Originally written in 2005. This was an attempt to address, in a small way, a bit of canon from FOTR, when Frodo says in Moria: “He wished with all his heart that he was back there, and in those days, mowing the lawn, and pottering among the flowers…” I’ve set this after Bilbo leaves, but it seems reasonable to me to assume that Frodo would still have a yen to garden from time to time.
I’ve also wondered what, if anything, the Ring was up to in those days. In particular, did it know when Sauron discovered through Gollum that it was not destroyed. Did it hear Sauron’s call?
Sam Gamgee was lying on his back in the sweet scented grass on the Hill above Bag End, his eyes closed. The sun was warm on his face and the wind ruffled his unruly curls with gentle fingers. He felt a deep contentment. His stomach was full, courtesy of a now-empty lunch basket (provided by his sister Daisy and packed with a hearty meal and a bottle of his dad’s home brew); he’d put in a hard morning’s work in the gardens of Bag End; and Mr. Frodo himself had sent Sam away to relax and enjoy his lunch on this glorious summer day. Without opening his eyes, Sam plucked a long blade of grass and put the stem in his mouth, chewing on it thoughtfully as he pictured Mr. Frodo, weskit discarded and sleeves rolled to his elbows, busily mowing the lawn down below while Sam, bone-idle, enjoyed a nice nap up the Hill. He shook his head, smiling a little at the strangeness of it.
But there was no gainsaying Mr. Frodo when he got a notion to work in the garden, as he did from time to time. Most days he let Sam get on about his work while he tended to his own inside the smial. Then one day without warning he’d stroll outside and say, “Sam lad, take some time off. I’m going to potter about in the garden today.”
Sometimes, like today, Mr. Frodo would cut the grass; sometimes he’d pull weeds or plant flowers. Sometimes he’d ask Sam to stay and help him with a new idea he’d had for the garden. Sam would find himself digging up and transplanting perennials, or moving rocks from one place to another, working side by side with his cheerful, dirt-streaked employer. There was no doubt but that whenever Mr. Frodo took it into his head to ‘potter’, as he liked to call it, it was all to the good of the garden. He had a keen eye for color, Mr. Frodo did, and a feel for just the right place to set a plant or stone to the best effect.
Sam folded his arms under his head and listened hard. Amidst the songs of birds and the rustle of tree leaves in the breeze, he heard the faint sound of a merry tune being whistled, and he recognized it as one of old Mr. Bilbo’s songs. Sam’s smile widened. Mr. Frodo liked to sing or whistle when he was working about the smial, and he could carry a tune and no mistake. No nightingale singing in a thicket at dusk could have sounded sweeter, in Sam’s opinion. He gave a contented sigh, and dropped off to sleep with the sun on his eyelids, joyful sounds in his ears and a happy smile on his face.
The dream started out well enough. Sam was walking up the Row to Bag End. It was early morning, and the Sun was just peeking over the top of the Hill. The dew was heavy on the grass, glinting and sparkling in the growing light, and the birds were fair singing up a storm. It was going to be a beautiful day, and Sam sang along with the birds as he left the Row and cut across the Party Field, the wet grass cool beneath his feet, tickling his ankles and the backs of his calves as he strode along.
But as he breasted the rise and drew near the smial, his song faltered and died. A sudden chill touched his heart. Something was wrong, terribly wrong. While the sun was gilding all else with warm golden light, a shadow lay across Bag End: an obscuring gloom that the sun’s rays could not penetrate or dispel. Sam could see the smial but dimly, as if a dark veil had been thrown over it. He tried to quicken his pace, fear for his master welling up inside him, but it felt as if he was walking through a bog, and sticky, oozing mud was sucking at his feet and weighting him down.
‘Mr. Frodo!’ he called, but the words sounded muted, and they faded quickly away. He struggled on, each step requiring a tremendous effort of will, with the weight dragging at his feet and a sense of dread growing on him as he neared the shadow-covered smial. It seemed an eternity before he finally reached the garden gate; he was gasping for breath and his legs felt weak. With fumbling fingers, he unlatched the gate and stepped inside, and the queer darkness that hung over Bag End closed about him.
Beneath the shadow, all was pale and dim, leached of colour, yet oddly clear. Sam could see the smial and the gardens now, and the sight made him cry out in distress. The lovely garden, his pride and joy, was dead: the flowers were shriveled on their wilted stems; the grass was withered and dry; and the trees were mere skeletons, stripped bare of leaves. He became aware of a fell voice on the air; it whispered harsh, guttural words he could not understand but that filled him with a terror so great, he nearly cowered beneath them. Only the thought of his master somewhere under this shadow gave him the strength to go on, further into its embrace.
Sam searched the ruined garden, calling out for Frodo again and again, but he received no answer. He struggled toward the smial, determined to search inside for his master, and his gaze fell on a dim shape lying on the ground outside the round front door. As he drew near, he could see to his horror that it was Frodo. He was stretched out on his back, arms at his sides, his body rigid and unmoving; his unseeing eyes were open and staring in his ghostly pale face. Sam fell to his knees beside his lifeless master, sobbing…
…and awoke, blinking in the bright sunshine, tears pouring down his cheeks. “Mr. Frodo,” he gasped, and scrambled to his feet. Sam was trembling with reaction from the dream, but also from a lingering sense of fear for his master. Though he was now wide awake under the clear blue sky of a fine summer day, not trapped in a shadowy dream-land, he somehow knew with complete certainty that Frodo was still in danger.
Sam took off running down the Hill on shaky legs, stumbling and slipping in his haste, half-blinded by tears. He charged through the kitchen garden, knocking aside bean poles and trampling tomato seedlings in his haste. He burst into the flower garden… and skidded to a halt, gaping. For there was his master: alive and well and seated on the wooden bench by the front door. He wasn’t lying dead as in Sam’s dream; he wasn’t sick or injured and in need of aid as Sam had feared. He was, in fact, leaning back at his ease, his legs extended before him and crossed at the ankles. His left hand was holding a lit pipe to his mouth, and his right hand, as was its wont, was toying in his breeches-pocket with the mysterious object that he kept there, attached to a chain that hung from his belt. Frodo was gazing out at the neatly trimmed lawn, the result of his afternoon’s labours, and he looked utterly at peace.
“Mr. Frodo?” Sam said uncertainly, for he had the queer, dizzying sensation that he was seeing two different images before his eyes at the same time: one was the Frodo sitting before him hale and hearty; the other was the Frodo from his dream lying pale and still on the ground. For a moment, Sam wondered if he was going mad.
At the sound of his name, Frodo was roused from his pleasant reverie and looked up. What he saw in Sam’s expression must have been alarming indeed, for he sat bolt upright with a startled exclamation, dropping his pipe on the bench, careless of the sparks that flew out from it. He leapt to his feet and ran to Sam. Sam felt he should do something, say something, but he seemed incapable of doing or saying anything, as if, like one of old Mr. Bilbo’s trolls, he had been turned to stone.
“My dear Sam, what is the matter? What has happened?” Frodo demanded. He set his right hand on Sam’s tense shoulder, and at the touch, Sam started; the dark thoughts that held him captive abruptly lifted, leaving him dazed, his mind in a whirl of confusion. What was it that had scared him so that he had gone running like a startled hare to find his master? Sam blinked several times and shook his head as if to clear it. The remnants of darkness disappeared, flying away like wisps of smoke before a strong wind; with them went all memory of the events that had driven him in a panic down the Hill.
“I- I don’t rightly know, Mr. Frodo,” he stammered in bewilderment, holding a hand to his head, “I thought- I thought there was something wrong… that you were in danger somehow...” He closed his eyes and a little shiver coursed through him. “But it’s gone now, whatever it was; I reckon it was only a dream.” He opened his eyes and dropped his hand to his side. “I don’t rightly know what come over me, sir, to give you a scare like that,” he added contritely, his frantic actions now seeming absurd in the extreme.
Frodo’s concerned gaze remained fixed on him, taking in his flushed face and the traces of tears on his cheeks. “I expect you’ve had too much sun, Sam lad,” he said in the kindest of voices. “Come inside to the kitchen, and I’ll make you something cold to drink. A glass of lemonade and a bit of a rest, and you’ll be steady as a trivet in no time.”
Sam resisted, feeling a proper fool. “I’m all right, sir, honest,” he lied as stoutly as he could, when in truth he felt ill and shaky. “I should get back to my work.”
“Nonsense, Sam, you’re not fit to go back to work yet. I won’t hear of it,” Frodo said in a tone that brooked no argument, then added more gently, “Anyone can take too much sun on such a warm day, you know; there’s no need to feel ashamed.” Frodo took Sam by the arm and urged him forward. “Come along, my lad- and that’s an order.”
“Yes, sir.” Sam meekly accompanied Frodo, strangely relieved to feel the warm, living strength of his master’s arm supporting him as they entered the smial.
As Frodo had predicted, after a cold drink and a rest in the sunlit, cheerful kitchen, Sam felt quite himself again. The peculiar events of the day were nearly forgotten by the time he returned home that evening. If he thought of them at all, he, like Frodo, attributed them to the effects of too much sun. He slept soundly that night, his dreams untouched by any darkness. In the morning, Sam could only shake his head at his carelessness as he surveyed the damaged bean and tomato plants, and wonder at his forgetfulness as he climbed the Hill to fetch his abandoned lunch basket.
Frodo found a pretext to go out to the garden that morning. He watched Sam closely for a while, keen for any signs that his young gardener was still unwell. Having satisfied himself that Sam was back to normal and there was no longer any need to worry, Frodo retired to his study to work on his accounts with his mind at ease.
But Bilbo’s gold Ring was not at ease, for It had heard at last the long-awaited call of Its Maker. It muttered soundlessly to Itself in the depths of Frodo’s pocket, and made Its plans.