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A Hero Tale - by Penny Nutbrown

Sam learned about heroes from Frodo.

Frodo had read more books than anyone Sam had ever known, with the possible exception of Mr. Bilbo. It had been Mr. Bilbo who had first taught Sam his letters and lent to the apprentice gardener those of his books concerning plant lore. Bag End had an impressive library with more books and scrolls, maps and pictures than Sam could lay count to. Sam enjoyed reading, when he had the time for it, but Frodo seemed to need books every bit as much as he needed food.

Since coming to Bag End, Frodo had lived on a steady diet of words. He’d read all of the volumes written in the Common Tongue, and was beginning to tackle those in Elvish. He consulted charts on the positions of the stars and puzzled over the patterns of the constellations. He spent hours gazing at drawings of far away places, and traced travel routes on faded and yellowing maps. More than anything, though, Frodo loved hero tales.

It was from Frodo that Sam first learned of Hurin the Troll-slayer, Turin who slew Glaurung the Father of the Dragons, Beren who cut a Silmaril from Morgoth’s Iron Crown, and of Earendil the Mariner who sailed "Vingilot" and carried the Morning Star into the heavens. Frodo sang Sam the tragic song of Gwindor, lord of Nargothrond, who led a small company of Elves to the Nirnaeth Arnoediad, wishing to rescue his brother Gelmir. Seeing his brother mutilated and slain, Gwindor charged the host of Morgoth and won through to the Stairs of Angband. There Gwindor was trapped and captured, and all his followers slain. For fourteen years Gwindor was a prisoner in Morgoth’s mines before he escaped and was found in Taur-nu-Fuin by Beleg.

"I sure wouldn’t want to’ve been in Gwindor’s place," said Sam, shaking his head. "Nor any of them fellows, for that matter. Seems to me, being a hero’s dangerous work."

"I don’t think you need to worry, Sam," Frodo sighed. "There’s not much call for heroics here in the Shire. Never has been and never will be, most likely."

"Well, I’m glad of that," Sam remarked. "Though the tales are grand to listen to!"

It was a fine December afternoon, and Sam and Frodo were dragging a sledge up the long hill near Sandyman’s mill. Winter had settled upon the Shire a few days earlier, covering the hills and fields with a thick blanket of snow and freezing over the quiet waters of the millpond. Their chores and lessons done for the day, the boys had decided to join the other Hobbiton youngsters for a bit of fun.

Among the rural Hobbits, the patterns of daily life and duties followed the cycle of the seasons. Spring was planting time, and summer a time for tending; autumn was for harvest, and winter…. Winter was for frolic! The young Hobbits made much of the freedom that this season afforded them, spending nearly all their waking hours outdoors and at play.

Through his friendship with Sam, who was too agreeable not to be generally liked, Frodo found himself included in all the youthful goings-on, from sleighing parties to snowball wars. The Hobbiton lads and lasses soon discovered that despite his status in the neighbourhood, the heir to Bag End was no snob. He took his turn, and his knocks, the same as the rest and so was readily accepted as one of them.

"He might be from Buckland, and a bit odd," said Jolly Cotton one day, "but Frodo Baggins is all right."

The assembly of young curly heads nodded in agreement…with the exception of one. As the miller’s son, Ted Sandyman had always considered himself to be quite an important personage, and a cut or two above his playmates. Having a youngster under the Hill put into question Ted’s place in Hobbiton junior society. This upset Ted greatly, but he dared not confront Frodo directly. Instead, he picked on Sam.

"Sam Gamgee, you aren’t still going on about all them Elf stories," Ted marveled. "Three-quarters of them’s probably lies, and even if they’re not, it’s nothing to do with us."

Ted arrived at the top of the hill with Sam and Frodo. A light breeze was blowing, ruffling their hair, and great soft snowflakes were beginning to fall.

"Oh, well, I think you’re wrong there, Ted," said Sam, most earnestly. "What them heroes like Elendil and Gil-galad did in the great war, why that saved the whole world — Big People, Elves and Hobbits too!"

"Ah! that’s what they’d like us to think," Ted snorted, "but I don’t care. The way I see it, those heroes were pretty thick. I mean, who in his right mind risks his neck when there’s nothing in it for him?"

Sam was about to protest, but Ted did not give him the chance.

"Race you to the bottom!" Ted cried, kicking off unexpectedly and giving himself the advantage.

Sam scrambled onto his own sledge, and Frodo gave it a running start, and soon they were flying down the hillside. Perhaps it was the effect of their combined weight or the fact that Frodo had thought to wax the runners the night before, but whatever the reason they soon caught up to and then overtook the miller’s son.

"Hurrah! for Samwise the Swift — the triumphant hero of the Hill!" Frodo cried, raising Sam’s hand in victory.

Sam grinned widely.

Ted did not take his defeat well.

"All right, Mr. Hero Gardener," he said, "let’s see how brave you really are. I dare you to walk out to the middle of the millpond!"

Except for his wind-rosied cheeks, Sam went pale. Ted smirked, knowing full well he had Sam now. Sam had his share, and perhaps more, of the Hobbit mistrust of water. Ice was merely water in a temporary, and tentative, solid state. There were fewer challenges which Master Sandyman could have levelled which would have caused Sam greater anguish.

A crowd of young Hobbits was beginning to gather. Sam looked about him, nervously shifting his weight from one foot to the other. He did not want to appear foolish before all his friends, but equally he did not want to set out across that dark, uncertain shield of ice. What would Hurin or Turin, or Gwindor have done? Sam wondered. Then he sighed, resigned. They would have gone, for they were honourable and brave and not afraid of anything.

Sam took a single step toward the pond. Frodo caught his arm.

"Don’t do it, Sam," he said. "Being brave and being foolish aren’t the same thing, and besides, it’s not fair to dare anyone to do anything so dangerous."

"Dangerous!" Ted scoffed. "Hmph! I thought you Bucklanders had more grit than that, Mister Frodo. Why I’ve walked the ice here hundreds of times."

"Oh, really," said Jolly Cotton, who thought Ted a bully and a braggart. "Well, then why don’t you just walk on out there now, and show us all how it’s done."

It was Ted’s turn to feel uncomfortable.

The crowd of young Hobbits waited to see what he would do, Ted knew that if he were to keep what standing he still had, he had no choice.

"Well, maybe I will," he said, trying to sound casual and self-assured. "And maybe when I’m done, Sam here can compose me one of them hero songs!"

Ted did quite well, for awhile. The water at the edge of the pond was quite shallow and frozen through to the muddy bottom. However, as he moved toward the center, the ice began to moan and creak beneath his weight. Watching from the safety of the bank, Sam held his breath.

"For pity’s sake, Ted, don’t be such an idiot. Come back," Frodo called, both annoyed and worried.

But Ted did not come back. He glanced over his shoulder at Frodo and laughed. He took another step forward, and that was when disaster struck. Crack! Smash! and Ted Sandyman was most truly in over his head.

Little Rosie Cotton shrieked the alarm and Noddy Brown ran for the miller, but Sam knew that Ted’s father could not arrive in time. For a moment, Sam just stood there, unable to move or to think, staring with wide, frightened eyes at the auburn curls bobbing above the dark, frigid water. Then something rushed swiftly by him, and Frodo’s voice cried out, "Sam, come help me, quick!"

With remarkable presence of mind, Frodo made Sam lie down flat upon the ice, and, catching hold of Sam’s feet, he pushed him out over the thin ice until he could reach Ted’s grasping hands.

"Hold on tight, Sam," Frodo shouted. "I’ll pull you both in!"

Sam held onto Ted’s wrists as if Ted were the dearest person in all the world to him and Frodo hauled them both back to safety. Frodo took off his coat and cloak and wrapped them about the wet, shivering, sobbing boy.

"It’s all right, Ted," Frodo said kindly. "You’re not hurt."

Sam patted Ted’s hand.

It was then that Noddy returned with Mr. Sandyman and two of his mill hands. Not unexpectedly, Ted’s father was greatly concerned.

"What’s going on here?" he demanded to know.

Frodo was about to explain, but Ted did not give him the chance.

"They dared me to walk the ice, Dad," Ted accused his rescuers.

Sam’s mouth dropped open in astonishment. He could hardly believe what he was hearing, and he was hearing more of it!

"I didn’t want to, Dad," Ted sniffed, "but they made me. They did!"

Sam just shook his head.

"Well, that’s about what I’d expect from a Gamgee," said Mr. Sandyman indignantly. "But I’m surprised at you, Frodo Baggins. I thought you’d been raised a gentle-hobbit, but I guess that means something different in Buckland than it does in Hobbiton!"

Looking at Frodo, Sam thought at first that his friend was upset by the miller’s scolding. For a moment, Sam thought that the odd expression on Frodo’s face was because he was trying not to cry, but then all at once Sam realized the opposite was true. Frodo was trying very, very hard not to laugh!

Mr. Sandyman was still going on, shaking his finger at Frodo and looking very stern. This struck Sam as one of the funniest things he’d ever seen, and he bit his tongue and tried to contain his own amusement. Frodo caught Sam’s eye and they exchanged a knowing look. A small chuckle escaped Sam’s pursed lips, and that was all it took for Frodo. He could no longer hold back, he began to laugh.

Mr. Sandyman was greatly offended.

"Well, I don’t see what’s so funny, young Hobbit," he huffed. "Not when my lad’s come within a hair’s breadth of drowning!"

"Speaking of which, Mr. Sandyman," said Frodo, taking a deep breath and attempting to sound grown-up and serious, "don’t you think it would be a good idea to get Ted into the warm. He might catch a cold if he stays out here much longer."

As if on cue, Ted sneezed and Frodo actually had to sit down, he grew so weak with laughing.

"I’ll be speaking to your uncle about your behaviour here today, young Baggins," Mr. Sandyman declared, hustling his son up the bank.

"Whatever you think best, Mr. Sandyman," said Frodo to the departing miller. Then he called to Ted. "I hope you feel better soon, Ted. Oh, and I’ll be wanting my clothes back when you’re done with them. That’s my second-best cloak and I’m rather fond of it."

The commotion over, the spectators returned to their games.

"Well, don’t that beat all," said Sam, unfastening his cloak and placing it around his friend’s shoulders.

Frodo just sighed, wiping the tears from his eyes.

"I think it’s often the fate of heroes," he said, "to fail to be recognized in their own country."

Sam stood up straighter, stuck out his chest and lifted his chin.

"We were sort of heroes today, weren’t we, Mr. Frodo."

"Yes, I suppose," said Frodo. "Except we saved the ogre when maybe we should have slayed it"

"Mm," Sam nodded.

Frodo reached his hand out to his friend, and Sam helped him up.

"Well, I don’t know about you, Sam Gamgee," he said, "but I’ve had enough of heroics for one day, and now I would dearly like my tea."

"Sounds good to me, Mr. Frodo," Sam agreed, picking up the rope that served as handle for his sledge.

They started along the road to Bag End. The afternoon was waning and dusky shadows were creeping out beyond the trees and spreading over the snow. After all the excitement at the pond, the fading light and the stillness were welcomed. A thought came to Sam.

"Mr. Frodo."

"Yes, Sam?"

"Do you think that Ted will make up a hero song for us now?" Sam’s eyes twinkled mischievously and he was grinning.

A responding smile spread quickly across Frodo’s face. He grabbed hold of the rope with Sam. "Come on!" Frodo cried, and they ran the rest of the way home.

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