold nearly as many as she had known to crowd into Bag End on a Yule night.  And she knew how much work went into Mr. Frodo’s (and Mr. Bilbo’s, before him) wassail, and she knew that compared to their own meagre offerings, his much more lavish spread would take over in significance.

“You should know that your name already goes before you, Mrs. Cotton.  People know from the Troubles how much you did to be a steady help to those in need, and how much your husband helped in scouring our land of the wicked Men who plagued her.  I suspect you’ll be having an increase in guests anyhow, and you might as well take responsibility for your changing fortunes now and use your position to do even more.”

Really?” said Lily, with a snort.  “And I suppose you’ll be the one to help us make this so-called change?”

He laid a hand on her arm.  “I can advise,” he said, shrugging.  “Here, let me show you something.”  He set the box right among the apple peelings and opened it.  Inside were all sorts of peculiar bits of plants that Lily had never seen before.

“Most people know that the secret to the Baggins wassail is the use of spices imported from lands far outside the Shire.  Well, when we were away South we encountered a good many more spices, ones that I had never heard of, and cheaply, too.  I stocked up on them, and I’ve been waiting until now to use them.”  He pointed at each specimen.  “Peppercorns.  Cinnamon.  Nutmeg.  Allspice.  Clove.  Anise.  Cardamom.  Ginger—candied, that was new.  Cumin.  Coriander.  Mace.  Vanilla.  Saffron.  And then these here are peels to this strange kind of fruit that only grows in the south—citron, orange, lemon, and lime.  The fruits themselves are quite good, if you can add enough sugar to them, but they didn’t keep on the journey north.  I’ll give you half of each spice, to use as you please, if you’ll let me take over your kitchen for a few evenings and serve my foods.  Tom will, of course, still have the presiding chair, and if there are any additional items you’d like to make I’ll be glad enough to help.”

Lily looked down at the spice box, then up at Mr. Frodo, and blinked twice.

Frodo laughed.  “I am bribing you, Mrs. Cotton.  But take the spices, no matter what you decide—and this, as well.”  He handed her a glass jar of some kind of preserves, half white and half the colour of pale sunshine.  “More citron, but this kind is very good on toast in the mornings.  It was very kind of you to take Sam and me in, and I hate to think that you’re getting nothing in return.”

“Now, Mr. Frodo, I couldn’t—”

“It’s a Yule gift come early, then, and use it with your cooking and your baking as you please!  And if you’d like advice on that, I’ll give you what counsel I can.  In fact,” he said, his eyes lighting on the mincemeat, “it’s been quite some time since I’ve toyed around with these spices myself!”

“Well,” said Lily, “I’ll have to talk to Tom about it, of course.  The wassail, I mean.”

“Oh, he’s agreed to it as long as you agree to it.  I gave him three casks of Buckland’s brandy!”

 

*  *  *

 

And so it was that Mrs. Cotton asked for all her children’s help in getting the Cotton farm ready for a large and magnificent wassail, and for staying at home this particular year to help with the running and the serving and the general good cheer.

Rosie was not impressed.

“I know it’s not entirely what you expected, my dear, but sometimes we simply have to adjust our plans.  We’ll all of us have a jolly old time, and you can be sure that what with all of us staying here, and it being Mr. Frodo’s wassail, Sam will want to be here the whole evening, too.  And Marigold at that—you know how sweet she is on Tom.”

Rosie nodded, but she felt her heart wrenching inside of her again.  If Mr. Frodo was spending Yule with them, Sam would be spending Yule with Mr. Frodo.  And she knew he didn’t mean to, but Mr. Frodo was doing a fine job mucking things around without changing up the wassail, too!

“Things can’t be normal, anyway,” said her mother.  “Not after last year.  So we may as well make sure that our ‘not-normal’ is even better than ‘normal’ would have been, right?”

“Right,” said Rosie, but she still couldn’t help but sulk a little.

When Marigold came by on washing-day her spirits brightened, though.  “Well,” she said, when Rosie had explained the problem, “we’ll just have to adjust our own plans, won’t we?  There’ll still be a nice sprig of mistletoe in the parlour, and I’m sure Tom and I can get under it as many times as needed until Sam takes the hint.”

“You were going to do that anyway, at all those other homes.  And here it’ll be with my mum and dad—and your dad, too, likely—watching on!”

“It’s all in service to a greater cause,” Marigold said demurely.

“Look at you,” said Rosie, “taking advantage of a lass’s heartache.”

“It’s not heartache,” said Marigold.  “Sam’s just being a bit of an ass, is all, and as soon as he realises he’s done something wrong he’ll be tripping over his feet to say he’s sorry.”

“I hope you’re right,” said Rosie.

“Look, I’ll talk to Tom about the whole thing.  He’ll have some clever ideas, and together we’ll all figure something as will work.”

“Now, look here, Mari—you know as soon as you tell Tom he’ll tell everyone else, and then the entire farm will be turned inside-out.  And besides, most of his plans call for a fist in the nose.”

“In which case you can nurse Sam back to health.”

“Mari!  No one is going to be harming a hair on my Sam’s left little toe!  And even if he tried, I doubt he’d be able to manage anything.  You saw that great big sword that Sam brought back with him.”

Marigold laughed.  “And he’s been more than glad to let that thing sit in the bottom of his luggage.  Do you really think he’d run Tom through like he was a ruffian?”

“That wasn’t what I meant.”  Rosie sighed.  “You know as well as me that Sam came back from his journey different, and somehow I don’t think he’d fall for a fist in the nose.”

“At least it’d show him as something was wrong!”

“Well, go ahead and tell Tom, then.  But don’t let him so much as try and hurt Sam!”

So Marigold told Tom, and Tom told Jolly, and Jolly told Nick, and Nick told Nibs, and soon Rosie had to deal with each one of her brothers privately offering her his services at fisticuffs.

Tom, at least, seemed to view the matter as a formality: Marigold must have been very forthright when she told him and Rosie said as much.

“No,” he said with a wide smile, “actually I’ve got a much better plan.”

“Better than kissing Marigold fifty times under the mistletoe?”

“Better even than that,” and the light in his eyes rather frightened Rose.

Nibs and Nick had received the wilder edges of the rumour, so they needed considerable talking down before they caught toads and slipped them into Sam’s bed at night.  Nibs had truly wanted to plant weeds in Bag End’s garden, but it was the wrong season for it and it was right cruel.

Jolly talked to her last, quietly in the barn after supper one night.  “I was fretting a little,” he confessed, “but I didn’t want to say nothing unless you’d already done.”

Rosie sighed.  “Really, there’s not much to be done at all.  I just wanted a quiet moment during Yule to talk to Sam—alone—and see what the matter was.”

“Is that all?”

Rosie nodded.

“Well, I don’t see why your dear brothers can’t work something up.  We’ll keep on snatching wood from the fire, and then make ourselves scarce when it’s time to fetch more.  He’ll have no choice but to go outside to the woodpile, where, of course, you’ll be catching a breath of air, and—presto!”

“Presto?”

“Yes…”

“Jolly, what does that even mean?”

Jolly scratched his head.  “I picked it up from one of the Captains… but I don’t remember them telling me.”

Rosie laughed.

“See?  That put a smile on your dear face, and I promise you that by next year you’ll be smiling even more.  In fact—we’ll tie a sprig of mistletoe to the woodpile, with bright red ribbon, and if that hint doesn’t get through Sam’s thick skull then he doesn’t deserve you.”

Thank you, Jolly.”

“Right, then, I’ll talk to Nick and Nibs tomorrow, and we’ll see if we can’t work something out.”

“What about Tom?”

“Oh, he’s already got his own plan.  Hasn’t he told you?”

“No, only that he has one.”

“Then I shan’t spoil it for you.  But trust me, you’ll love it.”

Rosie walked back to the farmhouse with a bounce in her step, and for the first time since Mum had told her that they’d all be running the wassail for Yule she felt hopeful that she could sort out this mess.

 

*  *  *

 

The Cottons’ farm was practically humming with activity, but it still didn’t feel quite like the regular Yuletide bustle.  Sam kept on telling himself that all that he had been through had just changed the way he saw things, or else the Troubles had made things different, but that didn’t explain the looks the younger Cottons were giving him none.

The past few days, whenever he came over from New Row, Mr. Frodo was in the kitchen baking and shooing everyone else out, so it wasn’t too hard to get a private word from him.  “Master,” “before we left the Shire, did you have the least idea that Mr. Merry and Mr. Pippin and Mr. Fatty and me were conspiring against you?”

“No,” said Frodo, up to his elbows in flour.  “I hadn’t the faintest.  Of course, I was thinking of a good many other things at the time, and I fear that we were all of us a lot more foolish then.  Why do you ask?”

“Because things don’t feel quite right here, and I’m not sure what to make of it.”

“Ah.”  Sam detected a hint of levity in Mr. Frodo’s voice.

“Do you know what to make of it, Master?”

“No, but I have a few guesses.”

“Well, if you’d care to share them with me, I’d be glad.  I can’t lay my finger on it.”

“I would care to, Sam, only I think this is one of those things that you’re supposed to puzzle out on your own.”

“Oh, all right, then!  I’ll write a note to old Gandalf and see if he’s any more helpful than you are.”

“Sam.”  Frodo lifted his arms from the bowl and nearly folded them before remembering his (relatively) clean waistcoat.

“Sorry, Mr. Frodo.  I didn’t mean to say that, only something’s not right and it’s grating against my very bones.”

“It’s quite all right, Sam.  We’re all still settling in here, and I suspect we shall be for a good while.  It’s hard to find your place again after drifting so long.  But—well, I don’t mean to pry—but you have started courting Rose again, haven’t you?”

Sam nodded.  “I’ve left her two gifts already, and she’s gotten each one, and thanked me, too.  I haven’t had as much time with her as I’d have liked, but we’re all so busy, and every time as I have spoken with her, she’s been happy.”

Frodo nodded.  “That’s good.  I was afraid you’d led her to believe you’d forgotten all about her.”

“Mr. Frodo, I’d never—”

“It was a fear, Sam, not an actual guess.  There is one other thing that I must remind you, though, lest you accuse me again of playing the wizard.”

“Yes?”

“I was capable of looking after myself, in my own household, for seventeen years, and I daresay I can take care of myself just as well when I’m a guest in someone else’s.”

Sam opened his mouth to protest, but Frodo held up his hand.

“I know, with all your work, and with your living with your father again, that you don’t get as many opportunities to make sure I’m well as you’d like.  But there are plenty of other people who need your time more than I do, and you do them a disservice by spending it on me.”

“Well, if they were a little more aware of what all you’d done they’d hardly call it a disservice.”

“Then tell them, Sam, and don’t leave out your own accomplishments, either!”

Sam opened his mouth, worked it for a few moments in thought, and then closed it with a sigh.  “I’m sorry, Mr. Frodo.  But I can’t call this whole journey done until you’re settled back in your own home, the way things ought to be.”

“I understand.  But this is, after all, the Shire, not Mordor.  And you will not cease to be my dearest friend if you go back to being my gardener and not my personal servant.”

Sam nodded.  “I do know that.  But—well, it’s not like me, and all them fine folk away in Gondor were calling me your ‘esquire’ for so long, and—I suppose that old habits are hard to kill.”

“That’s fine.  Just remember that here, there are other hobbits in need of your attention.”

Sam’s eyes widened.  “Oh,” he said.  Then he turned bright red.  “You don’t think that’s what this is about, do you?  She can’t be jealous—not of you!”

“I don’t know, Sam,” said Frodo.  “But I do guess.”

“I’d better talk to her right now,” said Sam, and he turned to go.

He was wandering through the halls of the house, looking for Rosie, when he felt a hand on his shoulder.  It was Farmer Cotton, and he had a glint in his eye that didn’t feel quite right.

“Ah, Sam.  You’re just the fellow I was looking for.  Care to take a pipe with me out in the back field?”

Sam gulped.

 

*  *  *

 

Rosie was in the kitchen, rolling out the dough for the mincemeat tartlets, when Sam came in and asked if he might have a word with her.  She cast an enquiring look at her mother, who, of all things, had set aside half of this year’s mincemeat for herself and Mr. Frodo to tinker with adding spices to and was deep in discussion with him on proportions relative to each jar.

Mum nodded, but said, “Don’t be too long, now.”

They sat down in the dining room, which the Cottons only used if they were having company over—far too often, now!  Sam’s hands were cold and shaking as he took hold of hers.

“Sam, what’s the matter?” she said.

“Rose,” he said.  “I—I hope I haven’t done nothing to hurt you?”

“No, Sam.”

“Nor break your heart?”

“No, indeed, Sam.”

He nodded.  “Well, that’s good, then.”

“You sound like you’re at your own funeral!  What’s wrong?”

“Nothing, nothing,”—he looked away from her—“only I’m afeard I don’t deserve you and you could do much better than me.”  He heaved a sigh and looked down at their hands.

“Now, Sam Gamgee, whatever put that into your head?”

“Nothing in particular…”

“Really?”

“Well, your dad did talk to me just now.”

Rosie raised her eyebrows.  “What about?” she said.

“Not much, really—just a reminder of what we talked about when I started walking out with you, and—”

“He what?”

“Now, Rosie, he didn’t mean no harm by it, and I’m sure he had you in mind, but it did get me a-thinking—”

“Well, stop thinking it.  I’d dearly love to keep talking to you, Sam, but I think Dad needs to hear from me first.”  And with that, she stood up and stalked out of the room in an impressive sweep of skirts and female indignation.

“Mum,” she said when she got into the kitchen, “do you know where Dad is?”

“Should be in our bedroom, going over the post as just arrived.”

“Right,” said Rosie, and she turned around and made her way to her parents’ room.  She did not even knock.  “Daddy!” she said.

Old Tom Cotton looked up from the letter he was puzzling out.  “What is it, Rosie-dear?”

Rosie at least had the sense to close the door behind her before rounding on her father.  “What did you do to my Sam just now?”

“What do you mean?” her father said in that slow, easy-going manner of his that he usually used when he was haggling.

“You talk to him for five minutes, and the next thing I know he’s tripping over every other word as comes out of his mouth—that’s what I mean!”

“Look, now, I didn’t mean no harm by it, but I’ve seen well enough how he’s been treating you, and it was time as somebody put a stop to it.”

“Yes, but it didn’t have to be youbody!  Daddy, I wanted him to be less timid, not more!”

“Now, see here, Rose.  Sam’s been off leaving you by the wayside, and that ain’t right.  It’s my job to make sure as he treats you proper, and it’s his job to remember that.  Now, I know you’ve heard the tales as well as I have, so you know that Sam’s faced down much worse than an old farmer and his skinning knives.  If he can’t up and treat you as he ought because he’s scared, he no more deserves you than a weed deserves water.”

“He hasn’t done nothing wrong, though!  I hope you don’t believe everything Nick’s been telling you—Sam wouldn’t hurt a fly and that’s a fact!”

“Oh, he may not have done nothing wrong, but he’s certainly done nothing right!  And if he hasn’t learned by now that you can hurt a lass as much by doing nothing as by doingsomething… well, it’s best that he learn that now and not wait till after he’s married!”

Rosie sighed.  “I still think it would’ve been fine if you’d’ve done nothing.  I could’ve handled Sam on my own.”

“I know, my dear.  But there’ll be time enough for that when you’re older.  Please, let me look out for you while I’m still able.”

She nodded.  “You didn’t show him the knives again, did you?”

“No.”

“That’s good.”

“But I did make sure he remembered them.”

“He’s got his own sword now, Dad.”

“I know.  It’s also sitting in the bottom of his luggage.”

 

*  *  *

 

Lily looked back with satisfaction on the neat little rows of mincemeat jars, freshly sealed and packed away.  She was actually quite happy that Mr. Frodo had talked her into adding spices to half the jars—his spices, too, not the ones he was already giving her, for they had had quite a delightful time discussing the way the flavours would blend and mellow one another out, and he was just as willing to listen to her ideas as his own.

“Well,” she said to herself, “Sam always did say that Mr. Frodo was a real gentlehobbit.”

Mr. Frodo had put numbers on each of the jars, and then written up a little slip of paper saying what all went into each jar, so that that way they could taste all the results next Yule, find the best combination, and make a receipt of it.  What was more, he had agreed to make two of each kind and take half of them back to Bag End with him as soon as it was fixed!  And that truly surprised Lily, for it was Mr. Frodo’s way to protest this sort of thing.  He had protested at first, true, but then he thought on it, muttered something about “feeling at home,” and accepted the offer without a further word.

And now all of this year’s mince tartlets were in the oven, baking quite nicely.  She’d wanted to make a double batch of them, on account of the greater number of guests, but they hadn’t the mincemeat to make it work.  Mr. Frodo, meanwhile, had spent the last four days baking all the things he wanted for the wassail (in the utmost privacy, he insisted), which meant that Lily had two full days—and many helpers’ hands—to think up what else they ought to bake and bake it.

She usually made sweet bannocks with a honey glaze on them for breakfast over Yule, and perhaps those could be made in larger batches for the wassailers.  And then there were all the berry preserves she’d put away in the fall, though she’d not put away nearly so many this year, as most folk had been too frightened of the ruffians even to go out berrying!  Still, she could spare a can or two to make another round of tartlets.

Then, she couldn’t help but notice how most of the things that Mr. Frodo had put out of her oven were sweets, and she remembered from the days they’d courted how put out Tom had been whenever they went a-wassailing and a house didn’t have any savouries.  Well, they also had some pickles—onions, cucumbers, garlic—and she hadn’t made her mother’s cheese bread—sharp and brimming with the flavour of thyme—in six months.  There: that was enough to start with!

After luncheon she called all the children into the kitchen and set them to their various tasks: Rosie to make another batch of pie crust for the tartlets, Jolly and Nibs to make the dough for the cheese bread, and young Tom and Nick to work on supper, which was to be roast chicken.   She made the honey bannocks, and husband popped in to make tea for all of them, and Sam considered himself a hobbit-of-all-work, and even Mr. Frodo offered his services.  To that, Lily replied that he’d kicked her from her own kitchen for four days and she didn’t see why she shouldn’t be allowed to do the same.

It didn’t seem entirely proper, but neither did Mr. Frodo’s offering his services.  Fortunately, he just laughed, said he knew when he wasn’t wanted, and excused himself to take a walk until suppertime.

They had a gay old time with the cooking and baking, and went on even once the sun was down, using the light of the hearth, the oven, and several lamps to slip the last items in for baking.  But even in the lamp light, Lily could tell the troubled looks Rose was giving Sam, and the way Sam was sitting like he was on eggshells, and she knew something had to be done.

 

*  *  *

 

The day before Yule, all the lads got up at sunrise and made their way out into the wood to gather up the greenery to decorate the farm.  It was a three-mile walk across country to get to the nearest forest with evergreens in it, and they were using the horse cart, too, so Rosie didn’t expect them to return until two o’clock at least.  That gave her and her mother a full six hours of daylight to pull the brightly coloured ribbons and hangings for Yule from storage, wash them, and clean out both the fireplaces.

“So,” said Mum brightly, as they were wringing out the hangings one by one, “is there anything you wanted to talk about?”

“What would I—oh,” said Rosie.  “Look, Mum, it’s nothing much, only all the lads have blown the whole matter out of hand and gotten things worse instead of better.”

“What matter, my love?”

Rosie sighed.  She’d probably already heard it all from Dad last night.  “I was feeling down because Sam wasn’t spending half as much time with me as he ought, and I’d wanted to get the chance to talk to him, in private, at the wassail.  Only we aren’t wassailing now, so I talked to Marigold about it, and Marigold talked to Tom, and…”  She sighed again.  “Mum, I don’t mean to make a fuss, but he hasn’t even kissed me since he got back!”

Oh!

They continued their work in silence for a few minutes.

“Listen, Rose,” said Lily after a few minutes.  “I’ve an idea.  You know that with the Dragon closed and all, we can’t make our usual wassail—well, we could, but we’d rather let the ruffians’ stores go to them as was harmed by the ruffian’s most.  So, your dad and I talked things over and we decided to use the brandy as Mr. Frodo gave us to make hot toddies.  We were going to make them all in one batch, but if you’d like I can make a special set for Sam—one that should take care of all his shyness, if you take my meaning.”

Mother!

“Yes?”

“You’re not going to go about making Sam drunk for my benefit!”

“Now, look here, Rosie, if it’s shyness that’s the problem—”

“Then I’d rather have him overcome it on his own!”

“You know, if he ever finds out, he’ll like as not thank me when he does.”

“He will find out in the morning!”  Rosie huffed and took the stack of fabric, newly wrung, to the drying rack by the fire.  She’d have to speak with Sam before tomorrow, for she didn’t trust Mum not to go through with her own plans nohow.

The lads were back at half past two, but they spent the next half hour unloading all their findings into the barn before coming inside.  Rosie stoked up the fire in its newly-scrubbed hearth, and then helped Mum get the things out for a piping hot tea.  While she was in the pantry looking for the canister, she felt two cold soft hands come over her eyes.  “Guess who!”

“Marigold?”  Rosie reached up, pulled the hands from her eyes and turned around.  “I thought you weren’t due here till tomorrow morning!

“I wasn’t!  But the lads all stopped by New Row on the way back here, for Tom had to ask the Gaffer something, and then he said, ‘Wouldn’t you like to have tea and supper over at the Cottons?’ and of course I said ‘yes!’”

“But what’ll the Gaffer do for tea and supper, then?”

“Oh, Widow Rumble next door’ll look after him.  She cooks for us at least once a week anyhow—gives her something to do when her children aren’t visiting, and I think the two of them like talking about the old times without none of us younger folk getting in the way.”

“All right,” said Rosie.  “In that case—it’s wonderful to have you here, and I really must talk to you about Sam, for things have gotten worse, no thanks to you.”

“No thanks to me?  Why, Rose, whatever can you be talking about?”

But at that moment Mother called, demanding to know what was taking her so long, and when she saw that Marigold had stopped by as well, immediately put her hands to good use as well.

Tea was wonderful, warm, and long, and Rosie sat right next to Sam and was content to listen as the lads described their forestry exploits.  Jolly winked at her and whispered in her ear that he’d snagged a second bunch of mistletoe when no one was looking, and Rosie could only smile, thank him, and hope that his plan didn’t make things worse as well.  Nibs found a bit of ash on the flagstones of the hearth, wondered about it a little too loudly, and received mop and broom duty for the morrow.

Rose volunteered to do the washing up after all was done, and her heart beat just a little faster when Sam joined her a few minutes later.

“So,” she said, “I spoke to my dad yesterday morning, and he told me what he said to you.”

Sam cast her an enquiring look.

“So I’ll just remind you not to worry about him none.”

“Thanks,” said Sam, and he let out a little nervous laugh of relief.  “But I’m still afraid that I hurt you.”

“Sam.”  She turned to him, took her hand out of the water, suds and all, and laid it on his cheek.  “I—”

There was a loud cheer from the parlour.

Rosie’s hand fell.  “What in the—”  She and Sam briskly trotted over to the parlour to catch sight of Tom and Mari caught up in what was certainly not a courting kiss.  “What just happened?” she demanded.

They had to wait another good ten seconds to get their answer.  “Rose,” said Marigold, eyes shining.  “Tom just asked me to marry him!”

Sam’s jaw dropped, and small wonder.  Tom and Mari had only just started courting when Sam had left for his journey, but the Troubles had made them very dear to one another and she knew how shocked Sam had been to see his little sister running up to Tom after the Battle of Bywater and kissing him right on the lips.  Tom had had the biggest grin on his face then, and he had the biggest grin on his face now, too.  He looked triumphantly at Rosie before casting at Sam one of those cocksure looks that always followed a dare.

Oh.

Oh.

This was Tom’s brilliant plan to get Sam to talk to her.

She was going to slap him.

Of course, there was no chance to talk to Sam at all for the rest of the evening, for of course the newly betrothed couple had to be congratulated, and Sam had to run back to New Row and bring the Gaffer over for a spur-of-the-moment celebratory supper.

While supper was cooking, however, Rosie found just enough time to pull Tom away for Marigold and have a few choice words with him.

“Tolman Cotton,” she hissed.  “Are you mad?”

“Only with love,” he said, with this dreamy look that she wanted to rub right out of his face.

“He was talking to me!  He was talking to me, and I was talking to him, and you had to go and ruin it with your bit of good news!”

Tom blinked.  “Stop a bit.  He was out of the room?”

“Yes!  We were doing the washing up together!”

Tom got a panicked look in his eye.  “I’m sorry, Rosie, but I didn’t notice—I was trying to screw up the courage to ask her, you see, and once I did it just had to come out!  And anyhow, now that I have asked her, no one will mind if we make Sam just a little more jealous tomorrow under the mistletoe, you see?”

Rosie sighed.  “Just punch him in the nose next time, Tom, and leave your grander schemes to those as can make them work.”

“Really?  I can punch Sam in the nose now?”

“NO!”

And so the evening went.  Oh, she was happy for Marigold, truly, and for Tom, too, but did they really have to go and get themselves betrothed now?  She went to bed with her head in such a muddle that she nearly forgot tomorrow was Yule.

She remembered it soon enough in the morning, though, and as soon as the sun had warmed things up a bit, the Gamgees came over and they all sat around in the parlour exchanging gifts.  Tom and Mari, oddly enough, had nothing to give each other, for Tom had used his Yule gift to propose, and Mari had used hers to accept.  Sam had given her a brooch, a pretty little thing with the finest handiwork that she’d ever seen.  It was a bright red gem, but the setting was rather like a gold drawing of a rose, laid all on top, and it looked very fine—much too fine for her to wear, but it was Yule, after all, and it was from Sam.

“Where did you get it?” she asked him.

“There’s this little jewellery shop on the Fourth Circle of Minas Tirith, where the King and the Queen live, and if you recall that silly mail that the Big Folk made for me, you’ll realise that these folk will do anything for a hobbit, whether you ask them or not…”  His voice lowered to a whisper.  “But I did ask, this time, and paid for it, too.”

Rosie blushed quite prettily at that, but when Sam offered to help her put the pin on her bodice, her father coughed and gave Sam a rather meaningful look.

Her gift to Sam wasn’t half so grand—just a scarf she’d knitted for him while he’d been away (too long, now, to be practical), a pair of braces she’d embroidered with green and growing things, and a plate of his favourite biscuits.

She had baked things for the rest of her family, too, but she hadn’t thought of giving anything to Mr. Frodo.  Thus she was surprised when he handed her a small parcel as well.

Inside was a stack of ten silk handkerchiefs, plainly finished, but with embroidery at the opposite corners: a yellow rose and a pale blue periwinkle.  She understood the rose well enough, but why yellow?

“Thank you, Mr. Frodo,” she said, but she felt bad, that he should give her something and get nothing in return.

All that day, past sunset, even, they turned the house upside-down in cleaning it, and when they were done, they hung all the greenery and all the ribbons and all the hangings where they needed to go.  Only Gaffer Gamgee and Mr. Frodo were excused from work, and even then, Mr. Frodo offered to help but was politely refused.  He and the Gaffer sat together, then, in the kitchen, and talked.  Rosie tried not to overhear, but when she was put in charge of shining up the big oak table in the dining room, she couldn’t help it.

“He came to me and found me,” she heard Mr. Frodo saying.  “And this at a time when all wisdom would have said to save the Quest at all costs, to leave me behind and carry that thing to the Fire.  But Sam’s heart was truer than that, and perhaps wiser, for if he had left me, I would have been found, and I do not know if I would have held up to the questioners.  Yet—as I said—the orcs fought over my things, and slaughtered one another so thoroughly that Sam had to do very little to finish up the job, since he had turned back.

“There were other perils, too, though: despair, for one, and the Enemy’s Ring for the other.  He chose to forswear both, though, and when at last he did find me again, he surrendered the Ring willingly.  You have every reason to be proud of your son, Mr. Gamgee—as proud of him as I am.”

“Oh, I am, at that,” said the Gaffer.  “Been proud of him all my life, I have.  But a body can’t go about telling him that—it’ll give him airs, make him think it right to go mixing about with his betters.  Though”—and despite the wall between them, Rosie could hear the mistrust and disappointment in his voice—“perhaps it’s too late for that, after all.”

“I am sorry,” said Mr. Frodo.  “And if it is any consolation, Sam has fought my elevating his status in society tooth and nail, every step of the way.  But he is not just my servant, but my friend, and given all that I have just told you, I hope you will not fault me if I am his as well.”

Rosie had stopped with her polishing, and was halfway to the door before she realised that she was eavesdropping.  Turning red to her ears, she went back to her work, and distracted herself from the conversation going on by thinking of the conversation she had already heard.

At last all was ready.  In a flurry of activity they had gotten all the decorations up, and all the foodstuffs out, in two hours flat.  Somehow, despite the bustle, Mrs. Cotton still managed to make sure that Sam was the one tasked with hanging the mistletoe from the ceiling; and somehow, after standing there musing over it for five minutes, Sam managed to pass it off to Tom, who was all too willing to take over the job and receive his due reward.  The toddy was made in the traditional wassail bowl and kept warm by the fire, and there were all sorts of strange spices floating in it that Rose, once she managed to get a cup for herself, made sure to keep out of her drink!

They had hardly enough serving plates for all the food, but somehow they managed.  Mum had had the stroke of genius at the last minute to use the citron preserves Mr. Frodo had given her in the tartlets—and Rosie, having already tried one, knew exactly how much talk they would cause!  Dad lit the four candles that would stand in the two windows on either side of the front door, but he didn’t place them there yet.  Tom stood next to the fireplace, where last year’s Yule log and this year’s were nestled together.

“Right,” said Farmer Cotton.  “Well, this past year weren’t too easy for none of us, but we all survived it well enough, and better even than most of us had hoped!  Here’s to a brighter future awaiting all of us!”

Rosie caught Sam’s eye, and his lips twitched up into a smile that did not quite meet his eyes.  She wondered what he was thinking about.

“And here’s to all the folk as can’t be with us tonight, due to death, disease, or distance—may their Yules be glad, wherever they are!  To absent friends!”

“To absent friends!” they all echoed, with one voice, and drank.  Rosie kept on looking at Sam—his eyes were a bit wide as the drink went down, and he coughed a little as he set down his mug.  She’d have to do something about that, and quickly!

Dad brought one of the candles to Tom, and Tom used it to light the kindling in the fireplace.  As soon as the blaze was steady, Dad put the candles in the windows, and the Cotton-Baggins wassail was open for business.

It was as busy as Mr. Frodo had predicted, and Rosie soon understood why Mum had wanted them all to stay home and help, for so many things needed replenishing, and so quickly at that!  When Nibs went out to refill the platter of mince tartlets, Rosie spied him making a detour by the wood rack and picking up one of the split logs intended to keep the fire going.  She hoped this plan would work, at least.

First, though, she made her way over to Sam, who was describing, to Jolly’s open scepticism, the biggest snowstorm he’d ever seen—up in the mountains, while he’d been abroad.  Carefully she slid his mug from its place and replaced it with hers.  The level of drink was even enough that she hoped he wouldn’t notice.

Just then, there was a knock at the door, and as Rosie was on door duty (it being considered more pleasant to be greeted by a comely lass), she went to answer it, setting the drink back down.  The wassailers were one of the families they’d spirited food to, and had lost a son at Bywater, and they insisted on singing three songs, one after the other, and reminiscing with them all, Rosie did not get back to Sam and Jolly until all three mugs on their table were empty.

Mum presently came out with three more.

The evening passed in a delightful buzz, as most such evenings do.  They had brought out two presiding chairs—one for her father, and one for Mr. Frodo, and most of those who stopped by thought it a delightful arrangement.  Their closer friends, too, allowed them to join in with the singing, and what with keeping one’s throat wet and all the toasting it was impossible not to feel merry.  It would have been perfect if Rosie had not had to keep watching out for what Sam was drinking, and if, when she was on door duty, he had caught her as she passed under the mistletoe the way Tom did Marigold—or even her father did her mother!  But the log stack kept getting lower and lower, and maybe—just maybe—she would get that private interview after all.

Jolly did not look entirely steady as he made his way back to the parlour, though.  Rosie’s eyes widened—why, Sam had been spending the entire wassail refuting Jolly, and she’d been switching his drink with the one nearest it…

Jolly cast a rather significant look at the now-empty wood rack as he entered the parlour and took up his accustomed seat.  “Say,” he said, in a voice that was supposed to be a whisper.  “Say, Sam.  I’ve got this most marvellous plan up my sleeve: involving you, and Rosie-Posie.”

Good heavens, he hadn’t called her that since they were ten!  “Jolly,” she said, rather loudly.  “You don’t look too well.”

“Eh?  What’re you talking about, Rosie?  I’m perfectly well!  Here, I was just ‘bout to tell Sam of that marlev—marvle—that plan I cooked up—”

“You’re not well, Jolly, and if you can’t tell that now, you’ll be able to in the morning.  Hoy, Tom!  Tom?”

Tom was sequestered in a corner with his arm around Marigold, deep in conversation, and did not look like to be shaken out of it soon.  There was another knock on the door, and Mother went to answer it.  She sighed.  “Nick, Nibs!  Help me get your fool brother off to bed afore he does something stupid.”

“Rosie, I’m fine!”

Rosie heaved an arm under Jolly’s shoulder and stood up.  Sam cast her an enquiring glance, but she shook her head and let her brothers help him get up and off to bed.

“Now what do we do?” said Nick, once they had managed to talk Jolly into a nap.

“Nothing,” said Rosie with a sigh.  “It’s useless; all the clever plans everyone’s cooked up have fallen flat.  Our cake’s dough.”

“We could still beat Sam up for you!” said Nibs.

“Not for Yule, you won’t,” said Rosie.  “And I’d doubt you’d manage, even if you tried.  It’s best just to wait for him to come round to it—as it’s always been.”

“Sorry, Rose,” said her brothers in unison.

“That’s all right,” said Rosie, “and never you mind me.  I think I’ll take a turn outside, and then I’ll come back in, right as rain, and we’ll all of us have a glad Yule together, eh?”  They both nodded, and Rosie slipped out the back door.

It was colder than she’d expected, and snow was falling from the sky in tiny flakes, though it melted as soon as it touched the ground.  It caught in her curls, and glimmered in the moonlight, and she reckoned she must be very pretty to look at if only Sam could see it.  He had been looking at her, all those times she’d gone to answer the door and lingered at the mistletoe, and his eyes had been alight, but his fists were clenched at his side and he’d done nothing.

She had not been wandering in any particular direction, but she found herself at the woodpile, which was starting to get a dusting of snow on the top logs.  One of them had been pulled out a few inches, and a big bunch of mistletoe was tied to it with a thick ribbon.  She laid her hand on the log, almost caressing it.  “Stupid,” she said.  “Stupid, stupid.”

 

*  *  *

 

Nick and Nibs came back into the parlour, hands in their pockets and head hung low.  It was mighty queer for Jolly to have gone and got himself drunk like that—he hadn’t been drinking any faster than Sam, that was for sure!

“Is he all right?” said Sam.

“He didn’t seem to be spitting drunk, so yes, for now,” said Nick.  “Still, one of us ought to keep an eye on him ever so often.”

“That’s good,” said Sam, and he returned his attention to the current song, and went to get one of those citron tartlets while he was at it.  Funny how new food like that could grow on a body…

Glancing over at Mr. Frodo in his presiding chair, he saw his teeth chattering.  “Why, Master, what’s the matter?”

“Nothing,” said Mr. Frodo, “only a bit of a chill’s come over me.  Do you think you could add another log to the fire?”

“Sure, just a—”  Sam looked at the log rack and blinked.  “Now, we can’t have gone through all that wood in so short a time…”

“Is there anything the matter?” said Mr. Frodo.

“Nothing at all,” said Sam.  “I’ll just pop outside and get more wood from the woodpile.”  Excusing himself, he stepped outside, made his way to the woodpile, and saw her, standing quite alone, looking down at something on one of the logs.

He ran to her.

 

*  *  *

The evening after the Battle of Bywater, when they finally had had three minutes alone together, he’d caught a hold of her, saying nothing, and together they’d had a good long cry.  She couldn’t help it!—she’d missed him so, and just having the smell of him there made all the long memories of their lives flood back to her.

And somehow, miraculously, he was holding her again, and she was snuffling into his chest again, and the night didn’t seem half so cold now as it did when she’d gone outside.

“Rosie,” he said, when she had had her cry out.  “What’s the matter?”

“Oh, I’m right sorry for all the trouble I’ve caused you, Sam!”

He took a step back and held her at arm’s length.  “Trouble?”

“Oh, you know—Dad talking with you, and Nibs looking fit to murder you, and Tom rubbing it in both our faces, and accidentally getting Jolly drunk—it was just something as I mentioned to Marigold, only she told Tom, and soon everyone knew, and—”

“Rosie.  I don’t know what you’re going on about.  Talk slower, or plainer, or something!”

“I griped about you a little to Marigold, Sam, and I was going to talk with you about it when we went wassailing.  Only Mum cancelled the wassail, and Mari said there must still be a way to get you to talk with me, and so she told Tom, and then everything got out of hand and everyone had a grand idea and they all fell flat on their faces on account of there being so many.”

Sam was silent for a few moments, but then he said, slowly, “Well, you’re talking to me now, aren’t you?”

Rosie nodded.  “Mum wanted to get your courage up, so she gave you more brandy, but I didn’t want you to get drunk so I switched your drinks, only I wasn’t looking and now Jolly’s plan’s come to naught, too.  He did this,” she said, and she pointed at the mistletoe.

Sam stared at it, blinked twice, and said, “Is that what you griped to Mari about?”

Rosie nodded again.  “I’m sorry, Sam, I really try not to complain, but you’ve been back for two months, after all, and then you’re so nervous around me but not-nervous around everyone else… I can’t help but wonder…”

 “I don’t feel nervous now,” said Sam.  “Does that help?”

“A little,” said Rosie.  “But you still haven’t kissed me.”

Sam froze.  “Rosie—”

“What’s wrong with you, Sam?  It can’t be that you don’t love me, or you don’t find me pretty, can it?  And it can’t be that you’re scared, for you don’t scare easy now, and you sure weren’t scared last time!”

“Rose—”

“You left me, Sam, and I know it was for a good reason and I know you came back, but you left me, and you didn’t tell me where you were going, and it hurt, and the only thing as made it better was that at least you’d given me something good to remember you by.  But that’s the last kiss I have from you, and every time I think about it I think back to that day, and I feel so wretched because it’s like you’re leaving all over again!”

Sam put his arms back around her, and rubbed her back, up and down.  “Anything else you’re upset with me for?”

“You left,” said Rosie.

“You already said that.”

“And you took your sweet time coming home.”

“Hmm.”

“And now you’re so busy.”

“Don’t I know it.  Is that all?”

“Is there anything else I’m supposed to be cross at you for?”

“Well… you’re not jealous of Mr. Frodo, are you?  Over me?  I hope you don’t dislike him for it!”

“I—well, he seems to be a bit above my likes and dislikes, if you take my meaning.  He’s so different, and distant.  You, on the other hand—”

“Me?”

“You’re easier to get worked up over.  Because I love you.  Sam, why won’t you love me the way you did before you left?”

Sam sighed.  “Because I’m not the hobbit I was afore I left.”  He let go of her and linked her arm in his.  “Will you take a turn with me around the house?”

“Away from the mistletoe?”

“We’ll come back to it by and by.”  Rosie nodded her assent, and they began to walk, step by step, around the farm, with the snow falling about them.  “Now,” said Sam.  “To take your complaints as they come.  I can’t say as I’m sorry I left, for my master needed me, and as you said, a great deal of good was brought about by it.  But I am sorry I leftyou, and I should have told you more, or left you some clue, only I didn’t want you to fret and it really did have to be kept hushed up.

“For taking our time in coming back—there’s half a dozen excuses I can come up with for that, and they all fall flat every time I see a felled tree or I pass by the graves of those hobbits as died at Bywater.  So I’m sorry for that, and I’m sorry I grieved you by it.

“For being so busy—please accept my deepest apologies, and I’ll try to make up for it as best I can.

“And for everything else…”  He sighed.  “Rosie, I saw a great many things outside the Shire—some of them lovely, and some of them downright dreadful.  There was so much darkness out there, pressing in on us all—pressing in on my master, and pressing in on me.  When a body’s that weighed down, he needs something as he can strive for, like a star in the heavens, or a happy memory, or a happy promise.  For me, often as not, it was you.”

Rosie stopped in her tracks.  The moonlight shone on Sam’s face, and was reflected dimly in his brown eyes.

“But a star can’t be close to you, nor a memory, nor a promise, or they wouldn’t be what they are.  So even as I held onto you, in those dark lands, you got less real, and more like a picture portrait or a shadow.  You weren’t just you no longer; you were all my hopes and dreams for you—for us.”  He reached across and took her other hand in his, and started walking again.  “Now, imagine me, coming back to the real Rosie Cotton!”

“What?” said Rosie.  “Are you afraid I wouldn’t live up to your dreams?”

“No, it’s not that—it’s like the picture portrait.  If I had only known you through that, wouldn’t I be just a mite nervous meeting you in the flesh?”

“But you do know me, Sam!”

“I know.  My head knows that.  But my heart—well.  I loved you before I left, and then when I just had your picture to carry me through the Shadow I loved you even more, and now that I’m back and I remember how much more you are than that picture—”  He gave a little laugh.  “I’m that much over my head for you, Rosie Cotton, and it scares and thrills me all at the same time, and I’m so very busy that even if I’m the slightest bit nervous I can find something else to do as needs doing.  And that ain’t right by you, and I shan’t do it no more!”

“What about the mistletoe, though?”

“Oh, that…”

“Surely you can’t be so frightened that you can’t kiss me?”

“No, it’s not that.”  He paused.  “You’re going to laugh at me when you hear the reason.”

“Tell me, then!”

“Well—you know me, Rosie, and you know I can’t do things by halves.  I get the smallest bit sad at something, and”—he snapped his fingers—“water pouring out of both eyes.  So, I hope you’ll understand when I say that I’m not so much afraid of starting, as I am of not stopping.”

Rosie turned the words over in her head.  “Oh,” she said, finally.  “But it wasn’t a problem for you before!”

“It wasn’t a problem for me before because I hadn’t thought on it much.  But I missed you, when I was out there, especially when things were dark and hopeless, so I did think on it—maybe more than I should’ve.  And now I’m back, and you’re here, and it’s better just to leave well enough alone than to risk hurting you.”

They had made it back to the woodpile.  “Sam,” said Rosie, “you couldn’t hurt me; your heart’s too gentle.”

“Couldn’t I?”  His hand was trembling in hers.

Rosie raised it to her lips.  “I’d tell you if you were, and then you’d stop.”

“You’re right,” said Sam, after a moment’s thought.  “But there’s still propriety to think about—we’re still only courting, after all.”

“And if you can’t even give me a courting kiss without trying to turn it into something more, Sam Gamgee, then you have no self-control whatsoever.  Besides, that hardly stopped you last time.”

“Last time,” said Sam, “I was leaving for a journey I had no hope of returning from.  I should think wanting to say ‘goodbye’ excuses me somewhat.”

“Yes,” said Rosie, “and now you’re back from a journey you had no hope of returning from.  I want to say, ‘Welcome home.’”

“I still don’t know—”

“I’ll pinch you when I want you to stop.”

Sam nodded once.  “All right, then.”  He glanced at the mistletoe.  “We should get under it, shouldn’t we?”

Rosie sat down beneath the log, and Sam joined her.  For the briefest of moments they stared at each other, feeling a little odd, but then he took her face in his hands and he kissed her, long and fully and deeply, and Rosie felt that she could sing.

“You didn’t pinch me,” he said, when they finally parted for air.

“I didn’t want you to stop,” said Rosie, and she laughed.  “Do you feel better, too, now?”

“Miles better,” said Sam.  “In fact, I think I could manage a courting kiss.”  He did.

“There,” said Rosie, “that wasn’t so bad, was it?”

He managed it again.

And again.

And—Rosie turned her face aside.  “I think I see what you mean, Sam.  We’ll have to practice stopping, won’t we?”

“I—I don’t know what you mean, Rose.”

“It’s all right, you know,” said Rosie.  “You don’t have to kiss me.  I just wanted to know why you hadn’t—and I confess that your answer’s a lot happier than all the other ones I’d come up with!”

“That’s good.  I’m sorry I caused you worry.”

“No harm done now—except for poor Jolly’s headache tomorrow.”

Sam stood up and offered his hand to Rosie.  “Now, what did I come out here for?  Oh—ninnyhammers!!”

“What is it?”

“I’d promised to get more firewood for Mr. Frodo—his teeth were chattering, poor fellow!  I’m afraid I left him out in the cold!”

Oh!  She hadn’t realised that taking all the wood from the fire might have done someone harm.  “Well, we’d better bring some more inside, hadn’t we?” she said, and hand in hand, with a log in each their spare arms, they made their way to the front door.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Frodo,” said Sam, as they stepped inside, but they were no more than two steps in when they both saw the fire blazing more merrily than ever, and the wood rack newly filled with the logs that had been secreted away from it over the evening.  “Of all the—”

Oh, but they were laughing at the two of them, all of them, even Mr. Frodo and the Gaffer.  As if they were one, Sam and Rose looked up at the ceiling to see the sprig of mistletoe hanging innocently above them.  They both laughed—and then Sam bent his head down to Rosie’s and kissed her quickly on the lips. 


Chapter End Notes:

This fic can be considered a prequel of sorts to my Sharing Sam series, dealing with the interactions of Rosie, Sam, and Frodo.  However, it cannot be considered a proper member of the series yet, because most of Rosie’s frustration is directed at Sam and she has not yet made up her mind about Frodo.  As Sam goes off on more forestry trips, I hope the reader will not find any difficulty in reconciling the state of Rosie’s emotions at the end of this fic with the state of them at the beginning of that series.

 

The title of this fic comes from Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew; more specifically, the following scene:

 

KATHARINA

Husband, let's follow, to see the end of this ado.

PETRUCHIO

First kiss me, Kate, and we will.

KATHARINA

What, in the midst of the street?

PETRUCHIO

What, art thou ashamed of me?

KATHARINA

No, sir, God forbid; but ashamed to kiss.

PETRUCHIO

Why, then let's home again. Come, sirrah, let's away.

KATHARINA

Nay, I will give thee a kiss: now pray thee, love, stay.

PETRUCHIO

Is not this well? Come, my sweet Kate:
Better once than never, for never too late.

 

The same play is also the source of Rosie’s line “Our cake’s dough.”

 

All other stolen lines and words come straight from Tolkien and know who they are.

 

Socrates399 is indirectly responsible for Frodo’s gift to Rosie.

 

Dreamflower is indirectly responsible for my hobbit wassailing traditions.

Sam and Rosie are directly responsible for their own problems.

 

Recipes for the hot toddies and citron preserves to follow in a week’s time.  Watch this space!



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