February 24th, 3019
Sam sat up abruptly. Next to him Pippin shifted uneasily but did not wake. Beyond him Merry sprawled like he’d been hit on the head with a stone, too tired to curl up the way he usually did when he slept. It must still be Frodo’s watch, Sam decided, and tried to make himself go back to sleep, but the broken blisters on his hands and the roar of the rapids so near to their camp made the nightmares seem likely to return, and after a few minutes he gave up and spread his blanket over the other two before crawling out from under the overturned boat where’d they’d sheltered in case the fog turned to rain. He stretched painfully when he was able to stand upright, wondering how the other hobbits had stood paddling for so many days. The sides of the boat were high enough to make paddling awkward for a hobbit, and Sam’s efforts from yesterday still sent an ache over his shoulders and down his back. He’d not be able to sleep again tonight, no matter how tired he was.
Frodo was sitting on a rock near the portage-way, with Sting out across his knees. Gimli was standing beside him, his feet braced wide, and his head firmly upright. He started and raised his axe when Sam approached, and then nodded a greeting.
“It’s not your watch yet, Sam,” Frodo said. “Not for another hour.”
“Well, I’m awake,” Sam said. “And I thought I might make a bit of something for us to eat since I’m up. Something nice and hot to drive the damp off.”
“Aragorn might not approve a fire,” Gimli said.
“I don’t see as how he should mind. The smoke won’t show in this fog, and I can build it in a pit to keep the light from showing far, not that the fog won’t hide that as well. And a decent meal would go a long way to making up for yesterday and last night.” Sam appealed to Frodo. “And you could get a bit more sleep, Mr. Frodo. It’s not like I’ve got anything to do but sleep when we’re in that boat again.”
“I’m not sure you could get a fire started, Sam,” Frodo said, wistfully. He was chilled right through, and the thought of being able to go crawl back into the blankets and wake up to a hot meal danced like a will-o-the-wisp before his eyes.
“I can start it,” Sam said. “I’ve some kindling and tinder wrapped in leather to keep it dry, and I’ve made sure to keep a faggot of wood under the rest of the gear. If we can find a log that’s not wet clear through it’ll dry enough to burn once that’s gone, and that should give me enough of a coal bed to make breakfast.”
Frodo smiled at him, a little curiously. “That was clever, Sam,” he said. “Whatever made you think of it?”
Sam shrugged. “I thought, with the River and all, that if we needed a fire we might need it right quick. And without old Gandalf to light it for us…” he shuffled his feet, “well, I just thought it would be better to be ready is all.”
“There is driftwood aplenty lying where the floods of last spring left it,” Gimli said. “Some of it may be dry enough to burn.”
“Why don’t you help Sam fetch it then,” Frodo suggested. “I’ll keep watch until you’ve got the fire going, and then we can trade off. I’ll leave you Sting – that’s the best warning we have in any case.”
“Very well, Mr. Frodo,” Sam said, glad to have Frodo’s approval of his notion. Aragorn might not like it, but he’d not overrule Frodo over a cautious fire – not if Sam had something good waiting for the Ranger’s breakfast in any case.
The driftwood, left high above the waterline for months, caught fire with a little encouragement, and Sam was able to hang a pot of peas to boil for pease porridge over the flames while he started preparing the rest of the food. The Lady had sent a good deal of the lembas bread along, but that wasn’t all she’d sent, not by a long chalk, and Sam figured that if there were more rapids to come there’d be no point in carrying on their backs what they might carry in their bellies.
He mixed the acorn flour for ashcakes first, and set the dough aside to rest and rise while he worked on the rest of the meal. Next he found the big iron hearthoven, sighing a little over the one he’d lost at the Gates of Moria, and slivered some of the salt pork into it, adding an onion and some garlic and then letting it all rest at the edge of the fire while he sliced the last of the potatoes into small enough pieces. The coals were just getting right by the time he added the potatoes, and he put the heavy lid in place and shoveled coals over the oven to let it all bake.
By now the ashes were deep enough for ashcake, and he dusted his small loaves with flour before burying them into the embers. A stir of the pease porridge and a pan of water set on for peppermint tea. Then he brought out the apples, hollowing out the cores and dribbling a little honey in before he set them to bake on the rock at the back of his firepit.
Gimli had gone to bed, and Legolas was perched on the guard rock by the time Sam was ready to check the potatoes and scrape some cheese over them before baking them some more. With everything set the way he wanted it he took a moment to bring a cup of honey-sweetened tea to the watching Elf. “Sorry if I’ve left you watching alone,” he said, realizing that his preoccupation with breakfast had ramifications.
“I do not mind,” Legolas said. “The fog and the river hide us tonight, and it is just as well. Not even Elven eyes can see far through this.” He took a sip of the tea and smiled. “And there is no wind to carry the smell of breakfast to the foes we left behind us, for which I am thankful. I have not seen you this content since we left Lorien.”
“Content?” Sam repeated, surprised, and then realized it was true. His aches had eased, or at least he had been ignoring them, and the nightmares had faded into a shadow of memory. “Well I guess I’m content enough. I like cooking, and there’s more to a fire than a hot meal. But maybe it’s not the same for Elven folk.”
“Not quite,” Legolas agreed. “But enough that I prefer being warm and fed to being cold and hungry, as you do.”
“Most folks do,” Sam said, looking out into the mist. “Mind you I liked the food at Rivendell, and in the Golden Wood too, but someday I’d like to make you a proper hobbit meal. Sausages and blood puddings, sweet cream and jam on toasted bread, cabbage soup and a nice pot of baked beans, and round it all off with a nice pile of my Gaffer’s taters. It’s not so sweet as what we’ve had, but it’s a good filling for an empty belly.”
“Someday I should like to share such a meal with you,” Legolas said, nodding in an oddly formal way that made Sam blush and feel as if he’d made a promise that might take a long time to keep. He looked out into the mist to hide his embarrassment.
“Does it seem like it’s getting lighter to you?” he asked.
“Yes,” Legolas said. “The sun will be rising soon. And so should we all, if we are to get an early start.”
“Just let me finish a few more things,” Sam said, darting back toward his cooking. He fished out the ashcakes and dusted them off, lined up the apples on a tin plate, and pulled the potatoes and pease porridge off to the edge of the coals. Satisfied that everything was ready, he went to the overturned boat and bent down to touch Frodo’s shoulder, for all the world as if he were back in Bag End.
“Breakfast is ready, Mr. Frodo,” he said.