Sowsed by Lbilover

My apologies to Georgette Heyer, from whom I blatantly stole one line of her wonderful Cotillion (and those of you who have read it will probably recognize the line), and to Parson James Woodforde, whose diary entries of April 15 & 16, 1778 are responsible for this story. Pig racing is apparently popular at country fairs in the U.S.. My version is entirely based on whippet racing, however, which was a sport of the coal-miners of northern England in the early 1900’s. My own whippet racing experiences did come into play as well, and I confess to poking a little fun at myself and my fellow whippet owners along the way :) Lastly, I know as little about pigs as Frodo, and the Gaffer would no doubt justly scorn my book learning. My sincere apologies for any factual errors. The book titles in the fic, BTW, are (with one exception) based on actual pig husbandry books, as the pig breeds are variations of actual ones.


The pigs were drunk- extremely drunk. The Gaffer had never seen such drunk pigs in his life, and that was saying something, for he’d seen a few drunk pigs in his time. 


“Swine are greedy beggars, Mr. Frodo,” said he to the Master of Bag End, who stood beside him solemnly regarding the two black and white pigs, stretched out on their sides in the bright afternoon sun. “’Tain’t a pig alive don’t go mad for beer. Though I ain’t never seen pigs so drunk as these two. Tipsy, now- that ain’t uncommon if’n they can get at some hops. But falling down drunk, sir?” He shook his grizzled head in amazement at this unlooked-for demonstration of porcine overindulgence. 


Frodo Baggins made a noncommittal sound; he had little experience of pigs in the general way, and none whatsoever of pigs that were drunk. 


The Gaffer continued with spirit, thumping his stick on the ground for emphasis, “’Tis what comes of buying pigs in foreign parts, Mr. Frodo. I told Sam no good would come of it, that I did. ‘A plain Hobbiton Old Spot’s what you want, Sam-lad, or a Bywater Black.’ But nay, he had to go haring off to Buckland to buy them fancy pigs instead, and now he’s like to lose ‘em both. Fool pigs didn’t have the sense to quit when they was full, like a Hobbiton or Bywater pig would.”


Frodo, listening gravely to this lecture on the dangers of buying foreign pigs, privately wondered if the potency of the Gaffer’s home brew, which he himself had experienced on several memorable occasions (not to mention one or two that he couldn’t recall), wasn’t more to blame than the pigs’ lack of sense. 


There was no point in suggesting this to Hamfast Gamgee, however, for the old hobbit had given Frodo an earful about ‘them fancy foreign pigs’ on more than one occasion since Sam had brought them home last autumn. He seemed to take it as a personal insult that his son had purchased his pigs from the Brandybucks, instead of a local farmer.


Judging it wisest, therefore, not to respond to the Gaffer’s latest earful, Frodo instead asked, “You’re quite certain they’re only drunk, Mr. Gamgee, and not, well, expired?” 


Frodo studied the recumbent Brandywine Black-and-Whites, and could not observe any visible signs of life. Their normally tightly curled black tails were limp and trailing in the grass, their pendulous ears were flopping anyhow, the whites of their small eyes were showing, and their pink tongues were protruding from their mouths. If they were alive, they certainly weren’t showing any signs of it.


In the event, however, the pigs themselves answered Frodo’s question, for at that very moment one of them opened its mouth wide, displaying an impressive set of yellowish teeth, and let out a prolonged and extremely loud belch, while the other emitted a species of snorting, snuffling sound from its wide, quivering pink snout, followed by a great heaving sigh like a bellows. 


After which the pigs, as if in communion with each other, went still and silent as the grave once more.


“Oh dear,” said Frodo, fighting a nearly overpowering urge to laugh. Then he thought of Sam, who had such high hopes for Flower and Fancy in the pig racing at the Free Fair, and every impulse of laughter fled. 


It was but two days until the event, and Frodo could not envision either of the sows being fit to race so soon after their misadventure. Frodo himself certainly had never felt capable of running in any footraces after he’d drunk to excess, and he had never actually got drunk enough to pass out. 


Frodo thought of the months of devoted care and training that Sam had given his pigs, and his heart sank. If there were pigs in the entire Shire that ate more nutritiously or were exercised and trained more religiously than Flower and Fancy, Frodo didn’t know who they might be. And now all Sam’s hard work appeared to have been in vain. If someone had let the pigs out in a deliberate attempt to sabotage Sam’s efforts, the timing could not have been more perfect.


“I reckon they’re alive right enough,” said the Gaffer, sounding, thought Frodo, almost disappointed to have been proven correct. But then, the sows had escaped from their pen and got into the yard of Number 3, where they had knocked over a wooden barrel filled with mash fermenting in the hot sun, and proceeded to consume the entire contents. They had managed to stagger part way home before collapsing, but were still quite some distance away from their pen.


“I must apologise once more, Mr. Gamgee,” Frodo said, for perhaps the twentieth time since the Gaffer had stumped up to Bag End an hour or so earlier to inform Frodo of the disaster. “I can’t imagine how the sty gate came to be unlatched.”


“Aye, well, pigs are right clever, sir, and there ain’t no dog has got a better sense of smell. Some folk,” he added, an oblique reference, Frodo knew, to gentlehobbits such as himself, “don’t know that about pigs. I reckon them two set their minds to escaping when they got a whiff of my beer brewing, the wind being strong from the east today, and figured out quick enough how to raise the latch. If my Sam weren’t nowt but a ninnyhammer, he’d have put a lock on that gate. He ought to have known better, Mr. Frodo.”


Frodo felt suddenly far less remorseful about the loss of the home brew. If there was one thing guaranteed to put up Frodo’s back, it was the Gaffer apostrophising his son as a ‘ninnyhammer’. 


But before he could be provoked into saying anything to Sam’s father that he might later regret, Frodo was distracted by the sight of Sam himself tearing toward them, arms pumping and legs churning, and showing a fine turn of speed. His shirt had come untucked, his weskit was slipping off one shoulder, and his chestnut curls were flying wildly about his perspiring face. 


Sam had been down in Bywater at the market since first light, and thus ignorant of the disaster that had befallen his beloved pigs. His sister May (a distant figure panting and labouring up the Hill Lane after her brother) had been dispatched by the Gaffer to find Sam and send him home. 


Whatever she had said had certainly lit a fire beneath Sam’s feet. 


“Frodo! Frodo!” Sam cried out when he caught sight of Frodo. “Are (pant) you (pant) all (pant) right?” he gasped, running straight to Frodo and seizing him in his strong arms. 


While Frodo certainly had no objections to the aforementioned seizing, it was clear that Sam had somehow got hold of the wrong end of the stick. “I’m perfectly fine, Sam dear,” Frodo said reassuringly, albeit in an even higher pitched voice than usual, for Sam was squeezing him so tightly that he could barely breathe. “It’s not me, it’s…”


But Sam, over the top of Frodo’s head, had caught sight of the unconscious sows who should have been happily rooting around in their pen at the bottom of the garden, searching for the tidbits of food that Sam hid for their enjoyment (and to keep them limber through constant movement; it was an old race training tip he’d got from a book, Raising the Racing Pigg for Fun and Profitt). 


“Flower! Fancy!” he exclaimed in a horrified voice.


Frodo was released from Sam’s embrace so abruptly that he staggered. He watched a bit ruefully as Sam ran to his pigs and dropped to his knees beside them, bending over them and uttering incoherent cries of distress. Had he not been quite certain of the depths of Sam’s love and devotion, Frodo’s feelings might have been rather hurt.


“What happened? What are they doing here? Are they- they aren’t- they can’t be…” choked Sam, lifting the heavy head of one of the pigs (Fancy? Or was it Flower. Frodo never could tell them apart) onto his lap, where it lolled pathetically. Sam looked stricken.


“Drunk, Samwise, falling down drunk is what they be,” said the Gaffer with regrettable relish. “Got into my home brew, daft buggers, and ate the mash, every last bite.”


“But how did they did get loose, dad?” Sam asked. His main fear allayed, his face was now a mask of bewilderment. “They were both in their pen this morning when I went into town. I checked on them last thing afore I left.”


Frodo went to Sam’s side and crouched down beside him, placing a consoling hand on his arm. “Oh Sam, I’m so sorry. They must have unlatched the gate when they smelled the beer brewing.”


“Aye, that’s right. Didn’t I tell ye, Sam-lad, to put a lock on that gate?”


“You did, and I did!” exclaimed Sam hotly. “Why, Flower and Fancy are the smartest pigs I’ve ever seen, dad. I wasn’t going to take no chances on them getting out of their pen and into mischief, not this close to the races.”


“But if the gate was locked, then how…” Frodo’s hand tightened on Sam’s arm. His own thoughts from but a short while ago came back to him: If someone had let the pigs out in a deliberate attempt to sabotage Sam’s efforts, the timing could not have been more perfect. Sabotage. Was it possible that someone had let Flower and Fancy out of their pen on purpose? 


It seemed on first consideration to be an absurd idea, but Frodo had attended enough events at the Free Fair over the years to know that any competition that pitted representatives from the Four Farthings against each other was taken seriously- very seriously indeed. Native pride and bragging rights were on the line, and word had already spread through Hobbiton, in that uncanny way it had, that Sam’s ‘fancy foreign pigs’ from Buckland might be the fastest anyone had seen in these parts in many a year. 


Frodo said nothing of his suspicions to Sam, however. He intended to do a little investigating first. There was no point in upsetting Sam any more than he already was. 


Frodo moved his hand to Sam’s shoulder and gave it a comforting squeeze. “Sam, what can I do to help?” he asked quietly.


Sam looked at him helplessly. “I don’t rightly know, Frodo. This ain’t covered in any of the books I’ve got on pig husbandry.”


“Books- bah!” said his father with his usual contempt for the benefits of book learning. “Not every answer can be found in a book, Sam-lad, no matter what Mr. Bilbo taught ye. I’ve seen pigs drunk afore, and ye’ve just got to let them sleep it off. ’Tis all ye can do, lad.” But the old hobbit’s voice was not unkind. Sam’s evident distress had softened him, and whatever he might think about Sam’s commonsense at times, he knew his son would never lie to him. However the pigs had got out of their pen, it wasn’t because Sam had been careless.


“But dad, the races are the day after tomorrow. They’ll never be fit to run if we don’t do something.” Disconsolate, Sam fondled the ears of the pig whose head lay in his lap. “Poor old Fancy, it looks like all our hard work was for naught.” He looked even more disconsolate when Fancy did not so much as flicker an eyelid at the sound of his well-loved voice and touch.


“Surely there is something we can at least try,” argued Frodo, giving the Gaffer a rather irritated glance. For himself, he really didn’t care particularly whether the pigs raced at the Fair or not, but he couldn’t bear for Sam to be disappointed. Additionally, if someone had tried to sabotage Sam’s entries, well, he hated to let whomever it was succeed in his foul plan. 


“What about that recipe of Bilbo’s?” he asked Sam, inspiration striking. “The one he got from the Dwarves? It’s really quite effective- well, on drunk hobbits, at any rate. But why not drunk pigs, too? You know the ingredients well enough, Sam. Are there any that would be harmful to a pig?”


Sam’s brows knit as he considered Frodo’s suggestion. “Not that I can think of,” he said eventually, brightening. “I reckon ‘tis worth a try.” He gave Frodo such a grateful look that Frodo was sorely tempted to fling his arms around Sam’s neck and kiss him. 


And under normal circumstances so Frodo would have, but the presence of Hamfast Gamgee standing but a few feet away and wearing an extremely dour expression on his face was rather off-putting, to say the least. While Sam’s father had become reluctantly (and bemusedly) resigned over the years to the relationship between his son and the Master of Bag End, Frodo and Sam tried not to shock his aging constitution any more than they could help with overt displays of affection. So Frodo contented himself with merely saying in a bracing voice, “That’s my Sam.”


“We’ve got to get them back to their pen,” Sam said, gently lowering Fancy’s head to the ground and then rising to his feet. “It’ll take a few stout lads to lift them, but we can use a wheelbarrow to move them, I reckon.”


“Like the guests after Bilbo’s Party,” said Frodo, rather entertained by the idea. It had, after all, largely been the potency of the Gaffer’s home brew that had made the wheelbarrows necessary on that memorable occasion.


At that moment May Gamgee came trotting up, holding her side against a stitch, and very red in the face. “Our Sam, you ought to be entered in the foot races tomorrow,” she said, breathing hard. “I’ll just say, ‘Sam, something’s happened up at Number 3, Mr. Frodo-’ and you’ll be off so quick, no one will catch you.” 


The Gaffer threw back his head and guffawed, while Sam flushed scarlet. Frodo, who was really not feeling very kindly toward Sam’s family right then, gave May a stern look. “Sam was just saying that he’ll need several lads to help him move the pigs back to their pen. Perhaps you would be so good, May, as to run along to the Cottons and fetch Jolly, Tom and Nibs?”


“But Mr. Frodo-" May began indignantly, and then she saw the implacable look in the blue eyes of the Master of Bag End. She sighed. “Very good, sir. But I’ll step inside and have a drink of water first, if you don’t mind. I’m that parched.” And she flounced away.


Sam gave Frodo another of those looks that sorely tested Frodo’s self-control, and there was a respectful gleam in the Gaffer’s brown eyes as he regarded Frodo. 


Bilbo would have been proud.


***


Frodo left Sam to await the arrival of the Cotton brothers, and walked up to the pigs’ pen to investigate his theory that someone had let them loose. The lock Sam had put on the latch to the sty gate was intact, but Frodo walked the length of the pen, examining the sturdy wooden fence closely. He soon found what he’d been expecting: hobbit footprints in the soft ground around a post at the far end, and the spoor of the pigs’ cloven feet. Someone had removed a section of the bottom railing to allow the pigs to escape, and then put it back in place. What’s more, Frodo realised as he followed the hoof prints away from the pen, the culprit had actually herded the pigs in the direction of Number 3. With some apprehension, for he knew how Sam was likely to react, Frodo went back down to Number 3 to break the bad news to his beloved.


Sam, however, took the news far more calmly than Frodo had expected. He only nodded thoughtfully, and allowed as how he had come to the same conclusion as Frodo, that the pigs must have been deliberately let out of their pen. “I built that pen using the directions in Pigg Pointers for Beginners,” Sam informed him. “There ain’t no way Flower and Fancy could’ve pushed down a rail.”


Exactly who had tried to sabotage Flower and Fancy was not clear, however. The footprints could have belonged to any hobbit, and neither the Gaffer nor Daddy Twofoot nor any other hobbit along the Row, when asked, could recall seeing any unexpected faces that day. But Frodo overheard Sam mutter the words ‘That Ted Sandyman’ in dark tones several times, and it was clear precisely where Sam’s suspicions lay.


“Well, we’ll simply have to restore Flower and Fancy to prime form for the races and foil his plan,” declared Frodo stoutly. “Even if it means staying up all night to do it!”


Sam gave him yet another of those looks and, as the Gaffer had gone indoors and May was still not back with the Cotton lads, Frodo allowed his feelings to get the better of him this time, at least for a little while.


Frodo had, of course, regarded his speech about staying up all night as merely a spot of supportive hyperbole. He never honestly believed he would spend an entire night out-of-doors watching a brace of Brandywine Black-and-White sows sleep off a drunk.


***


Frodo yawned like a cavern. “I wonder what time it is?” he asked in a drowsy voice, leaning against Sam’s warm shoulder. 


“About two in the morning, I reckon,” Sam said with a glance up at the sky and the positions of the stars that winked overhead. “We ought to give Flower and Fancy more of that tonic now, Frodo. Not that it seems to do be doing any good,” he added with a heavy sigh as he got to his feet and held out a hand to Frodo.


The sleeping pigs could be dimly seen behind the railing of the pen as blacker shapes in the moonless dark. They might have been rocks or mounds of dirt or some equally inanimate object for, other than an occasional eerie sounding grunt or moan, Flower and Fancy remained quite still, in the precise spot that Sam and the Cotton brothers, sweating and swearing, had deposited them some hours earlier. 


The process of moving the pigs back to their pen had been one Frodo would not soon forget. For one thing, Frodo had never before heard Sam utter some of the words that escaped his lips during the procedure, particularly when Nibs lost his hold on Flower’s rump and it fell squarely on Sam’s right foot. He really would have to ask Sam where he had picked up so many unusual and colourful phrases. Sam’s unsuspected depths continually surprised Frodo.


There was also, of course, the distraction of Sam himself, shirt clinging to his sweaty back and chest, and the muscles in his forearms standing out in sharp relief as he helped heave Flower, and then Fancy, into a wheelbarrow. It quite took Frodo’s breath away, and gave him intriguing ideas, ideas that he would put into action later, after Sam had a long hot soak in the tub and a nice nourishing dinner to replenish his energy, and they retired early to bed…


Such optimism proved to be ill founded, however. Sam did have his long hot soak in the tub, but halfway through that nourishing, energy-replenishing dinner Frodo had prepared for him, he announced his intention of spending the night down at the pigs’ pen, keeping watch over Flower and Fancy, as Frodo had suggested. 


Frodo stared. As he had suggested? Surely not. Then he remembered his little speech, and his heart sank. What had he been thinking?


“You were right, Frodo me dear,” Sam continued as he speared a chunk of rosemary potato with his fork. “If I want Flower and Fancy to be well enough to race on Trewsday, I reckon it’ll mean dosing them with that tonic regular-like, every two hours at the least. Not to mention, we can’t take no chances that the villain who let them out won’t come back and try something else. No, there’s only one answer: I’ll have to stay with them tonight.”


Frodo nearly whimpered aloud as a delightful evening of seduction vanished before his very eyes. “But Sam,” he began.


“Aye?” Sam had flipped open one of his pig husbandry books, Proudfoot on the Pigg: Breeding, Raising, Management and Improvement, and was hunting through it in a (thus far) fruitless quest for inspiration on the topic of reviving drunk pigs.


“Nothing, Sam. Would you like more potatoes?”


Frodo, after seeing Sam off with a kiss that lacked much of its usual ardour, retired to his study to sulk. He soon realised, however, that such behaviour was childish in the extreme, and most unbecoming the Master of Bag End. Bilbo would certainly not be proud of Frodo if he could see him right now, slouched in a chair and scowling at an inoffensive pen nib he was trimming as if it was somehow responsible for his plight. 


After all, one of the things he loved best about Sam Gamgee was his tender, caring nature, wasn’t it? No other hobbit in the Shire, he thought, would spend an entire night tending to two drunk pigs. Frodo owed it to Sam to support him in his hour of need, and so he would. But there was certainly no reason they had to be uncomfortable in the process.


Frodo went to the pantry and rummaged around for a hamper, and packed it with a bottle of wine, a pair of wine glasses, some fresh strawberries and slices of seed cake, plus plates, forks and napkins. Then he retrieved a thick quilt from the clothes press, and, carrying hamper and quilt with one arm and a lighted lantern with the other, hurried out of Bag End, and down to the bottom of the garden where the sows resided. It was an exceptionally lovely night, and Frodo’s spirits lifted as he walked the familiar garden paths and listened to the low hooting of an owl from a nearby tree. His plans might have fallen through, but there were compensations after all.


He found Sam sitting cross-legged on the grass outside the pen with his elbows on his knees, and his head in his hands. Sam looked both uncomfortable and discouraged, but at the sight of Frodo he perked up, and though he told Frodo that he really oughtn’t to have gone to so much trouble, there wasn’t a shred of conviction in his words. 


It would have been quite a delightful evening if Sam had not kept glancing at Flower and Fancy and sighing in the most heart-rending manner. Still, they shared the wine and the food (though Sam was far too distracted for Frodo to put into effect a certain idea he had for the strawberries) and afterward curled up on the quilt together. Watching pigs sleep was not a very exciting pastime, to say the least, and as a consequence Frodo was soon nodding and yawning at Sam’s side.


By now it was quite late indeed, but Frodo, though thinking longingly of his feather bed, rose dutifully to his feet and stumbled wearily after Sam into the pen. There, he assisted Sam in getting more of the noxious smelling Dwarf tonic down the pigs’ throats. He held their slack jaws apart as, one at a time, Sam dribbled the tonic he and Frodo had made that afternoon into a corner of their triangular mouths, and then gently stroked their throats to ensure that they swallowed. Frodo was astonished at the weight of an unconscious pig’s head. No wonder Sam had got so sweaty in the process of moving them. 


Sam, his sweat-soaked shirt clinging to him…


This inspiring mental image had Frodo suddenly feeling much more alert, for it put him in mind of events that had occurred earlier in the day, and the effect Sam’s appearance had had upon him. This inevitably led to thoughts of what he’d hoped he and Sam might get up to tonight, which led to the thought that there was really no reason they couldn’t still get up to some of it. It had been many months since he and Sam had last made love out-of-doors under the stars, and while their location might not perhaps be considered ideal for the purpose- a pigs’ pen lacking somewhat in romantic atmosphere, not to mention the aroma that wafted their way when the wind changed direction- it wasn’t as if the slumbering pigs would notice or care what they did.


Sam had hardly got settled down on the quilt again after they were done, therefore, when he had a lapful of ardent Frodo, a Frodo who wasn’t about to take no for answer (had he released Sam’s mouth from his own long enough to voice an objection, that is). But Sam, once he caught on (no laggard he), followed Frodo’s lead with becoming enthusiasm. 


Clothing was soon disarranged, hands and mouths got busy, and just as things were advancing in the most satisfactory manner, one of the pigs that Frodo assumed would neither notice nor care, raised its head, squealed so loudly that it actually jarred the startled hobbits out of their kiss, and began making a feeble attempt to rise to its feet. 


In an instant, Sam was spilling Frodo from his lap and jumping to his own feet, trying to pull up his breeches and tuck in his shirt as he did (with mixed success). A dislodged Frodo landed with some force and a complete lack of dignity on his bare bottom.


“Frodo,” Sam cried out, “’tis working, the tonic’s working! Flower is trying to stand up!”


Frodo honestly wished that he could share in Sam’s joy at this exciting development; his prevalent feeling, however, was one of extreme disappointment that Flower (and how in Middle-earth Sam knew which pig it was, was a mystery to Frodo) could not have remained comatose for at least a few more minutes. He had been so close…


“Come on, Frodo,” Sam added impatiently as he snatched up the lantern, “don’t just sit there. We’ve got to help her!”


Speechless with indignation and thwarted passion, Frodo pulled up his trousers (no easy matter in his current state) and followed after Sam. 


Flower had managed with some effort to heave herself up onto her chest with her forelegs bent beneath her, but no farther. She rested in that position, but began to weave back and forth and back and forth in a manner that caused Frodo to feel decidedly queasy, as if he was on the deck of a boat pitching in rough seas. In the glow of light shed by the lantern, he could see that the pig’s little round eyes were fully open, but they appeared hazy and unfocussed. Did pigs suffer from the headache? Frodo wondered. He felt a twinge of sympathy for the poor creature. 


“Flower-lass,” Sam crooned to her, crouching down by her head and stroking her soothingly between the eyes, “’tis going to be all right. Don’t you worry, your Sam is here.”


Though he never would have believed it possible, Frodo made the startling discovery that one could, in fact, be jealous of a pig.


***


As the sun rose majestically over the mist-covered hills and dales of Hobbiton, Flower and Fancy were at last both on their feet (although majestic was the last word one would have used to describe their rising). With that uncanny communion the pigs seemed to share, Fancy had roused only minutes after Flower, to Sam’s delight. 


The ensuing hours had been spent soothing and reassuring two bewildered, hung-over pigs, and then helping them to rise unsteadily into a standing position. Frodo sincerely hoped he would never again have to assist in such an endeavour, for the unhappy pigs expressed their feelings quite vocally and at the top of their lungs, and the ear piercing squeals went straight through his skull in an exceedingly painful manner.


Once on their feet, the pigs’ minds soon turned to thoughts of food, and they made their way toward the corner of the pen where their trough was located. That is to say, they tried to make their way to the trough, but their progress was erratic. 


Frodo was nearly light-headed from sleeplessness by now, and most decidedly not in control of his emotions. The sight of Flower and Fancy weaving their way across the pen, occasionally bumping into each other and staggering like a pair of old friends heading home from the Green Dragon after consuming a few too many ales, was simply too much. He could no more have repressed his hysterical giggle than he could have flown to the moon, but he immediately clapped his hands over his mouth, and gave Sam a guilty look. 


Sam, standing with his hands on hips watching his poor sows, said severely, “It ain’t funny, Frodo.” But somehow Sam saying that it wasn’t funny made it all the more funny, and the giggles continued to erupt from him. There was simply no stopping them now.


“Oh Sam, you h-have to admit, they d-do look very c-comical,” Frodo spluttered.


A little twitch pulled at the corners of Sam’s mouth. “Aye, I reckon they do,” he agreed, the twitch turning into a grin, and then a laugh.


Frodo and Sam fell together, clutching each other for support as they laughed and laughed. 


“Oh my,” said Frodo at last, wiping his streaming eyes, “I haven’t had such a laugh in a very long time.”


“Nor me neither,” Sam agreed, and then, to Frodo’s surprise, snugged his arms around Frodo’s waist, and pulled him close. “I owe you an apology, Frodo-love,” he added more seriously, looking into Frodo’s eyes, “for jumping up the way I did earlier, and letting you fall on your arse, and then snapping at you into the bargain.”


“Hmm, I’m not sure I forgive you, Sam,” Frodo leaned back in Sam’s arms and gave him a considering look. “Or not yet, at any rate. I’m afraid it will take more than a simple apology to appease me and my, ah, bruised pride.” 


Sam grinned. “So that’s the way of it, Frodo Baggins, is it? I’ve got to come up with a proper apology?”


“It is, Sam Gamgee,” Frodo averred, his eyes twinkling. “But while you are thinking of a proper apology, I am going to go home and bathe and have some breakfast. I suppose it’s useless for me to ask if you are coming, too?”


Sam sighed. He looked as if he very much wished Frodo would ask. But he only shook his head. “I’d best not, not until they’re steadier on their pins leastways. Someone needs to keep an eye on them. And even though there was no sign of that Sandyman last night, I’d not trust him as far as I could throw him.”


“I’d like to throw him,” Frodo said darkly, “for putting you, not to mention Flower and Fancy, through this.”


“I reckon you’d find Ted a bit of a heavy load to throw, Frodo,” Sam said, smiling.


But Frodo wasn’t smiling. “Oh, I’d manage it, Sam, never fear.”
~*~
“Gee up, Berry!” Sam clucked to the sturdy bay pony harnessed to the cart, and slapped the reins on his back. With a lurch and a creak, the cart started forward along the Great East Road toward Michel Delving, the pony’s hooves clip-clopping on the hard ground.


Frodo, seated on the wooden bench beside Sam, turned sideways and looked behind him. Flower and Fancy were standing in the back of the cart in a thick bed of straw. The Brandywine Black-and-Whites appeared bright-eyed and alert this morning, even after a night spent camping out along the Road, and they were swivelling their heads this way and that, nostrils snuffling the air as if eager to take in everything around them. Frodo thought this a most encouraging sign.


“They certainly look well, Sam,” he commented. It was apparent even to one who possessed as little knowledge of pigs as Frodo that the effects of the mash were nearly worn off, and the sows back to their usual state of health and vigour.


Even Sam’s father had grudgingly admitted, as he helped Frodo and Sam load the pigs in the back of the cart the previous evening, that Flower and Fancy looked ‘tolerable, Mr. Frodo, tolerable’. Such an unsolicited comment from one who had previously had not a single kind word for ‘them fancy foreign pigs’, was praise indeed, even if it might in part have been the result of the Gaffer’s outrage at the skullduggery involved in their becoming drunk. 


“Aye, they’ve made a fine recovery,” Sam agreed, with a quick glance over his shoulder at his pigs as if he needed to reassure himself of the happy truth. “Why, you’d never believe they’d been drunk to look at them now. That Dwarf tonic of Mr. Bilbo’s did the trick, right enough.” He gave Frodo a look soft with love and gratitude. “And ‘tis all due to you, Frodo. I’d never have thought of trying it otherwise. How can I ever thank you?”


Frodo leaned forward and kissed Sam on the cheek. “I’ve no doubt you’ll think of something,” he said. 


Sam chuckled. “You’ve got a one-track mind, Frodo Baggins.”


“I’m just making certain you don’t forget a certain apology you owe me, Sam Gamgee.” Frodo had secretly hoped last night after they set up camp and got the sows settled that the promised apology might be forthcoming… but Sam had been, regrettably, still far too occupied with the health of his pigs to think of more important matters. He and Frodo had slept chastely side by side all night. That is to say, Frodo had slept; he wasn’t at all certain that Sam had got so much as a wink of sleep, for he had been tired and even a bit grumpy this morning. Several cups of strong tea had revived him, as had the sight of his pigs looking so lively and well. And perhaps the sight of Frodo bathing naked in the stream they had camped beside had helped, too. Frodo liked to think so.


The Road was empty at present of all but the two of them and the pigs. Sam halted Berry, pulled Frodo into his arms and kissed him long and hard. “There, will that do as a down payment?” he asked, his eyes glinting with emerald sparks. 


“Oh yes,” Frodo sighed, and thought that if that was only Sam’s down payment, he might well not survive the full apology. It was a diverting thought, one that occupied him for some time, until his mind reluctantly returned to the topic of the pigs.


“I may not know much about pig racing, Sam, but I can’t conceive of any other pig beating Flower or Fancy today,” Frodo said. To be perfectly honest, he hadn’t the faintest notion what the competition was like, or how Flower and Fancy would stack up against the other entrants, but his faith in Sam’s prowess as a pig trainer was unshakeable. Gaffer Gamgee might not hold with book learning, but Frodo certainly did, and Sam had slavishly followed the advice of the authors of all those tomes on raising and training pigs.


“Well now, don’t get your hopes too high, Frodo,” Sam cautioned, demonstrating that his faith in the pig tomes was perhaps not quite as unshakeable as Frodo’s. “I’ve heard rumours at the Ivy Bush that some very fast pigs are entered this year. There’s a Longbottom Lop sow from Barnstable they say is a real goer, and the Brambles out Whitwell way always have a contender or two. They have a strain of pigs they breed just for the racing, a cross of Hobbiton Old Spot and Shire Landrace. Brings down the size, you see, and gives ‘em better speed.” Frodo nodded wisely (if mendaciously- he knew less than nothing about pig breeding). “O’course, for my coin,” Sam added, “there’s naught to match a Brandywine Black-and-White.”


“I don’t think your father agrees with you, Sam,” Frodo observed.


I don’t hold with them fancy foreign pigs, Samwise,” Sam intoned. It was a fair imitation of his father’s voice, and they both laughed, but Sam gave a quick, guilty look over his shoulder as if he expected to see the Gaffer pop up out of the straw between Flower and Fancy, and give him a tongue lashing for his sauce. Frodo bit back a smile.


“What about Ted? Surely he has a pig entered?” Frodo wanted to know. 


Sam nodded. “Aye, Ted’s got a nice young sow, a Bywater Black, but she don’t stand a chance. He don’t do no training, you see. Too lazy.”


“He’s not too lazy to sabotage Flower and Fancy and give his pig a better shot at winning,” Frodo said with energy.


“Well,” Sam replied thoughtfully, his eyes fixed on the road ahead of them, “I reckon it had more to do with the fact that Ted’s never much liked me, Frodo, and wanted to do me a bit of mischief if he could. I’ve heard him bragging down at the Ivy Bush about his sow, and how she’s a shoo-in to win. He don’t consider Flower and Fancy no serious competition, nor any other pig, come to that. Too pig blind, you see.”


Pig blind?” echoed Frodo, baffled by the odd term. “What on earth is ‘pig blind’?”


“Means he can’t see his sow’s faults.” Sam shrugged. “Some hobbits are that way about their pigs, Frodo. It don’t do no good to try and tell ‘em, neither. Folk like that have to learn the hard way, if they learn at all.”


“Well, it will do my heart good to see Ted learn the hard way. What he did to Flower and Fancy was downright cruel.” 


The truth was that Frodo was becoming rather fond of the sows now that they were tolerably sober. When they weren’t in a comatose state, or waking up at decidedly inopportune moments, Flower and Fancy were rather endearing with their large floppy ears and intelligent eyes with such long lashes and their quivering pink snouts that snuffled inquiringly yet politely at one’s waistcoat pockets. Sam’s race training had been designed to teach the pigs to run fast and true down the track to him, where he would reward them with their favourite treats. As a result, they were quite docile and very fond of hobbits, and almost seemed to smile when they accepted a slice of apple or a handful of acorns from Frodo’s palm. He felt a bit ashamed of his earlier jealousy- but only a bit. The circumstances had been rather extreme.


Frodo was fairly certain now that he could tell which sow was which, despite their nearly identical markings. Fancy in particular had, well, taken a fancy to him, and Sam was delighted. In the happy (if unlooked for) event that both Flower and Fancy made it into the final race that afternoon, he would need Frodo to catch one of the sows. As Sam informed Frodo (and to Frodo’s secret amusement he was entirely serious as he did so), he had been uneasy in his mind as to which pig would best respond to Frodo’s call. 


“Pigs are particular that way, you see. They won’t run fast for just anyone. But it seems Fancy’s made my job easy and picked her handler for me.” 


“Fancy is clearly a pig of great discrimination,” Frodo joked, but he was rather pleased to be the chosen object of Fancy’s affections, and felt some regret that he’d never bothered much with the pigs over the past months, considering them Sam’s hobby and really none of his affair. There was apparently more to a pig than met the eye.


The remainder of the drive to the White Downs was uneventful, and as the weather continued fine and warm, quite pleasant, too. Frodo sat close beside Sam and held his hand, and concocted various scenarios for how Sam might make good on his promised apology. It was an edifying way to pass the time, and the miles melted away beneath the pony’s hooves. 


When they finally reached the Fair grounds in the late morning, Sam drew rein and halted between two other carts near the field where the racing was to be held. They were not the first to arrive by any means; already the area was filled with pigs of all sizes, shapes and colours, and the air rang with their oinks, squeals and grunts. 


Sam jumped down from the cart and tethered Berry, and then Frodo helped him to lower the tailgate of the cart and unload the pigs. There were pens available to house the hobbits’ livestock while they awaited their competitions at the Fair, and Sam led Flower and Fancy to one of the empty pens and turned them loose.


“I’ve got to go and check in, Frodo,” Sam said as he latched the gate. “Do you mind keeping an eye on Flower and Fancy? I’ll not be gone long.” They had decided that the pigs should never be left unattended, lest more foul play be attempted.


“Not at all, Sam,” Frodo replied agreeably, but his eyes were on Sam as he made his way through the crowd of hobbits, stopping now and again to greet an acquaintance. It wasn’t until Sam had disappeared from view that Frodo leaned his elbows on the top rail of the sows’ temporary lodgings, and turned his attention to them. 


Flower and Fancy were already busy snuffling in the dirt, pushing it around with their sensitive noses, hoping to uncover something interesting (and edible, of course), and neither appeared to be in the least perturbed by the hubbub around them. This was in sharp contrast to some of the other pigs that were squealing and trotting anxiously around their pens. Such behaviour did not bode well for their chances, thought Frodo. Surely those pigs must be using up all their energy with their fussing and fretting. 


“Morning, Mr. Frodo,” said a voice behind him.


Frodo turned. It was Ted Sandyman, in company with a couple of hobbits Frodo didn’t know, and didn’t like the looks of either. Unsavoury was the word that sprang to his mind, and he wondered where the strangers came from. They most definitely did not hail from Hobbiton or Bywater. Visitors to the Fair, he supposed, and thought it unsurprising that Ted would have taken up with them.


“Good morning, Ted,” said Frodo with as much politeness as he could muster.


Ted grinned around a long stalk of grass that protruded from the corner of his mouth. He was chewing on the end of it, and Frodo had the unkind yet irrepressible thought that Ted could take some lessons in manners from Flower and Fancy. “How are them pigs of Sam’s feeling today?” Ted asked impudently, rolling the grass to the other side of his mouth with his tongue, a most unpleasant sight. 


Frodo stiffened a little at the question. “They are very well, as you can plainly see.” He maintained his cordial tone with some difficulty. The brazenness of Ted was almost past believing.


“Well, it ain’t so plain to me. Them sows look a mite peaky to my eyes. Off colour, ye might say.” There were some sniggers from the other hobbits, and Ted’s eyes sparkled with malicious amusement. 


“Indeed?” Frodo said repressively, but Ted, spurred on by his appreciative audience, continued to exercise his wit.


“Aye. I heard tell as how they had themselves a bit of a drunk t’other day, Mr. Frodo. Got into Gaffer Gamgee’s home brew and passed out in his yard, so ‘tis said.” He smirked. “Shame, that. ‘Twill hurt their chances in the races, I don’t doubt.”


“You’d be wrong then, Ted,” responded Frodo, who was with some difficulty maintaining control over his emotions. It was clear that Ted was trying to provoke him, and he would not yield to the provocation. “Flower and Fancy are quite recovered.”


Ted laughed unpleasantly. “Flower and Fancy?” he repeated, sneering. “D’ye mean to tell me Sam has names for his pigs, like as if they was pets? I allus knew he was a ninnyhammer.”


What might have happened next was anyone’s guess, for Ted’s use of the hated word ‘ninnyhammer’ caused Frodo’s self-control to come perilously near to snapping. But suddenly there was Sam, standing close by his side, and Frodo nearly sagged with relief. He would not have wanted to give Sandyman or his friends the satisfaction of rising to his bait.


“Need something, Ted?” asked Sam coolly, standing with his feet slightly apart and one eyebrow raised. “’Cause if you don’t, I’d suggest you go check on your sow. I reckon she must have got a leg caught in the fence- it looked to me like she was limping. Be a pity if you had to scratch her.”


“Limping!” exclaimed Ted, his face going pale. Without another word, he turned on his heels and dashed away, his friends trailing in his wake.


“Two can play at Sandyman’s games,” Sam said with satisfaction, watching Ted’s retreating back.


Frodo’s eyes flew to his face. “Do you mean to say she isn’t limping?” he asked, startled.


“I’ve no idea, Frodo, seeing as how I made up the entire story. Seemed the best way to be rid of him.” Sam’s eyes were bright with mischief.


“Oh Sam, I do love you so.” 


“Right glad I am to hear it.”


***


The pig racing at the Free Fair was no novelty to Frodo. He had watched it any number of times over the years, enjoying the sight of the pigs springing from the starting traps and galloping down the 200-yard course while at the other end their owners jumped up and down and hollered ‘pig-hoo-oo-ey’ at the top of their lungs, and rattled containers of pebbles or waved lengths of white cloth in an attempt to spur their pigs on to greater efforts. 


The most enjoyable aspect of the pig racing was not watching the pigs that ran, however, it was watching the ones that didn’t. 


Pigs sometimes got turned around in their stalls and were facing backwards when the starter sprang the traps. Sometimes they refused to leave the traps at all, or they took off in the wrong direction, or ran to the wrong owner (someone who presumably carried better treats). Sometimes they interfered with another pig in the race and were, to the disappointment of their owners, disqualified (the reason sows were the preferred racers; they were less likely to interfere than boars). 


There were so many variables to the outcome of the races that pig racing was one of the most popular events at the Fair- both as a friendly wagering proposition among the spectators, and as a spectacle guaranteed to leave one’s sides aching with laughter.


Unless, that is, one had an interest in the result. As Frodo was discovering, the thought of Flower or Fancy doing any of those things was not in the least amusing. 


Frodo could actually feel a nervous flutter in the pit of his stomach as Sam dressed the sows in the wide fabric-covered collars that they would wear while racing. The colours of the collars corresponded to the pigs’ post-positions in their races, and were used to help the judges at the finish line determine the order of finish. 


Fancy, who had drawn into the second of the six races, would be starting in the number one post-position, and the collar Sam fastened about her neck was red. Flower, who was in the fifth race, would be starting from the number three post-position, and her collar was green. When he had finished dressing the sows, Sam looped a rope over Fancy’s head and led her from the pen. Flower remained behind, but Sam had hired a young lad anxious to earn a few coppers to keep an eye on her in their absence. 


“Don’t trust that Ted nohow,” Sam said as they headed over to the paddock area where the pigs for the second race were gathering, and Frodo had to agree with him.


Fancy’s five opponents were also arriving in the paddock, and Frodo eyed them speculatively. They were a range of sizes and types, from the medium sized Fancy to a large Hobbiton Old Spot to a tiny reddish pig that Sam said was called a Shire Landrace. Perhaps it was that pig blindness that Sam had mentioned creeping over him, but Frodo thought Fancy was quite the fittest, most athletic looking pig of the lot. A couple of the other pig owners, however, commented to Sam on his fine looking sow, and so perhaps it wasn’t all in Frodo’s imagination. 


Pig owners seemed to be a talkative lot, in fact, and with the notable exception of Ted Sandyman, a friendly lot, too. They talked pigs while they waited, and swapped tales of other racing events they had attended (the Free Fair was by no means the only pig racing event in the Shire). Sam seemed right at home among them despite being the youngest and least experienced pig owner by several years. Frodo didn’t even mind that they might have been talking Dwarvish for all he understood of the pig racing terminology. Simply watching Sam’s animated face as he recited a passage from Proudfoot on the Pigg for the edification of the owner of the Shire Landrace was reward enough for Frodo.


The pigs in the first race were at that moment being led to the starting traps. The loading of the racers into the traps was often eventful, as the less well-trained or docile pigs were sometimes resistant to the idea of entering the narrow stalls and put up quite a struggle. The starter, Podo Knotwise, and his assistants, a brawny crew of eight sturdy hobbits, were old hands at handling recalcitrant pigs, however, and soon got the six contestants, willing or no, lined up in their stalls. 


A hush fell over the watching crowd then, as the breathless hobbits waited for Podo to pull the cord that released the doors on the front of the trap. And then, with a bang, the doors flew open, and the race was on.


It was difficult to say who made the most noise during a pig race- the onlookers, the pigs’ owners, or the pigs themselves- many of whom squealed or snorted with every stride. Fancy grew quite excited as the pigs thundered down the track, shaking the ground with their cloven feet. She pranced in place and uttered soft grunts as if she wished she could be released to join in the fun.


“Easy now, lass,” Sam soothed her, but he was grinning. “She’s on her toes, Frodo. She ought to give a good account of herself.”


The winner of the first race was a wiry looking white pig with exceptionally long, droopy ears, and she crossed the finish line about a length ahead of the rest of the field. Sam said admiringly, “That’s the Longbottom Lop I was telling you about, Frodo, the one from Barnstable. My, ain’t she a beauty.”


“But you don’t think she can beat our girls, do you, Sam?” asked Frodo anxiously. He eyed the winning sow as her jubilant owner led her from the track, and thought that she wasn’t nearly as beautiful as either Flower or Fancy. Not, of course, that he was prejudiced in their favour, no indeed- but the words ‘pig blind’ did flash through his mind again.


“Time will tell, Frodo. They have to make it into the final race first,” replied Sam, a statement that did nothing to ease Frodo’s ever-increasing nerves. There were times he wished Sam was not so confounded objective. A bit of pig blindness on Sam’s part would have been most welcome at that moment.


As soon as the track had been cleared of pigs from the first race, the second race was called to the post. Sam gave Fancy an encouraging pat. “I’ll see you at the end of the track, Fancy-lass, and I’ll have these waiting for you,” he told the sow, and showed her a few acorns in his hand before turning her over to one of the assistant starters, and making his way to the far end of the track with the other owners. Fancy watched Sam go, straining a little at the rope around her neck, but she moved obediently away with the strange hobbit when he clicked his tongue and gave the rope a tug. 


Frodo lingered and watched as Fancy was led to the starting traps. Fancy had been so thoroughly trained by Sam, using the methods laid out in Raising the Racing Pigg, that she never turned a hair as Podo Knotwise opened the back of her stall, but walked placidly inside and stood there quietly. The same could not be said for all the pigs, however, and the din was really quite remarkable.


Once he had seen Fancy loaded into the traps, Frodo trotted down the side of the racetrack toward the finish line. He knew from past experience that standing near the finish line gave the best vantage to view the races, and the area was already packed with spectators. There were the four judges, too, who were positioned right at the line- two on either side of the track- and it was their job to determine the order of finish. Pig races could sometimes be quite close, with pigs crossing the finish line neck and neck. It took an experienced eye and steady nerves to judge the races, and Frodo didn’t envy them their task.


Frodo caught the eye of Sam, who was standing well back from the finish line (a necessary precaution for the handlers, lest the charging sows bowl them over or slow up before the finish line). He appeared calm, but there was a tension about the way he was holding himself that told Frodo the truth: Sam was indeed nervous. It was hardly surprising, for here at last was the culmination of Sam’s many months of careful preparation, and while Flower and Fancy seemed fit again, it was impossible to say for sure if the effects of the home brew had completely worn off.


Frodo’s heart went out to Sam, and he gave him a bright encouraging smile before turning his attention to the head of the track where the pigs were all loaded and the race about to begin. 


There was that moment of breathless hush as everyone, pigs included, seemed to sense that the start was imminent, and then Podo released the trap doors, and the pigs were off. Frodo, casting aside every shred of dignity he possessed, began jumping up and down and shouting, “Go Fancy! Go Fancy!” through his cupped hands. He didn’t care that he was the Master of Bag End, or worry about what Bilbo might think. He was far too caught up in the excitement of the moment. 


And what an exciting moment it was.


It became clear at once that Sam’s diligence in training the sows had paid off: the Brandywine Black-and-White burst out of her stall first, showed her heels to her five competitors, and pulled away, crossing the finish line two lengths in front of the tiny Shire Landrace. Fancy ran straight up to Sam, and started pushing with her nose in a demanding way at his pockets, eager for her reward. Beaming, Sam pulled a handful of acorns from his pocket and gave them to her, then looped the rope around her neck and began leading her from the track, accepting the congratulations of the other hobbits on his win. Frodo ran to meet Sam and Fancy, practically bounding through the air in his jubilation.


“Oh Sam!” Frodo croaked, and wondered why his voice sounded so hoarse- had he been shouting that loudly? “She won! Fancy won!” It was exceedingly difficult to restrain himself from leaping into Sam’s arms, wrapping his arms around his neck and kissing him. He managed it, however, and contented himself with patting Fancy (who, in point of fact, was the one who had won the race, not Sam) affectionately on the neck instead. 


“Aye, wasn’t she a fine sight, Frodo?” Sam sounded a bit hoarse himself. “Came out of the traps like an old hand, clever pig. Never would have guessed it was her first race.” Sam’s chest was puffed out with pride. “Now we’ll see what Flower can do. She’ll have to go some to equal you, Fancy-lass,” he said to the sow, who was munching happily on her acorns, and looking not a bit the worse for wear for her efforts.


As if to prove to Sam that Fancy wasn’t the only clever pig in the family, Flower did go some. She won her race quite as easily as Fancy had, and Sam practically floated off the track, a dazed expression on his face. 


“I can’t believe it, Frodo,” he said half a dozen times at least during the short walk back to the pens with Flower. “I simply can’t believe it.”


Frodo took Sam’s arm and hugged it. “Didn’t I tell you no other pig here could beat them?” he said smugly.


This time Sam didn’t even pretend to be objective or utter some disclaimer about the final race coming up and how there might be a faster pig in it. There were tears glimmering in his eyes. “Ain’t they just the best pigs as were ever whelped? And to think they belong to me, Sam Gamgee.” Frodo fished in his pocket for a handkerchief and handed it to Sam, who blew his nose in a heartfelt manner.


In addition to the very great joy of watching Sam’s sows emerge triumphant from their races, Frodo had the nearly-as-great joy of watching Ted Sandyman’s Bywater Black come last in her race, the one immediately before Flower’s. He would never forget the moment when Ted’s sow, trailing the pack, pulled up, mere inches from the finish line, and began rooting through the grass, her attention caught by some intriguing scent or other. Frodo was grinning so hard his cheeks ached, but Ted was crimson with embarrassment as he hurried over to catch his wayward pig. 


All in all, it was turning out to be the most satisfactory day.


After the six preliminary races were completed, there was a break scheduled so that the winning pigs would have a chance to rest before the final race. Any sort of break at the Free Fair meant, of course, that it must be time for a meal, and accordingly Frodo went off to purchase lunch for him and Sam. When he returned some half-hour later, his arms laden with packets of food, he found Sam surrounded by a crowd of admirers- admirers of Flower and Fancy, that is. 


The admiring hobbits were leaning over the fence, and animatedly pointing out and discussing the finer points of pig structure. Frodo’s head was soon buzzing from all the talk of pig diet, pig training and pig anatomy (‘finest set of hams I’ve ever seen on a sow,’ said one old gaffer, staring at Fancy’s back legs in a way that unnerved Frodo a little, perhaps because it was lunchtime). 


Then the talk turned to pig breeding, and Sam was asked if he had any plans to breed Flower and Fancy. Before Sam could even reply, a chorus of suggestions for suitable boars rang out, and Frodo had a sudden mental image of the Bag End garden overrun with little black and white piglets. It was an alarming idea, and Frodo realised that he would have to have words with Sam on the topic of potential motherhood for his sows, and sometime in the very near future. 


Meanwhile, having had his fill of pig talk, Frodo excused himself- although Sam was so engrossed in a discussion of pig pedigrees that he hardly noticed- and retired to the cart to finish his meal in peace. Berry, cropping the grass nearby, was an undemanding and quiet companion, and said not a single word about pigs.


Thus it was that Frodo was the first to notice the delegation of hobbits approaching, led by Mayor Will Whitfoot. The troubled expression on Will’s normally cheerful countenance cast a sudden pall over the lovely day. Ted Sandyman was part of the group, as were his friends, and it was clear from his smirk that he was at the center of whatever was causing Will to look so grave.


Frodo set aside his food, and climbed down from the cart as they neared. “Hello, Will,” he greeted the Mayor politely.


“Mr. Frodo.” Will returned the greeting with equal politeness. Frodo had always had a very friendly relationship with the Mayor, and knew him to be both fair and honest in his dealings with others. “I’d like to have a word with you and Sam Gamgee, if you’d be so kind.” The portly hobbit looked determined to do his duty, however unpleasant it might be- and Frodo got the distinct impression that Will expected it to be vastly unpleasant.


“Of course,” Frodo said, and called to Sam.


Sam glanced over, saw who was with Frodo, and a frown crossed his face. He excused himself from his friends, nimbly vaulted the fence and walked quickly over to join Frodo. “Good day, Mayor Whitfoot,” was all Sam said, but there was a question in his voice. 


“Good day to you, Sam,” Will replied. He hesitated for a moment, and then went on, “Well now, there’s no point in beating about the bush. I’ll get straight to the point, Sam. Mr. Ted Sandyman here has lodged a complaint against you and your pigs. He wants them both disqualified from the meet.”


Frodo went cold. A complaint? Disqualified? It would break Sam’s heart, he thought.


“Does he now.” Sam shot Ted a look. “And what might Mr. Ted Sandyman’s complaint be?” He sounded cool and unruffled, and Frodo had never admired him more.


“He claims that your sows were racing under the influence of a stimulant- beer, to be exact. Now, you know we have rules about that sort of thing, Sam. You can’t go feeding your pigs anything that might give them an unfair advantage.”


So outraged was Frodo by the duplicity of Ted Sandyman that he was rendered speechless. Sam, however, was not. In that same cool, unemotional tone, he said, “I’ll admit as how my sows got into some beer two days ago, Mayor, but not a’purpose. Someone let them out of their pen- trying to ruin their chances for today, seemingly. My poor pigs were passed out unconscious for almost an entire day, and it was a near thing for them. They might have died.”


“Yes,” agreed Frodo, finding his voice, “and I can vouch for the truth of Sam’s statement, Will.”


“As if anybody would believe a word you say in Sam Gamgee’s defence,” sneered Ted.


Frodo could see Sam’s hands suddenly clench into fists at his sides.


“Here now, Ted,” Will jumped in before Ted could say anymore or cause the tension to escalate, “there’s no call for such talk. You say you can vouch for the truth, Mr. Frodo?” 


“I can,” Frodo said positively, and could see from Will’s relieved expression that the Mayor was as anxious as Frodo himself to debunk Ted’s accusation. “Sam was down at the market in Bywater when the pigs got into the beer. He had no knowledge of what had happened until afterward. When I investigated the pen, I found evidence that someone had removed a portion of the fence rail to allow the pigs to escape. There were footprints all around it. It was a deliberate attempt to sabotage Sam’s pigs, Will. It’s a wonder they were even fit to compete today, and if it wasn’t for Sam’s devoted care of them the past two days, they never would have been.”


By this time, there was quite a crowd of hobbits gathered around, listening intently to every word, and a murmur passed through it as Frodo finished speaking.


“I’d say that puts an entirely different complexion on the matter,” said Will. He turned to Ted. “I’m sorry, Ted, but based on the statements of Sam and Mr. Frodo, I have to rule that your protest is without merit.”


Ted’s face grew dark. “What else would ye expect them to say?” he proclaimed angrily. “There’s not a body in Hobbiton don’t know what Sam Gamgee’s real job is at Bag End, and what it is he gets paid to do.”


It was at this point that Frodo Baggins, the mild-mannered Master of Bag End, astounded the assembled company, himself included, by knocking Ted down. It was a flush hit, right on the point of Ted’s chin, and he went down like he’d been poleaxed. He lay there on his back, dazed and blinking stupidly, holding one hand to his jaw. Frodo, standing over the fallen hobbit and breathing hard, had only one coherent thought at that moment, and that was that he sincerely hoped he’d broken Ted’s jaw.


There was a shocked silence, and then a hobbit in the back of the crowd called out, “T’ain’t too late to enter the boxing competition, Mr. Frodo. I’ll wager my coppers on ye. Very neat hit, sir, very neat indeed.”


The other hobbits burst into uproarious laughter, breaking the awful tension of the moment. Will, who was trying unsuccessfully to suppress a broad grin, said, “Well, I don’t normally hold with fisticuffs as a way of settling arguments, Mr. Frodo, but you were provoked, no question about it.” He fixed Ted with his sternest look. “You’d best take yourself off quick as may be, Ted Sandyman. You’ve wasted enough of my time for one day.”


Ted, still holding his rapidly swelling jaw, was pulled to his feet by one of his friends. Frodo’s punch had knocked every ounce of bravado out of the miller’s son, and he would not make eye contact with anyone. Without a word, he shouldered his way through the crowd, and vanished. His companions did not follow him this time, but drifted away in a different direction, apparently not very loyal to their friend in his time of need.


Through all this drama, surprisingly enough, Sam had spoken not a single word. When Frodo turned to him, he found Sam staring at him with his mouth hanging open and the queerest expression on his face. Frodo couldn’t make it out at all, and he had believed he knew every aspect of Sam’s dear face. 


A sinking feeling stole over him. Was it possible that Sam was disappointed in him for knocking Ted down? He sincerely hoped not, for Frodo didn’t think he could ever apologise for having hit Ted, even to Sam, for the provocation had been severe, and the insult to Sam not to be borne. Will did have a point of course; fisticuffs were not the best way to settle arguments. But the memory of a dazed Ted Sandyman lying on the ground holding his aching jaw was one Frodo would remember with satisfaction for a long time to come. The knuckles of his right hand were bruised and sore (Ted having an exceptionally hard chin) but as far as Frodo was concerned, it was worth every twinge of pain.


The excitement over, the crowd began to disperse, but not a hobbit present, including Will, left without first clapping Frodo on the shoulder and congratulating him on his pugilistic prowess. It was clear that Frodo’s stock among the pig fanciers of the Shire had gone up enormously in the past few minutes. Ted Sandyman, it appeared, was no more popular among that group of stalwarts than he was among the hobbits gathered at the Ivy Bush of an evening.


Sam, however, continued to gape open-mouthed at Frodo, until finally Frodo murmured, “You’re going to catch flies, Sam.” Sam shut his mouth, but that peculiar expression remained on his face. He seemed to be almost as poleaxed as Ted. 


***


“You’ve hurt your hand.” 


They were the first words Sam had spoken since the incident with Ted. Frodo started guiltily, hastily finished tying Fancy’s blue racing collar, and hid his abused right hand behind his back. It did ache like the dickens, and Sam must have seen him wince once or twice.


“Frodo,” Sam said patiently.


Frodo sighed and held out his hand. “It’s nothing really, Sam.”


Sam didn’t reply but took the hand in a gentle clasp and examined it. He ran his thumb lightly over the knuckles, which were already turning black and blue, and looked thoughtful. “Nothing broken, me dear, but ‘tis bruised right enough.” He reached for the satchel in which he kept all his pig racing supplies, and dug around in it for a minute until he found what he was hunting for: a small pottery jar. “I’ll just put some of this peppermint salve on the bruises, and then wrap your hand.”


He applied the salve with such a tender, gentle touch that Frodo had to say, “Sam, I was afraid you were upset with me.”


Sam looked up from his work, his brows knit. “Upset?”


“Because I hit Ted.”


Sam looked astonished. “Whyever would you think such a thing, Frodo? ‘Twas one of the most satisfying moments of my life, seeing you knock Sandyman onto his bum.”


“Well, you haven’t said a word about it, and you looked, oh, I don’t know, funny somehow, not like yourself at all.”


Sam’s head was bent again as he wound a strip of soft linen about Frodo’s hand, but Frodo could see a slight tinge of red burning high on his cheeks. “I was just startled, is all,” he explained. “I didn’t never expect to see you throw a punch. I didn’t think you knew how.”


Frodo laughed. “You forget, Sam, that I grew up at Brandy Hall. I learned a bit about fisticuffs while I lived there.” 


“More than a bit, I’d say. That was as fine a leveller as any I’ve seen.”


“No, it wasn’t really,” Frodo demurred, although secretly pleased by the compliment. “I got lucky, Sam. Ted wasn’t expecting it.”


Sam finished tying the strip of linen. “There. That’ll do ‘til we get home and I can tend to you proper-like.”


“Thank you, Sam.”


Sam raised the bandaged hand to his lips and kissed it. “Thank you, me dear. I won’t never forget-" He broke off, looking self-conscious, and let Frodo’s hand go. “We’d best get a move on. I see the other pigs heading toward the paddock. We don’t want to be late.”


“No indeed.” But Frodo couldn’t help but wonder what Sam had been going to say. It was clear that Sam hadn’t told him everything he’d been thinking, not by a long shot. But it could wait. There would be plenty of time to winkle the truth out of Sam on the long drive home. Right now, there was a race to be run, and a pig to catch.


***


It was vastly different to be a part of the race experience instead of simply a spectator. Frodo was surprised by the almost proprietary feeling he had for Fancy as he walked the sow to the paddock area. Fancy jigged along at his side, cheerful as could be, and occasionally she and Flower, trotting beside her, turned their heads and touched snouts as if plotting their race strategy. Pig blindness had Frodo firmly in its grasp now, and if Sam had told him that the sows could read, write and count to one hundred, he’d not have batted an eyelash, but simply agreed, and then offered to start teaching them Elvish.


In addition to Flower, Fancy and the Longbottom Lop, who went by the name of Bess, there was a most unusual looking pig in the finals, a pig with long legs and a cream-coloured coat. This was one of the Bramble’s pigs, Sam told Frodo in a low voice, a pig that had been bred specifically for racing. A second Longbottom Lop and a Hobbiton Old Spot rounded out the field of six. Fancy and Flower were starting from the second and fourth post-positions respectively, with Bess between them. All the pigs in this race were well trained and conditioned, and Frodo knew that Flower and Fancy would have to run the races of their lives if they were to have a chance of winning.


“’Twill come down to the break, I reckon,” Sam informed him. “If that Bess gets out of the traps on top, she’ll take some catching.”


Standing with Sam at the end of the track, Frodo felt his palms sweating and his heart racing. He kept his gaze fixed on the starting trap where the pigs were starting to load, and never had 200 yards seemed such a vast distance. 


During the drive that morning, Sam had carefully coached him in what to do when catching a pig at the end of a race. Frodo was therefore careful to stay in line with Fancy’s starting box so that she would see him and run to him in as straight a line as possible, and not lose ground by swerving from her path. He was very much afraid that hollering ‘pig-hoo-oo-ey’ was going to be beyond him, but Sam had just smiled and said that he felt certain that when the moment came, Frodo would manage it just fine. 


“All right, Frodo?” Sam asked as the last pig was loaded, and Podo took up the cord to release the trap doors.


“I think I’m going to be sick,” Frodo admitted, but then there was no time for thoughts of self, for the traps flew open, the pigs sprang away, and the race was on. As for Frodo, he was hollering ‘pig-hoo-oo-ey’ as if he’d been practicing every day for the past year.


The pigs were thundering down the track towards them, and Frodo’s eyes focussed on a flash of bright blue: Fancy, and she appeared to be right with both yellow-collared Flower and green-collared Bess. And then suddenly the pigs seemed to be moving in slow motion, as if time had somehow been suspended; everything faded from Frodo’s sight except the six pigs fanned out across the track, neck and neck, getting closer and closer…


‘Pig-hoo-oo-ey!!!!” Frodo cried, and time sped up again, and the pigs were dashing across the finish line to the deafening cheers of the large, enthusiastic crowd. It looked to Frodo as if Flower, Bess and Fancy had crossed the finish line together, slightly ahead of the other pigs, but he had not the faintest clue which of them had actually won the race. It was far too close to call.


But there was no time to worry about the finish just then, for there was Fancy standing in front of him with her snout raised and an expectant look in her small dark eyes. Frodo offered her the acorns he had been clutching in his fist, and said (in a voice that actually trembled), “Oh Fancy, what a good pig you are.” He felt rather overcome with emotion, to tell the truth.


As Frodo was putting the lead rope over Fancy’s head, Sam walked up with Flower; he looked proud as punch, and couldn’t stop smiling. “Now that was what I call a race,” Sam exclaimed exuberantly. “Most exciting race I’ve ever seen, bar none.”


“Oh Sam, it was, wasn’t it? But who won? Could you tell?”


Sam shook his head. “Nay, I couldn’t tell. It’ll be up to the line judges- and just look at them, Frodo. I reckon they ain’t having an easy time of it.”


Frodo looked. The four officials were huddled with their heads together, conferring. Around them the crowd was buzzing like a hive of bees as they waited for the winner to be announced.


The tension was nigh unbearable.


***


The blue velvet sash was supposed to be around Fancy’s neck, and it had been- briefly. But the sow displayed a little too much interest in it, taking it in her mouth in a contemplative manner as if she was considering its suitability as a foodstuff, so Sam had regretfully removed it.


Frodo sat quietly beside Sam in the cart as they rode through the deepening dusk and fingered the soft velvet draped across his knees. He could still make out the words embroidered in gold on the deep blue: ‘Free Fair Champion 1410’.


My, what a moment that had been. Frodo knew that he would never forget as long as he lived the expression of pure, unadulterated joy on Sam’s face as the results were announced and he learned that Fancy had won the race, followed by Bess and then Flower. Nor would Frodo ever forget that the very first thing Sam had done was to turn to Frodo and hug him, and say into his ear in a choked whisper, “Thank you.” 


Dear Sam. His inherent modesty would never allow him to take the credit due him for the marvellous job he’d done training Flower and Fancy up to the races. No, Sam would always believe that Frodo’s suggestion that he try the Dwarf tonic was the reason that Fancy had won. But Frodo, of course, knew better. It was Sam Gamgee who deserved all the credit, every single bit of it. 


The first miles of the journey home to Bag End had flown past as he and Sam relived every detail of the sows’ races, and mutually agreed that Flower and Fancy were without a doubt the cleverest and speediest pigs the Shire had ever seen. And let anyone declare them ‘pig blind’ who chose, Frodo thought defiantly. The proof was in the blue sash and the fat purse of coin that they were taking home with them, the spoils of Fancy’s victory.


But Sam had now fallen silent, and Frodo suspected that the euphoria was at last wearing off, and his lack of sleep was finally catching up with him. It had already caught up with the sows; stentorian snores had been issuing from the back of the cart for some time. It was a measure of Frodo’s changed attitude toward Flower and Fancy that he found the sounds rather endearing- although he certainly hoped they didn’t intend to keep it up all night.


“We should stop soon and make camp, Sam,” Frodo murmured. “It’s growing late and you must be terribly exhausted.”


“I’ve my eye on a spot about a mile up ahead, and not too far off the Road,” Sam replied. “‘Tis sheltered, and close by a stream.”


“It sounds perfect. You need to get some sleep, Sam, and we’ve no need to press on tonight.”


Sam didn’t reply, but a short time later, he steered the pony off the road, and brought him to a halt some quarter mile away near a small stream. It was a pleasant spot, with plenty of ferns and bracken to use for bedding, and fallen twigs and branches to build a fire. Sam jumped down from the cart, and made quick work of unharnessing Berry and setting him loose to graze. The pigs were still soundly asleep.


While Sam tended to the pony, Frodo began unloading their camping gear. He deposited an armload of blankets on the ground and was just reaching into the cart for his pack, when a pair of hands took him by the shoulders and turned him round. 


It was Sam, of course, but a Sam that Frodo hardly recognised. He didn’t appear tired at all, far from it. His expression was almost fierce, and there was such a look in his eyes… The truth struck Frodo like a bolt from the blue: that strange expression in Sam’s eyes after Frodo had hit Ted Sandyman. How could he have been so blind? It hadn’t been anger or upset after all. It had been desire. Sam had been aroused by what had happened. He recalled the heat burning in Sam’s cheeks while he bandaged Frodo’s hand, and his hastily cut off words. Frodo’s pulse began to thrum as a corresponding heat leapt to life inside him.


“Sam,” he whispered.


Sam framed Frodo’s face with his hands; they were trembling. “Frodo,” he said in a low, intense voice, “when you knocked down that Ted Sandyman… I- well, I’ll never forget it, me dear, never forget how you looked standing over him, with your eyes a-blazing. ‘Twas all I could do to keep myself from snatching you up right then and there, to make myself wait until we could be alone. But we’re alone now, and I can’t wait no more, Frodo, not one blessed moment more. If I don’t have you now, right this very minute, I’m afraid I just might…” And with a small moan of frustration, Sam pushed Frodo back against the side of the cart and kissed him, a fierce, open-mouthed kiss. Frodo could feel Sam’s arousal burning against his hip and thought that if he hadn’t had his back against the cart, he would surely have collapsed to the ground. His knees had gone weak.


This was not the Sam he knew, he thought dazedly as Sam’s hands tore at the buttons of Frodo’s shirt. This was not the Sam who let Frodo take the lead in their lovemaking, the one who never seemed quite able to forget the difference in their stations, no matter how much Frodo sometimes wished he would. No, this Sam had no such inhibitions, and Frodo had the fleeting, absurd thought that he owed Ted Sandyman a debt of gratitude, before all thought was lost and he met Sam’s fire with his own, and he pulled Sam closer.


They didn’t move away from the cart or lie down, or even undress. The confines of clothing were simply pushed down or aside as desperation took them. Frodo wrapped his legs around Sam’s waist and held tightly to his shoulders and flung his head back with a cry as Sam entered him; he didn’t even feel the back of his head connect with the top rail of the cart hard enough to leave a bruise that he would later find. There was only the feeling of Sam inside him, and an unbearable tension that grew and grew until it spilled over at last into ecstasy. 


“Oh,” Frodo exclaimed weakly, some minutes or possibly hours later. “Oh Sam, I’m going to have to knock Ted Sandyman down at least once a week if this is the result.”


There was a muffled chuckle against Frodo’s throat, and Sam slowly raised his head. “You won’t get no objections from me, Frodo-love,” he said, and then added with a hint of worry, “Are you all right? I wasn’t too-"


Frodo stopped his words with a kiss. “Don’t you dare, Sam Gamgee,” he warned. “It was perfect, utterly perfect.” He smiled. “You couldn’t have come up with a more proper apology if you’d tried.”


“Oh Frodo.” Sam lowered Frodo to the ground, and they held to each other. “What a day we’ve had, haven’t we?” he said into Frodo’s hair, “I’ll never forget it as long as I live.”


“Neither will I. And the pig racing was rather fun, too.”


Sam laughed aloud.


At that moment, there was a stirring in the straw, and two sleepy-looking pig faces appeared over the top of the cart.


“Uh oh,” Frodo said, feeling a twinge of guilt (but only a twinge), “it looks like we woke Flower and Fancy.”


“’Tis time they were fed anyway,” Sam replied. “But we’d best get cleaned up before we do anything else,” he added, and held out his hand.


Frodo took it, and they went down to the stream together, but what with one thing and another, by the time they eventually returned, Flower and Fancy had, not surprisingly, fallen asleep once more.


~end~