Larner asked for stories about Frodo or Sam and any of the people they might have met in Minas Tirith. Well, she got Sam and Frodo, at least...
Mr Frodo had been writing again, scratching away with pen quills and ink that stained all the tips of his fingers. Sam watched, weighing the effort – sometimes Frodo would write for days, it seemed, forgetting the hours, working through the night. Other times, he could muster only a line or two, and then his eyes drifted to something out the window, while thought went elsewhere, down who knew what paths?
But it seemed also to soothe him, and the smell of books with their leather spines and knowing lettered winks, Frodo confided, were like a welcome home extended as often as he reached for one.
One afternoon, Frodo wandered into the garden, where Sam was at work with a droopy tomato vine, and he sat there watching, smoking quietly for a time.
“I'm afraid I've got a bit stuck, Sam,” he confessed, when Sam inquired about the writing.
“Where this time?”
“Mordor – which is no place to be stuck in, even if it is a page this time.”
Sam, who quite heartily agreed, looked with some concern at his master. “Is everything all right, Mr Frodo?”
“Of course,” Frodo replied, perhaps just a little too quickly. But: “In fact, I'm looking over the notes I took from you, back in Minas Tirith – you remember? The Stair, and Shelob's tunnel, and the Tower?”
“I remember,” Sam replied, wishing that in fact he didn't, for indeed, Mordor was no place to be stuck in, even in memory. Sadly, Mordor seemed to stick in him, will he or nil he, so he tried simply to keep it to nightmares. But if Frodo needed him to fill in parts of the journey, well, he could bear up to it, he thought, steeling himself. “Did you need me to say something more about them?”
“No, no, I was simply struck...” Frodo trailed off at that point, and Sam, who had grown well-tuned to his master's moods, felt himself tense as all unthinkingly, Frodo worried at the stub of a finger.
“Mr Frodo?” Sam pressed gently, when several moments had trailed past in silence. Frodo, somewhat to his surprise, did not start, did not “snap out of it,” as Pippin was fond of saying. If anything, that faraway look grew deeper, as Frodo said, quietly:
“It was so inept.”
Bafflement mingled now with concern, as Sam said the only sensible thing that came to him: “Sir?”
“Power and flaming swords and armies and towers over little gardens. Gardens! In that place!” Frodo shook his head, brow knitting even as he gave a queer little laugh, and lifted his eyes to Sam, who had gone very still indeed. “Samwise the Strong,” he murmured, “who commands a garden to grow, for there is nary a shovel nor hoe to be seen.”
Sam felt his cheeks heating, even as he looked down at his filthy hands and the dirt on the knees of his trousers. The work of ten tomato plants and a fair number of taters, roses and turnips, that.
“I wonder why,” Frodo said after a few moments. Sam considered the question, and the look on the other's face, and asked, then, what he'd never have dared ask otherwise:
“What did it try you with, if you don't mind my asking?”
That queer smile reappeared then, curled Frodo's lip, as he looked Sam straight in the face, and said simply: “At the end – that it wanted to go home.”
Sam felt his lips part, but he did not speak, the twine hanging heavy and forgotten in his hand, and he feeling strangely as if he'd been punched in the chest. Frodo, after a little while, rose, dusting off the seat of his pants, and made for the door and his study. As he passed, he laid a hand on Sam's shoulder. “Pay it no mind, Sam,” he murmured, squeezing briefly.
But when Frodo had gained the door, Sam called after him: “'He weighs all things to a nicety in his scales of malice,' the Dark Lord did. That's what old Mr Gandalf said – why it took 'til nearly the end.” He shook his head. “Took him right long enough to get his reckoning half right, and by then it was on to me, and starting all over again.”
Frodo stared at him a long moment, but eventually, he smiled crookedly, and answered: “Thank goodness!”
Author's Notes: 'He weighs all things to a nicety in his scales of malice': Gandalf at “The Council of Elrond,” FOTR.