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...
He 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 Sam 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) 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 he 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 admitting his own feelings 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 on to 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 rejoicing Hobbiton supporters, offering admiration and levity 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!"
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.