Notes: For the 2012 B2MeM Bingo Crossover prompt ‘Book Title: The Dead Poets Society.’ I shamelessly borrowed Robbie Burns’s song/poem 'A Red, Red Rose' for the story, and inflicted upon a number of Tolkien’s blameless Elves entirely apocryphal poems.
Frodo came up with the idea for one reason and one alone: to woo his gardener. He recalled how mad Sam had been for tales of Elves when he was a child, and in especial how he'd loved Elvish poetry. So why not start an Elvish poetry reading society? He was certain Sam would be glad to join, and if matters went the way Frodo hoped, soon he and Sam would be the only two members. Interest in Elvish poetry, as Frodo well knew, was pretty much limited to him and Samwise, now that Bilbo had departed the Shire.
Frodo invited his closest friends Merry Brandybuck and Pippin Took, as well as Fatty Bolger and Folco Boffin, to the inaugural meeting. And, of course, he invited Sam.
'A poetry reading society?' Sam said when Frodo tracked him down in the garden to issue the invitation. 'I reckon I'm not learned enough, Mr. Frodo, though 'tis kind in you to ask me.'
Frodo was certain he wasn't imagining the wistful note in Sam's voice. 'Not at all,' he hastened to reassure Sam. 'You don't have to be learned to be a member, Sam. You only have to love poetry.'
'Well, I do like a bit of poetry now and then,' Sam allowed.
Frodo closed in for the kill. 'And our focus will be on Elvish poetry.'
'Elvish poetry. Oh sir!' Sam exclaimed. 'Oh Mr. Frodo!' He couldn't have sounded more delighted if Frodo had offered to treble his salary (which Frodo would have, if Sam's Gaffer would have allowed it).
'Does that mean you'll come?' Frodo said, as if Sam's eagerness wasn't as palpable as that of a starving puppy offered the most delectable treat imaginable.
'Excellent!' It wasn't until Frodo was inside Bag End with the door safely closed behind him that he did a happy little jig around the front hall.
The inaugural meeting of the Immortal Poets Society was an unqualified success - from Frodo's point of view, that is.
'Why the 'Immortal Poets Society'?' asked Merry, when everyone was gathered in the parlour and Frodo announced the name he'd selected for their newly formed society (something he had carefully avoided doing prior to the meeting).
'Because Elves are immortal,' Frodo explained.
'Elves? What have Elves got to do with it?' Pippin said.
'Oh, didn't I tell you?' Frodo said with a fine show of surprise. 'We'll be reading Elvish poetry only.'
'Oh I say, Frodo,' exclaimed Folco in horror. 'You can't expect us to read Elvish poetry. None of us know Elvish except for you.'
'I know a little, Mr. Folco,' piped up Sam.
Frodo smiled at Sam, and said, 'It will be an excellent opportunity for all of you to learn some Elvish and for Sam to improve his.'
'But I don't want to learn Elvish,' complained Pippin.
'I do,' said Sam.
'Well, that's because you're barmy, Sam.'
'Pippin,' Frodo admonished him, 'that was rude. Apologise to Sam.'
Pippin did, but he didn't look any happier. Frodo mentally rubbed his hands together with glee at the success of his plan thus far.
'What I want to know,' said Fatty, who had rather a one-track mind, 'is where you've hidden the refreshments, Frodo. It can't be a proper society without refreshments. Everyone knows that.'
'They are on the table over there,' Frodo replied.
Fatty stared at the meagre contents laid out on the small gate-legged table that Frodo had indicated. 'But... but...' he spluttered. 'There are no pies or cakes or biscuits or tarts.'
'I thought that as we are an Elvish poetry reading society, we should eat as the Elves do. They favour light repasts, Fatty, consisting mainly of fruit.'
'Fruit,' uttered Fredegar in doleful accents.
'It's very healthy,' Frodo said piously. 'Well, shall we get started? I selected several volumes that should do nicely to begin with.' He picked up one. 'This is a collection of epic poems on the history of Eldamar by Amdír the Unlucky.'
'Why is he called the 'Unlucky'?' Merry asked.
'Because he was slain in battle,' Frodo said.
'I thought this was called the 'Immortal Poets Society' not the 'Dead Poets Society',' Pippin pointed out.
'An Elf doesn't truly die, Pip, even if he is killed. His spirit goes to the Halls of Mandos and is eventually reclothed in a form like his old one.' Frodo smiled at Sam again. 'Isn't that right, Sam?'
'Yes, sir. Or leastways, that's how I heard it from Mr. Bilbo,' said Sam, returning his smile shyly.
Frodo became aware that Merry was eyeing him sharply, and cleared his throat. 'Well, now we've cleared that up, shall we begin?'
'Can I have some fruit first?' Fatty said plaintively.
'Later,' replied Frodo firmly, opened the book, and started to read.
It really was the most tedious stuff, which was, of course, the reason he'd chosen it. It didn't take long for the eyes of his audience to glaze over and for heads to start nodding. All except for Sam, that is. He remained perfectly still with his rapt gaze fixed on Frodo, and evinced not the slightest sign of boredom. Even when Folco let out a loud, jaw-cracking yawn, Sam only gave him a surprised look, as if unable to comprehend how anyone could be falling asleep, and then returned his gaze to Frodo. It was all that kept Frodo from putting himself to sleep. Amdír the Unlucky was not much of a storyteller.
When Frodo's voice started to fail, he finally stopped. Folco's chin was firmly sunk into his chest. Fatty had his cheek pillowed on his hand and his mouth was drooping open. Pippin's eyelids were twitching as if he were in the midst of a dream, and Merry had his head back and stentorian snores were issuing from him.
'Are we done already, sir?' Sam asked, sounding decidedly disappointed.
'Yes, for now.' Frodo shut the book with a decided snap, and the four slumbering hobbits abruptly awoke, with a variety of startled exclamations.
The most intriguing came from Pippin, who shouted, 'Cucumber!' and then blushed rosily when the others stared at him curiously. 'Nothing,' he muttered, and quickly added, 'Frodo, what about that food?'
'Yes, what about it?' asked Fatty impatiently, and as one who was prepared to do battle if necessary.
'Very well.' Frodo set aside the book and stood up. 'Help yourselves.'
The food disappeared with what would have been gratifying rapidity if there were not such a paucity of it. Frodo's conscience smote him when he observed Sam placing several of the wafer-thin slices of melon on his plate, for such a hardworking hobbit surely deserved more sustaining food, but he soothed his conscience by vowing to make up for the lack at a future meeting.
'Well,' said Frodo brightly when they were done eating, 'are you ready for the next poem? I thought I'd read a section of The Saga of Mahtan the Bearded. He was a famous metal craftself, you know.' And his saga was perishingly dull reading for all but Dwarves.
'Oh, that sounds a treat, Mr. Frodo,' Sam said.
Folco gave Sam a look that could only be described as mingling incredulity with loathing, while Merry jumped up from his seat and said hastily, 'We'd love to stay, cousin, really we would, but we promised some fellows we'd meet them at the Dragon for a beer and, ah, we don't want to be late.' He gave Folco, Fatty and Pippin a significant look. 'Isn't that right?'
'Oh yes! We definitely don't want to be late,' Pippin agreed, and Folco and Fatty nodded vigorously in agreement.
In very short order, the four hobbits had donned their jackets and scarves and said their goodbyes.
'I'll write and let you know the date of the next meeting,' Frodo called after them as he stood at the front door watching them hurry away, and suppressed a grin as four audible groans rose into the night air.
'I reckon I'd best be heading home myself, sir,' said Sam, taking his jacket from a hook on the wall. 'But it's been grand, Mr. Frodo. Thank you for inviting me.'
Oh, how Frodo wanted to ask Sam to stay, but he felt enough had been accomplished for one evening and perhaps it was better to rest on his laurels.
'Did you have a good time, Sam?' he asked.
Sam replied, 'Oh aye, that I did, Mr. Frodo, and no mistake.' He continued with a shy smile that caused Frodo's heart to jump about like a March-mad hare, 'I don't recall when I've had a better.'
'I'm delighted to hear it, Sam. I'll let you know as soon as I've scheduled the next meeting.' Sam shrugged into his jacket with a thoughtful frown. 'I hope you won't take this amiss, sir, but it struck me that Mr. Merry and the others weren't exactly, well, taken with the idea of an Immortal Poets Society, if you understand me.'
'No?' Frodo kept both expression and voice bland. 'But I daresay it will grow on them once they've pick up a few words of Elvish, Sam.'
Sam pursed his lips in an insanely attractive and alluring manner while he considered Frodo's reply. Then he nodded. 'Mayhap you're right, sir. Well, I'll say good night. See you in the morning, Mr. Frodo.'
'Good night, Sam.' Frodo closed the door behind him with a regretful sigh, but no little satisfaction. Unless he missed his guess, attendance at future meetings of the Immortal Poets Society would be drastically reduced.
And so it proved. Fatty was the first to drop out, sending his regrets but writing that ‘familial obligations’ would prevent him from attending the Society’s meetings in future. This was no surprise to Frodo, considering Fatty’s discontent with the refreshments. Folco dropped out after the second meeting, and he made up no excuses, but stated outright that his head ached abominably from all that Elvish, and not for anything was he going to subject himself to more. Merry and Pippin showed up for the fourth meeting, but only, they claimed, out of love for their cousin.
Sensing he was close to achieving his goal, Frodo brought out the poem he’d been keeping in reserve for exactly such a moment. The Epic of Oropher the Vain was very long and very dull, consisting mainly of lengthy descriptions of the Elf’s grooming habits and wardrobe. Worst of all (or best, depending upon one’s point of view), it was free verse, without so much as a single rhyme, and if there was one thing hobbits loathed, it was a poem without any rhymes. Frodo was a little worried that even Sam might be put off, but thankfully he listened with his usual attentiveness, ignoring the fidgets, sighs, yawns, stomach gurglings, and finally snores of Merry and Pippin.
Two negative responses promptly arrived in the Shire-post in reply to the missives Frodo sent out a few days later announcing the date of the fifth meeting. You’ve lost your mind, cousin, Merry wrote. Let me know when you get it back. Pippin’s reply said, Immortal Poets? Deadly Poets is more like it, Frodo. I’m out.
Perhaps never in the history of the Shire had a sociable hobbit been so overjoyed to have his invitations turned down, and he grinned and did another little happy jig after he opened and read them.
Needless to say, the loyal Sam assured Frodo that he would be present, and did so with a becoming show of shy delight. Frodo did not inform him that he would be the only other hobbit attending.
Though Frodo despaired that it would ever arrive, at length the evening of the fifth meeting of the Immortal Poets Society came. He worked hard all day cooking up a storm, and then bathed and dressed with the utmost care, trying on and discarding various outfits, before finally settling on dark blue velvet trousers, a white linen shirt and a pale blue silk waistcoat embroidered with silver thread. His second-best, and perhaps fancier than the occasion strictly called for; but nothing was too good for Sam, after all.
Sam showed up on the doorstep punctually at seven o'clock, and Frodo noticed at once that he, too, had taken some pains with his appearance. His chestnut curls looked slightly damp, as though they had recently been washed, and he was wearing a striped waistcoat that Frodo had never seen before and he judged to be new.
'Come in, come in, Sam,' Frodo said jovially, holding wide the door, and as Sam stepped past him, he got a whiff of something spicy and enticing, and sniffed appreciatively. Perhaps, if things went according to plan, he’d get a chance to sniff again, but at a much closer range.
‘We’re holding the meeting in my study this time,’ Frodo said, leading the way down the hall. He added, trying to sound casual, ‘Since it is only the two of us tonight.’
‘Only the two of us, sir? But what happened to Mr. Merry and Mr. Pippin, if you don’t mind me asking?’
‘I’m afraid they are otherwise engaged this evening,’ replied Frodo blandly, ‘and send their regrets.’
‘That’s a right pity,’ Sam said, and Frodo wondered if he was imagining that Sam didn’t seem as disappointed as his words would have implied. ‘But I wonder you didn’t reschedule the meeting.’
‘Well, you know, Sam, I believe you were right when you said after the first meeting that the others weren’t exactly taken with the idea of an Immortal Poets Society. I’d be very much surprised if Merry and Pippin show up again. So, it only makes sense to proceed without them.’
‘Ah,’ Sam said.
What did he mean by ‘Ah’? Frodo wondered nervously. Was that a pleased ‘Ah’? A disappointed ‘Ah’? Was Sam wishing he was anywhere but Bag End right now? Did he want to bolt and run? Doubts and second thoughts crowded Frodo’s brain, and he had to quell a cowardly impulse to bolt and run himself.
Frodo showed Sam into the study, where a cheerful fire crackled on the hearth, and a half-dozen wax candles illumined the room with soft golden light. Two armchairs were set at an angle by the fire, and the table had been cleared of maps and books and sheets of parchment and now held a veritable feast of all the dishes Fatty had hoped for at the first meeting - pies and cakes and biscuits and tarts - along with two crystal goblets, Bilbo’s best, and a bottle of Old Winyards.
Sam stopped inside the doorway. ‘Oh, Mr. Frodo, you oughtn’t to have gone to so much trouble just for me,’ he said, sounding dismayed.
‘It’s no trouble at all,’ replied Frodo with perfect truth, and hoped he hadn’t been too obvious, with the lavish spread and the armchairs drawn cozily up in front of the fire. ‘Get a plate, Sam, and help yourself to some refreshments. We’ll eat now rather than wait.’
Sam went to the table and picked up a flowered china plate. ‘A bit different, like, from the other meetings, Mr. Frodo,’ he observed, taking a slice of seed-cake and plopping it on his plate. Which was an understatement, thought Frodo, if ever there were one.
‘Yes, but the light Elvish repasts didn’t go over very well, so I decided it was time for a change,” Frodo replied, crossing his eyes slightly to check if his nose was growing. It certainly should be at the rate he was doling out half-truths and untruths. It was deucedly difficult, trying to woo his gardener and not make it obvious.
‘Hmm,’ Sam said.
What did he mean by ‘Hmm’? Frodo wondered even more nervously. Was that a pleased ‘Hmm’? A suspicious ‘Hmm’?
Frodo grabbed a plate and began piling food onto it, although in truth he was in such a state of nerves now that he doubted he could eat so much as a bite. He poured himself a large glass of wine and immediately downed several large gulps. He caught Sam watching him and hastily lowered the goblet. ‘Wine, Sam?’ he asked.
‘All right, sir, but only a little. I don’t have much of a head for red wine.’
Oh dear. Did Sam think he was a sot, guzzling the wine as he had? Frodo carefully poured Sam a small amount of Old Winyards and handed him the goblet. Then, armed with utensils and napkins, plates and glasses, they went to their chairs and sat down.
Sam was fortunately in a chatty mood, and so it took only minimal effort on Frodo’s part to hold up his end of the conversation. Nods and various noises indicative of agreement were about all that were required as Sam talked about the garden, his family, and the latest goings on in the village. He seemed especially cheerful, even more than his usual wont, and Frodo wished to believe it was because the two of them were alone, but he was afraid to get his hopes up, lest they be dashed.
When he was done eating, if eating it could be called when he’d barely touched his food, Frodo set his plate on the small table beside his chair and exchanged it for a slender green leather bound book with gilt lettering and elegantly marbled edges. If he’d waffled over what to wear for this meeting of the Immortal Poets Society, that was nothing to the agonising he’d done over what he should read. Now Frodo wondered if he’d been mad to choose the poem he had, and his still-empty stomach filled with more butterflies than could be seen around the lavender patch on a sunny afternoon. Oh, this was a mistake, he decided. A big, no, a giant, mistake!
Then Sam broke in on Frodo’s panicky thoughts.
‘This is nice,’ he remarked, settling back and stretching his hairy toes towards the fire. ‘Right nice, Mr. Frodo, and my word, but you can bake a treat.’ He patted his rounded stomach that slightly strained the wooden buttons of his new waistcoat. ‘No wonder Mr. Fredegar was a mite put out with you. He knew what he was missing.’
‘Why, thank you, Sam,’ Frodo said, his nerves somewhat soothed by Sam’s compliment and the warm smile in his hazel eyes. While ‘nice’ wasn’t precisely the sort of word he was hoping for, it was a start. And as it was said that the way to a hobbit’s heart was through his stomach, Sam’s compliment to his baking was a positive sign, wasn’t it?
‘What are you going to read, Mr. Frodo?’ Sam asked, nodding at the book in Frodo’s hands.
Perspiration trickled down the back of Frodo’s neck, and he turned alternately hot and cold. He cleared his throat, wishing he could finish off the wine first, but not daring.
He said, ‘A poem by an Elf named Pengolodh. He is best known as a loremaster and philologist, of course, but he was a poet as well, quite a highly regarded poet.’ Mainly by lovers and courting couples, according to Bilbo, Frodo mentally added.
‘Well, I’m ready whenever you are, sir.’ Sam smiled, and wriggled a little in his seat in happy anticipation. It was most distracting.
Oh, sod it, thought Frodo, and picked up his goblet and drained it. Duly fortified, he opened the book to a page he’d marked with a slip of parchment, cleared his throat again and started to read.
Why had he never before realised that the words ‘meleth’ and ‘melithon’ appeared such a ridiculous number of times in the poem? For surely Sam must know their meaning. Oh dear. He didn’t dare so much as glance at Sam while he read, and only when he’d finished did he work up the nerve.
It was like a bolt from the blue.
Whether in the Common Speech, Sindarin, Quenya or Khuzdul, there was only one way to describe Sam Gamgee’s look: moonstruck. His chin rested in his hand and his hazel eyes were fixed on Frodo not with the earnest concentration he’d displayed at the previous meetings, but with softness and tenderness and yearning. His expression didn’t change as his eyes met Frodo’s; if anything, the yearning deepened.
‘I only recognise a few of them words. Will you translate the poem for me, Frodo?’ Sam asked quietly, and Frodo’s heart started its mad capering again for Sam had dropped the honorific ‘Mr.,’ whether knowingly or not.
‘I- I can do that,’ Frodo replied. He didn’t even have to consult the book, for he’d recited the poem to himself in Westron so many times with Sam in mind that the words came easily to him, like breathing.
O, my Love's like a red, red rose,That's newly sprung in June.O, my Love's like the melody,That's sweetly play'd in tune. As fair art thou, my bonny lad,So deep in love am I,And I will love thee still, my dear,Till all the seas gang dry. Till all the seas go dry, my dear,And the rocks melt wi' the sun!And I will love thee still, my dear,While the sands o' life shall run. And fare thee well, my only love,And fare thee well a while!And I will come again, my love,Tho' it were ten thousand mile!
‘Ah, but that was beautiful,’ Sam said into the hushed silence that fell when Frodo finished. ‘I reckon I’ve never heard aught more beautiful in my life, Frodo. I felt it, right here.’ He placed his hand over his heart, and tears glimmered in his eyes.
Frodo didn’t demur, nor did he give the credit to Pengolodh’s talent as a poet. ‘That’s because it came straight from my heart,’ he said simply. ‘They might not be my words, but I meant every one. Oh Sam, I- I-’
Next instant Frodo was on his feet and moving. The book tumbled to the hearth-rug and Frodo didn’t even notice. For Sam had moved, too, and met him halfway, and now his arms were around Frodo, holding him close, and Frodo was holding him just as close, and it was perfect bliss. Or so Frodo thought, but then their lips met in a tender kiss and he discovered that perfect bliss could be improved upon.
Eventually they parted, but only to a hand’s breadth, smiling besottedly at each other. ‘I’ll not deny I’ve enjoyed being a member of the Immortal Poets Society, and that’s a fact,’ said Sam. ‘But it wasn’t necessary, Frodo, none of it. You’d only to speak.’
‘Oh Sam.’ Frodo rested his forehead against Sam’s broad chest, while his cheeks burned with embarrassment. ‘Then you knew, all along?’
‘Not exactly, not until tonight,’ Sam said. ‘But it seemed a mite queer you’d invite your cousins to join a society when you knew they’d find it as interesting as watching a pot of water come to the boil.’
‘Only hoped they’d find it as interesting as watching a pot of water come to the boil,’ Frodo amended, looking up. ‘It was bad of me, Sam, indeed it was, but I couldn’t just speak. I thought perhaps a more, well, roundabout way of approaching it would work better to let you know I cared and see if you cared, too.’
‘And let Mr. Merry and Mr. Pippin have themselves a few nice naps into the bargain,’ Sam added with a twinkle in his eyes.
‘It was rather funny, wasn’t it, Sam,’ Frodo said, grinning. ‘I never knew Merry could snore so loudly.’
They laughed, but Sam soon grew serious again. ‘So you came up with the Immortal Poets Society just for me,’ he said, marvelling.
‘Frodo Baggins, you’re a wonder, you are.’
‘No, dear Sam, I’m only a hobbit who is very, very much in love.‘
And thus it was that the fifth (and final) meeting of the Immortal Poets Society ended, and in the best of all possible ways: with a kiss.