Favourite Hobbit Stories
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Crate of Lemons, A: 1. A Crate of Lemons
Disclaimer: The Tolkien Estate owns the Shire and everything in it. I’m just here for breakfast.
“What do we do with these?”
Catching the soft mutter, Sam left off rooting through the linen chest for fresh napkins and went to see what was troubling his wife. He found Rosie, hands planted on hips, in the middle of the kitchen, considering a half-open crate. Her forehead was furrowed, and wood shavings dappled the floor--otherwise spotless--around her furry feet.
“Troubles, Rosie-lass?” he asked, coming up behind her. He twined an arm around her expanded waist and settled his chin on her shoulder so his cheek brushed hers. Rosie half-nodded as she continued to chew her lower lip. Sam looked again at the crate. The packing had shifted, concealing the contents that so puzzled Rosie. He reached around her and brushed aside the curls of wood to reveal several rich yellow objects nestled within.
“Lemons!” cried Sam as he stooped to pluck several from the packing. He was too delighted to heed Rosie’s protest at the new spray of wood shavings. “Lemons, Rosie! That’s a fruit, that is. From the far south. South of Gondor!”
“Where the King is?” asked Rosie.
Sam nodded. He scratched one of the bright rinds with his thumbnail and inhaled deeply, eyes closed to fully appreciate the scent.
“You’ve not had the like, Rosie. They’re wonderful! Go on, then, have a sniff!”
Rosie dutifully smelled the proffered fruit and wrinkled her nose. “Smells right queer to me, Samwise Gamgee. Sour-like.”
“You’ll see,” said Sam with a wide grin, and he began piling lemons onto the table. “They make a drink, tastes like snow in summer, or so Mr. Frodo says. This’ll be a rare treat for him; he loved it of a morning. And today’s just the morning for it, I reckon,” he added under his breath.
Taking the rounded hall to Frodo’s bedroom a half hour later, Sam whistled softly while he moved with deliberate care to keep the loaded tray level. That had been Rosie’s idea, the hearty breakfast. Sam smiled at the recollection.
“He barely eats as it is, Sam,” Rosie had said as she settled a plate laden with sausages, eggs, and bacon onto the tray.
“That’s what don’t make sense to me, love,” he had replied, watching her move a bowl of cinnamon-dusted applesauce aside to add a wicker of steaming muffins and a pat of dewy butter. “Mr. Frodo’s not likely to eat even the porridge, let alone the rest.”
But Rosie had shooed him on his way with a knowing look.
Sam balanced his load on one hand, hissing under his breath when the tray dipped unexpectedly and plates clattered against each other. Steadying it once more, he tapped softly.
The heavy oak door muffled the voice, but the grumpy tone was clear. Sam gave a slow, sage shake of his head. Didn’t take a peek in the Lady’s mirror to know his master was paying for his whim of the day before, when he had insisted on working the untilled ground in the new vegetable plot. Still, there had been no denying Frodo the task. He’d gotten out of his dim study and into the spring sunshine for the longest time since winter, and Sam had watched with satisfaction as a healthy glow came to his friend’s too-pale face. Well, perhaps this surprise of Strider’s would take his mind off his aches, as the aches had taken his mind off his memories the day before.
Disregarding the order, Sam lifted the latch and entered. Long ago this spacious room had been Bilbo Baggins’. Elegant silver sconces from Rivendell bracketed the doorway; new ones to replace those ruined during the spoiling of Bag End. A toy dragon from Laketown, a gift from Bilbo on one of their shared birthdays long ago, crouched on the fireplace mantel, wooden claws scoring its wheeled base, firelight glinting off its silvered fangs. On the hearth, a battered Dwarven shield was heaped high with the day’s firewood. This was one eccentricity of the dear old hobbit that Frodo could not bear to change, but which made Sam mutter his Gaffer’s ripest oaths under his breath every time he filled it.
Now, like in the adjoining study, Frodo’s hand overlaid the traces of Bilbo’s long residence. Sam had nipped in earlier to stoke the fire while Frodo drowsed, and its gentle light illuminated the piles of books and papers on every table, shelf and chair, from one end of the room to the other. Even the window seat was rife with sheets of Frodo’s elegant script, which the soft morning breeze rustled and curled against the leather-bound walking stick laid atop them. Sheaves of pages on the dry sink relegated both water pitcher and basin to the floor. The only furniture not strewn with paper was the bed. It contained one hobbit-sized lump.
“Nothing for me this morning, Rosie. I’m not hungry,” grumbled Frodo, his voice muffled.
“It’s your Sam, sir,” Sam said, setting the tray on the only free spot near the bed—the floor. “Rosie don’t need to be fetching or carrying just now. Mind, she’d try if I didn’t put my foot down, as well you know. But down it’s set, and I’ll no more let her try than I’ll let you skip breakfast. It’s unnatural, that!”
Frodo made a disgruntled noise and stirred slightly.
With a fond smile, Sam reached over and gently tugged at the cover, then the underquilt, and finally the third layer of bedcovers hiding the curled form of his friend. After a moment, Frodo let him slide the last layer off, then opened one startlingly blue eye to regard him narrowly.
“Morning, Mr. Frodo!” Sam greeted him. “You’re in for a real treat.” He lifted the sturdy earthenware pitcher from the breakfast tray and patted its side cheerfully.
A loose shutter on the window creaked and swayed in a sudden gust. Papers fluttered, and a shaft of sunlight struck the bed. Frodo winced. Hunching up one nightshirt-clad shoulder, he turned away from the gleam to bury his face further into the pillow. Dark curls fell forward to cast shadows on his sun-reddened face.
Sam’s smile fled. Brows creased in concern, he tried to set the pitcher on the bedside table but stopped, perplexed. Frodo’s work left no room even for that. With a harried glance at the swinging shutter, he shoved at the stack of books, sliding them aside to teeter perilously on the edge of the table.
That roused Frodo. He erupted from the bed and snatched at the books, only to continue sliding over the side, arms full and unable to stop himself. No time for niceties; Sam slammed down the pitcher and lunged forward to catch him, books and all. Frodo went rigid in his arms, biting back a cry of pain.
“You’re a ninnyhammer twice over, Samwise Gamgee,” Sam said fiercely, ignoring the spilled juice trickling from the tabletop to soak the rug. “Just you lie back there, Mr. Frodo. I’ll have you set up proper in no time.” He eased Frodo back onto the bed, bolstering him with pillows while Frodo uncurled his protective hold on the books. The snatch had crumpled pages and bent covers backways-to-front.
After throwing Sam a reproachful look, Frodo painstakingly smoothed the creased pages, set the covers to rights, and began to stack them onto his lap. Sam stuffed a last pillow in place, then plucked the books from Frodo’s hands.
“Now, then, Mr. Frodo,” he replied evenly. “They’ll not go far, so you needn’t fret.” Sam set them on the other side of the bed, then captured Frodo’s hands and turned them to the light. Mushroom caps to be sure, he thought to himself, before Frodo scowled and wrested them free.
Sam suspected he knew the answer, but— “How are you feeling today?”
“We’ll see about that,” said Sam with lips pursed, and put a hand to Frodo’s forehead. Frodo flinched away, then sighed and allowed his touch with the resigned air of one who had faced it far too many mornings before, but didn’t feel like arguing about it today. Instead, he went for the books again. Sam batted his hands away.
“Eat something first, Mr. Frodo. Plain as plain, you overworked yourself yesterday, and beggin’ your pardon, sir, but you don’t seem yourself this morning. There’ll be no working in the garden for you today, that’s straight. And you shouldn’t do no writing neither, not with those hands.”
“Sam… I’m fine. Truly.” Sam snorted. Defeated, Frodo rubbed his temples and sighed. “All right, perhaps a little sore. And maybe a little cranky. I’m sorry.”
“That’s all right,” Sam said, meeting his friend’s contrite eyes. “You’ll feel more like yourself after breakfast.” He circled the bed and crossed over to close the window, then unfolded the wooden shutters so the light was heavily filtered.
“Rosie’s outdone herself this morning,” he continued, returning to Frodo’s bedside and noting with satisfaction that the fine lines of strain around Frodo’s eyes had eased. Sam lifted the tray to his master’s lap. When Frodo regarded it without interest, he continued in his most encouraging tone, “I reckon she thought you’d be having second breakfast along with the first.” He held out the silverware, nestled in a white linen napkin. Frodo was slow to accept a spoon. “Now then, Mr. Frodo,” Sam wheedled. “You wouldn’t want to hurt her feelings by returning a tray as full as what she sent off, would you?”
“Have some of the bacon, then, Sam.”
“I’ve had my share already. Besides… what would I say if Rosie asks whether or not you’d eaten it? She’d know in a trice which way things lay, mark my words.”
“I expect you are right.” Then, in a quieter tone, “And it would be unkind after all the effort Rosie has been to.”
Sam turned his head to hide a private smile, now understanding Rosie’s scheme. Frodo dipped the spoon, and Sam settled on the bed to watch as spoonfuls of porridge made their shaky way between the bowl and Frodo’s mouth.
Frodo’s hand had steadied by the time the bowl was half eaten, and Sam, who had been quietly watching, shifted back to the table. He took the pitcher and filled one of Bilbo’s fine Elvish glasses.
“My old Gaffer always says to drink plenty when there’s been overheating, and I expect the same’s true of overworking.”
“Surely that’s not his home brew?”
Sam chuckled and poured. As he had hoped, the pale yellow drink caught Frodo’s attention.
“What is that?” he asked with something more of his usual curiosity. “It looks like…”
Sam swelled and held it out to him. “It is, Mr. Frodo. That juice you liked so much in Minas Tirith. That Strider there—“
“King Elessar, Sam,” Frodo said absently, studying the beverage within the glass he held.
“Aye, him. Sent a large box. How he did it is a riddle, unless p’raps Mr. Gandalf carted them here on that fine fast horse of his. However he did it, they came this morning while you were resting. Rosie squeezed up some, and there you are!”
Frodo sniffed the tangy scent, eyes half-closed, a smile slowly growing on his face. He tilted the glass to drink, then paused. “Aren’t you going to have some? I don’t think you had any in Minas Tirith. You should try it, Sam. It’s wonderful.”
Sam slid off the bed and backed away, hands up in protest. “No, Mr. Frodo, and that’s flat, meaning no disrespect. Foreign food, lemons is—not for the likes of me. Anyway, sent to Bag End, they were, not Bagshot Row. Clear enough Mr. Strider meant them for you.”
“He meant them for all of us, I am sure,” said Frodo. “Sam, my mind is made up. I won’t have a bite more until you share a glass with me. And Rosie, too. She certainly deserves a reward for her efforts.”
“But, Mr. Frodo…” said Sam doubtfully.
“Not a bite,” repeated Frodo firmly, setting down the glass and crossing his arms with only a small wince.
Sam knew when to have done. Off he trotted to fetch two more glasses and an unexpectedly reluctant Rosie.
“I don’t want any,” whispered Rosie as he helped her down the hall. “I... I don’t think it’s right.”
“I’m not sayin’ you’re wrong, but Mr. Frodo wants to share,” he whispered back.
“No, Sam, I mean, I don’t like—” She broke off when he pulled her into the room. Frodo smiled at them from where he rested on pillows heaped against the ornately carved headboard.
“Good morning, Rosie!”
“Good mornin’, sir,” she answered automatically, and twisted her hands in her apron.
Sam frowned at this. Frodo evidently saw it, too, for his eyebrows rose up into questions.
“What’s wrong? You didn’t medicine the drink, did you, Rosie?”
“No, sir. Though,” she added with a toss of her head that made Sam smile, “I might have if I’d thought of it.”
“I want to believe you,” said Frodo slowly. “But after yesterday’s discovery, it seems odd that neither of you will drink with me. What am I to think?”
Sam caught Frodo’s sly look at him and felt the red creep from his neck to his curly hair. “Now, Mr. Frodo! You know ‘twas for your own good we did it. But if it’ll prove there’s naught but juice in it, I’ll share a drink with you, and Rosie, too.” He poured into Rosie’s glass and then his own.
“To friends, far and near!” Frodo cried.
“To friends,” he and Rosie echoed.
Sam lifted his glass. The juice smelled as tangy as the bruised rind. Beside him, Rosie barely wet her lips, while Frodo took an enthusiastic swallow. But the drink seemed to catch in his throat. His eyes widened, one hand flew to his mouth and he gagged. With an effort he choked down the rest of the mouthful, then gasped and started to cough. His left hand was white-knuckled about the glass, which sloshed with each spasm until Rosie rescued it.
Sam quickly set down his glass, untasted. “Mr. Frodo?” He thumped his master’s back. “What is it? Did it go down wrong?”
Frodo waved him off, fighting for air between raking coughs, and finally managed to speak. “Water, Sam,” he rasped, “hurry!” and then lapsed into another coughing fit. Sam, after exchanging a stricken look with Rosie, scrambled to fetch the pitcher from the floor before the dry sink.
Sam and Rosie waited anxiously while Frodo gulped down one full glass and half of a second, before he finally stopped coughing, much to Sam's relief.
“Are you all right?” Sam hovered, water pitcher at the ready if another refill was needed.
Instead of answering him, Frodo turned to Rosie. “You tried some earlier,” he said hoarsely, wiping tears from his eyes. “But Sam didn’t, did he?”
Puzzled, Sam saw Rosie shake her head.
“I thought not,” Frodo muttered with a sidelong look at Sam and coughed one last time.
Rosie shifted her feet. “Not my place to say so, sir, but I couldn’t see why my Sam said you liked it so. More bitter than the dregs of the barrel to my way of thinking.”
“Sir?” said Sam, more puzzled than ever as Frodo turned to him with a gaze that was beginning to hold a hint of merriment.
“Sam, did you ever watch it being made?”
“Never, sir. Juice is juice, one same as another.” He regarded his own untouched drink, baffled. “What … don’t it taste right?” He tilted the glass to sip, but a hand shot out to stop him.
“My dear fellow,” said Frodo, eyes now dancing. “You are an ass. It’s supposed to be sweetened.”
Sam stared at him, then at his glass. The rattle of crockery drew his attention back to Frodo and, bemused, he reached out to steady the tray while Frodo raised it.
“What are you doing, Mr. Frodo?”
“Getting up,” said Frodo in a matter-of-fact voice and he swung his legs from under the tray to dangle over the side of the bed. Setting the tray down, he twisted to pick a strip of bacon (not, Sam noted, without wincing), then bit into it with a crunch. His other arm curled over and behind his head, stretching to work out a kink. Sam knew that spot well; hours of working rich soil left knotted muscles between even a seasoned gardener’s shoulders.
“Be so good as to fetch my dressing gown, Sam. Rosie, would you excuse us for a moment?”
Rosie beamed and headed for the door. Sam didn’t move. “You’re not fit!” he said, folding his arms across his chest.
Frodo peeked at Sam, arm wrapped over his head, mouth quirked. His voice was still husky, but it held mirth, not censure, just like his eyes. “I may not know the working end of a spade from its handle, but I know a thing or two of aches… enough to know they only set deeper if one stays abed. Besides…” Frodo’s face came alight with mischief. “How often do I get the better of you and Rosie in the kitchen? An opportunity not to be missed!” He held out a hand. “Come, Samwise Gamgee, friend of friends and hobbit of hobbits, help me up. I’ll show you what to do with a crate of lemons.”
“Mmm, that’s better,” said Frodo in the kitchen fifteen minutes later and licked his lips. Rosie eyed him doubtfully, steeled herself, then sipped her own drink. The startled change in her expression made Frodo laugh outright. Sam shook his head and unobtrusively set more muffins before him, accompanied by a second plate of bacon.
Sam’s spirits, a little crestfallen after ruining Strider’s surprise, lifted when Frodo snared a muffin and began to slather it with butter, too busy discussing the flavor of lemons and the proper proportions of water, sweetening, and juice with an enthralled Rosie to realize what he was doing.
Alls well that ends better, as the Gaffer was fond of saying. Sam smiled. He may indeed have ruined Strider’s surprise, in a manner of speaking, but the bright-eyed hobbit sitting at the table before him and waving a buttery muffin in the air was a far cry from the cranky one of half an hour ago.
Once Frodo was done eating—and that wouldn’t be long, for now he was tucking away the bacon and eggs like he used to back in the old days—Sam would borrow a sheet or two of that fine white parchment in the top drawer of old Mr. Bilbo’s desk and send a proper thank-you to the King.
“A rare treat to be sure, Mr. Strider,” he thought, sweeping wilted lemon halves into the kitchen waste bucket. “Mr. Frodo’s had a fine laugh. At my expense, it was, but that’s just fine. One way or another, we’ll bring him back to the Shire.”
~ End ~
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