Author's email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Summary: Frodo gets some unexpected and unwelcome advice from Merry about his relationship with his gardener.
Disclaimer: Characters belong to the Tolkien Estate. No copyright infringement intended.
Merry stretched languidly in his armchair, arms curled above his head. "You know, cousin Frodo, I have really enjoyed my stay," he said with satisfaction. "It's been wonderful to see you again, and to catch up with all my old friends around Hobbiton."
"I'm glad you weren't too bored with our provincial ways," smiled Frodo over the top of his tea cup. "It's always a difficult task to keep someone as boisterous as you entertained."
"I can assure you I've been very entertained on this visit," said Merry. "It's good to see how things have changed - you included, Frodo. It's a real pleasure to see you in such fine spirits. You were positively moody last time we met, but now you walk around humming to yourself and smiling at the silliest thing. It's left me wondering what to attribute this amazing transformation to."
"It must be the spring weather," Frodo laughed.
There was a knock and Sam's sandy head appeared around the parlour door. "Shall I clear the tea things, sir?" he asked.
"Yes please," said Frodo. "Not that there's much to clear. Merry has demolished everything in sight."
"That was a marvellous spread, Sam," Merry said effusively. "I especially liked those little cakes with the icing. And those little pies. And the sandwiches. In fact, I'd go as far to say that your tea time treats are the main reason I enjoy spending time at Bag End."
"Why, thank you, Mr Merry. But I'm sure Mr Frodo's company may have something to do with it as well." Merry watched Sam collect the cups and plates and stack them on the tea tray. Sam turned to Frodo. "If you don't need anything else, sir, I've got a few things to get on with. I've just put a stew on for dinner time and then I'll finish up in the garden. Weeds wait for no one, as my Gaffer says. You just call if you need me." With that Sam disappeared, leaving the two cousins alone in the parlour. As the door shut Merry turned to Frodo, smiling, and tapped his pipe out onto a saucer.
"He's a marvel, that Samwise," he said.
"Yes, Sam's a great help to me," admitted Frodo. "I couldn't manage without him."
"I can see that," Merry replied, licking icing off his thumb. "I must say for a gardener he's very versatile, isn't he? He does your marketing, organizes your laundry, chops the firewood, does your cooking and who knows what else. Is there anything he doesn't do for you?"
"Not really. But I'm afraid he's made me very lazy these days. I really should be doing these jobs myself, but Sam always insists."
"Sounds all above and beyond the call of duty. We never had such diligent servants at Brandy Hall," said Merry. He paused, then added, "But I suppose you pay him well."
Frodo looked momentarily nonplussed. "He gets paid accordingly, just like any other employee would."
"My dear Frodo, you hardly treat him as an employee!" Merry exclaimed. "No servant would bother to listen to you read out your poems or eat dinner with you or turn down your blankets or bring you a picnic when you're reading outside - no matter how well you paid him."
Frodo held up his hand. "True enough, Merry. You've made your point - as if you needed to. You know perfectly well that I consider Sam to be much more than the hired help."
Merry's face creased into a expression Frodo couldn't quite place. He nodded and began refilling his pipe with slow methodical movements. Frodo scrutinized him carefully from across the table, then suddenly leant forward.
"You just smirked at me, Merry! What was that for!"
Merry said nothing, but carefully examined his pipe, grinning.
Frodo shook his head in despair. "You've been staring at Sam all morning as if he had grown another head. It seems to me that you're itching to say something."
"Me, Frodo?" Merry said innocently.
"Yes, you, Meriadoc," replied Frodo. "What's on your mind? Out with it!"
"Well, I did want to ask you something now that you mention it," said Merry, settling back in his armchair. "I know you and Sam are more than master and servant - friends, if you will. Everyone knows that you are close."
"What of it?" said Frodo.
"Well, cousin, I always wondered exactly how close you were."
"We're good friends, as you just said," Frodo said cautiously.
Merry nodded sagely, his fingers propping up his chin. "Ah, that's it, is it?" he murmured.
Frodo laughed nervously. "You're questioning me now? I'm not quite sure what you are getting at."
"Aren't you? I'll explain then," said Merry, eyes twinkling. "You know I went over to Fatty Bolger's place last night. It turned out to be quite a little party. Fatty put out a pretty decent spread and there was plenty of wine flowing. There was singing and games as well. Even better, I even got to kiss his sister! You know Estella, don't you - she's really quite lovely. Actually I quite fancy her...."
"Come to the point, Merry."
Merry smiled. "I will. But what a jolly time we had - you really should have joined us, Frodo. You were invited after all. Oh, but if you did you wouldn't have made your little tryst with Samwise, would you?"
Frodo's eyes widened. "Tryst?" he echoed dimly.
"That's right! You see, at the end of the festivities I decided to go back to the tavern for one last drink and the quickest way was to cut cross-country across the Party Field from Fatty's." Merry paused for dramatic effect, his gaze never leaving Frodo's face. "So off I went, staggering all over the place. By the time I reached the field I needed to pull up for a pee. I had just found a bush when I heard some rather odd sounds. Very odd sounds, but also quite familiar too. So I followed the noise and crept up behind a tree to investigate. That's when I saw you and Sam together in that little clearing behind the copse."
"What....what did you see?"
"Do I need to tell you what I saw? I probably wouldn't have seen much if it hadn't been full moon last night. Needless to say it was very entertaining."
Frodo felt a wave of heat sear his cheeks while Merry watched him with undisguised delight. "You look perturbed," he said gleefully.
"I had no idea anyone was there," Frodo said faintly.
"I can be quite stealthy," said Merry with a hint of pride. "Besides, all the noise you were making drowned out my footfall - and anything else in the vicinity for that matter. He must have been good. I said he was versatile for a gardener, didn't I?"
"I don't quite know why you chose the field when you have the privacy of your own bedroom. I don't like doing it outside - always end up with grass stains on me britches and leaves in me hair. But I suppose it's fitting to carry on outside with a gardener, eh?" He laughed at his own joke as Frodo covered his face with his hands, mortified. "Come on, Frodo," Merry rose from his seat grinning, "I want to know more. Tell me how it was."
"Mind your own business!" hissed Frodo through clenched fingers.
"Oh, no; after inflicting the sight of you with your ankles up around your ears on me, you don't get off that easily!" Merry smirked. "By way - I didn't know you were that flexible."
"You didn't have to look!" cried Frodo despairingly. "I can't believe you watched us!"
Merry's face softened a little. He sat on Frodo's arm rest and clapped him on the shoulder. "Don't be embarrassed, me dear, I left before the finale."
"I should be thankful for that, I suppose."
"Yes, you should," said Merry. "So, cousin - how long have you been fooling around with the gardener?"
Frodo glared at him, face still red. "Fooling around? I don't quite like the sound of that!"
"All right," Merry said indulgently. "I'll be more delicate. How long have you been taking Sam to your bed... field...whatever?"
Frodo hesitated, but Merry's bold stare never left him. "A few months," he admitted.
"What ! I had no idea!" Merry exhaled melodramatically. "You've always been very reticent about your nocturnal activities. I always worried that you accepted solitude as your natural condition and that you would die a virgin..."
"...a what? I'm not ..."
"If you say so, Frodo," Merry said with a dismissive wave of his hand. "Well, at least not now, from what I saw." Merry sauntered to the fireplace, grinning, as Frodo groaned in embarrassment. "Bilbo kept you too wrapped up in dusty old books and scrolls and all those dry academic pursuits," he said. "I always thought you needed more...earthy pastimes. And as you never showed any interest in the lasses I guessed that if you were going to have anyone, it would be a strapping young lad, like good old Sam. He's developed into a fine figure of a Hobbit with those big shoulders and broad chest and plump rump. He's too handsome by far! Why, I've even considered him myself, y'know."
"Merry!" Frodo cried sharply. "Please shut up!"
"All right, but I really have to say something first." Merry put his hands on his pockets and assumed an uncharacteristically serious tone. "Frodo, you really slipped up last night! It was just me that stumbled across you boys, but it could have been anyone. Lawks! If had been that odious miller's lad he'd be blackmailing you by now! Or what if those awful Sackville-Baggins heard how you were carrying on, they'd get you thrown out of Bag End as quick as you please." Merry shook his head before continuing. "Even worse, it could have even been Sam's own Gaffer," he said. "He'd marry Sam off quick as you please or condemn him to life as a field hand in the farthest corner of the Shire, and then he'd come with his shears and turn you into a gelding!"
Frodo threw up his hands. "Merry! Please, you've made your point, extravagantly as always."
"Well, maybe the Gaffer wouldn't use his shears on you, but anything could come of it."
"Yes, I know. I'll ensure we're more careful in future."
"I'm relieved to hear that." Merry paused then added, "But when I said I had no idea about you two, that wasn't entirely true. I've noticed things, which make perfect sense now."
"Things? What do you mean?" asked Frodo.
"About how you conduct yourself in public with him."
"I haven't done anything indiscreet, Merry!" Frodo protested quickly. "I mean, apart from last night. We were only outside because I wasn't sure what time you were coming back and we didn't want to be sprung."
"Ahhh...but you don't realize you're doing anything that might be considered untoward,' said Merry. "Remember that night we met at the Green Dragon. After a few ales you were patting Sam's arm and he was squeezing your hand under the table. And I've seen you walking arm in arm down the road. All perfectly harmless activities between friends, but these things can be easily or wilfully misconstrued. You must be much more careful! Keep your activities behind closed doors or at least away from prying eyes. Frodo. It's one thing to have a tumble with the hired help and quite another to flirt with him in public."
"I appreciate your advice, Merry," said Frodo, "But I am not just 'taking a tumble' with Sam. I care very much for him."
Merry nodded vigorously. "As do I. In fact, I think it's wonderful that you're having a bit of fun at long last. Sam's obviously done you a lot of good these last few months."
There was a moment of silence. "You misunderstand me, Merry," Frodo said carefully. "It's much more than 'a bit of fun' as you put it." He hesitated a moment, then said quietly, "You see, I love him."
"Of course you do, cousin," Merry said breezily. "Who doesn't find his robust good looks and that self-effacing demeanor very appealing. Despite that shy exterior he's actually quite popular around town. In fact, I'd go as far to say that everyone in Hobbiton loves him."
"Merry!" Frodo said sharply. "You know I am trying to say something important, but you're deliberately being flippant."
"No I'm not, I'm listening."
"Good," said Frodo. "Because I'm trying to tell you that I am in love with - "
"Wait, Frodo!" Merry said quickly. He leant down across the table, pushing his face close to Frodo's. "Think for a moment about what you are about to say."
Frodo arched an eyebrow. "I know perfectly well what I mean to say. But if you don't want to hear me, just tell me now."
Merry flopped back in his armchair. "It's one thing to take your gardener to bed and quite another for the Master of Bag End to say...what you were going to say."
Frodo grimaced in exasperation. "You can't even get the words out, Merry! Listen to me - I'll only say it once. I'm in love with Sam. It's that simple."
"Frodo," Merry said gently, "don't be silly. You're talking like some foolish tweenager. It's not like you."
Frodo looked back across the table at his cousin. "And it's not like you to grudge me a little happiness," he said in a tight voice, disappointment barely concealed.
Merry's expression softened and he reached out and grasped Frodo's hand, pressing it. "I don't grudge you anything - I do want you to be happy. But I don't think you realise what you are saying," he said carefully. "Sam's a fine fellow - he's devoted, loyal and discreet - but just remember that he's also conveniently at hand."
"Merry, you make it sound like I'm taking advantage of Sam!"
"Not at all," said Merry. "But it wouldn't be the first time someone in our position got cosy with the staff. I've seen this type of thing go on at Brandy Hall, and no one has a problem with it. You need a diversion and Sam obviously doesn't mind his extra duties."
"Extra duties? Diversion?" Frodo repeated, disdain clearly present in his voice. He pulled his hand back sharply. "You think he's just a pastime for me, that I'm using him? Oh really! It's common knowledge that bedding anything on two legs is just a pleasurable pastime to you, but we all don't have such a casual attitude towards others. You can be so vulgar at times, Merry."
"That may be, but at least I'm always honest with myself. All I'm saying is maybe you need to examine your feelings more closely."
"I love him and Sam loves me - that's all there is to it!"
At that comment Merry sat back in his armchair and surveyed Frodo with a look of concern. "Frodo, Sam is young and impressionable. I can see that he's devoted to you; in fact, he's probably had a crush on you for ages. But he'd hardly go to the ends of Middle-Earth for you, would he? Are you sure you're not over emphasizing his natural affection for you?"
"Don't presume to know about what we feel for each other!" said Frodo sharply. "What do you know about us?"
"Well, I know that you and Sam go back a long way," Merry replied. "And I know that obviously you have urges like everyone else and that Sam's happy to oblige you. Maybe he even anticipated your needs. But mostly I know that it's easy to confuse those nice fuzzy feelings you have for romantic love. But believe me, it's not. My advice is to have fun with Sam if he's up to it, but don't go thinking it's true love."
"You can't seriously think you can lecture me on what I feel and give me advice on love!" Frodo exclaimed heatedly. "I can see the irony of the situation is lost on you, Merry. You might be an expert on techniques to get someone into bed but I'm not sure your ample experience in that field is enough to make you an authority on real feelings."
"Well, if that's so, that makes you even less of an expert!" Merry cried. "You are so exasperating - I wasn't joking when I said I thought you'd die a virgin! You've got half as much experience as Pippin but you're twice his age!"
"At least Sam's legally of age, not like that very young and very silly Took you're so busy leading astray!" snapped Frodo.
"That was uncalled for!" Merry said indignantly and jumped from his armchair. "I'm not corrupting Pip. To be sure, I've lead him on a few mishaps, but none of them in the bedroom. But if I did, at least I'd be secure in the knowledge that we're from the same class."
"Ah, now it's coming out! Since when did the Brandybuck's become snobs, Merry?"
"I am not a snob! And don't you go all superior on me either! You know it makes a difference. Pippin and I would have an equal say in what goes on between us. You don't have that with Sam, at least not in public. If folk see you treat him other than you would anyone of his station they'll know something's going on. If you're prepared to risk that, then you really are a fool. You haven't fully considered things from Sam's side, have you?"
"How can you say that? He's my main concern," cried Frodo.
"Then think, Frodo! If this became common knowledge can you imagine what would happen to both of you. You'd be ruined and outcast. With your reputation for eccentricity you might be able to bear the disgrace, but I doubt poor Sam could. He's got his family's solid and incorruptible reputation to consider, as well as his own."
"I can protect him," said Frodo. "I can ensure that never happens."
"Can you?" Merry shook his head doubtfully. 'You didn't do a very good job last night. Don't say anything, just listen! If folks suspect, they'll talk. It doesn't matter how much you think you love him or how devoted you are, it'll be turned by gossip and innuendo into something ugly. Frodo, you can never fully protect him from that."
Frodo said nothing, but sat still in his chair, eyes downcast. "Can't you even accept the possibility that Sam and I can have a future together," he asked at length.
"A future? What exactly do you mean by that, Frodo?" Merry asked.
"What do I mean?" repeated Frodo. "Well, I mean that we can be together always. That we can love each other and look after each other and get old together."
"Be realistic, Frodo. Do you really think it can go on forever? We all know that at heart Sam's a domesticated home body. He's going to want to have his own family some day, his own wife and children and his own home. You can't give him that, can you, eh?"
"Well, not really," said Frodo quietly.
"Of course not. And it's not like you can proclaim this to the world and live together like an old married couple," continued Merry. "You can't be affectionate in public, you can't even squeeze his hand without causing comment. You can't dance together or make sweet talk in public. Your feelings can never be acknowledged in the open. All you can do is enjoy each other in the confines of you own home. You can do what you want behind closed doors, but that's the extent of it. Is that going to be enough?"
Frodo looked away into a distant corner of the parlour and swallowed hard. "Oh Merry, you're making things seem a lot harder than they are," he said, miserably. "You're tell me I'm confusing love with lust, that I'm going to ruin both of us and that we could never have a future together. You've painted such an awful picture."
"I don't mean to upset you, my dear, just to clear your head of all these fuzzy notions you seem to have."
Frodo bowed his head, and desperately blinked back tears. "Merry, I just want to be happy, to have someone to love! Is that too much to ask?' he whispered.
Merry went to him, and curled an arm around his cousin's shoulders. "There are ways of handling these things, Frodo," he said softly. "Spend time with Sam, take your pleasure and buy him something nice at the end and then get on with your lives. No regrets, no complications. That's what you should do."
He gave Frodo a tight hug, but Frodo did not respond or even look at him. Merry sighed to himself. He rose and went to the door. "At least think about it," he said. "It'll save you a lot of grief in the end."