Frodo woke with a start, cold, so cold. He shivered. Even pulling the comforter more closely about him did not warm him. Gradually, the fog in his mind cleared.
He sat up abruptly. Where was his Lily?
The aroma of fresh scones and coffee wafted into the room. A smile spread across his face. The mistress of Bag End was preparing their breakfast.
Frodo drew his brows together in consternation. Lily practically never woke before him. What time was it?
Throwing off the covers, Frodo swung his feet over the edge of the bed and sat for a moment, then made his way to the window. He drew back the dark green linen curtains and peered outside. The rounded pane revealed an overcast grey sky.
Frodo searched the far horizon for any hint of blue.
“Not a good sign,” he sighed. Even a patch of blue might ease the weight settling on his chest.
He shook his head. No matter. Lily’s warmth would ease the chill, he knew. His broadening grin grew into a low chuckle.
In moments, Frodo was dressed and headed to the kitchen. He stopped in the doorway, his heart thumping. His wife stood gazing out the kitchen window, a bowl and spoon in her hands. He knew she had just dished out the blackberry preserves for their breakfast. Her skirts matched the colour of the jam, and her auburn curls cascaded down her back, reaching just below her waist. A deep shiver rushed through him.
His feet silently carried him to stand just behind Lily. Frodo slid his arms about his wife’s waist, gently drawing her back against him. Her soft laugh echoed through him. As she murmured a warm ‘good morning’, he kissed her shoulder where it met the curve of her neck.
“I missed you, sweet.”
Lily trembled at the heat in her husband’s voice. “I’m sorry, love. I got so hungry.” She felt his chuckle vibrate through her body.
“I’m glad you didn’t wait, then.” He tightened his hold on his wife, and trailed kisses up to her ear. “I thought we had no more coffee?”
“You would have been right,” she smiled, “but that Rosie dropped some by the back door, this morning. She said that the trader from Bree finally arrived; they saw him on their way home from Bywater, yesternight. It seems the reason we’ve not seen him is because he was doing a bit of trading in the south. Rosie says he’s brought some new things, including something called ‘chocolate.’ He let her taste it, and she’s determined to buy more, so we’ll go together after secondies. And if I don’t hurry, she’ll have to wait for me.”
Frodo laughed at her mock rebuke for distracting her, then nuzzled her neck. “There’s plenty of time, then, Lily-sweet.”
Lily giggled. “It seems, Mister Baggins, you don’t realize you’ve missed firsties; it is already time for secondies.”
She glanced over her shoulder, and saw Frodo’s eyes widen in dismay. “Yes, love, you slept long. Come, we’ll eat, and then you can get to your writing, while Rosie and I go to the market.”
Frodo allowed himself to be led to the table and seated, and reveled in his wife’s company, sharing their plans for the day.
“I promised Sam I’d help him in the garden this afternoon.”
“What will you be doing, Frodo-love?”
“Sam wants to start preparing it for winter. There are some spent flowers that need clearing. And there are still some apples that need to be checked; don’t want them shriveling on the tree, as well as some ground vegetables that need inspecting, to be sure the insects aren’t devouring them.”
Lily nodded. What a pleasure to talk of such ordinary, everyday things.
Their heads came up together at the sound of the bell over the front door.
“Rosie’s here, Lily-sweet. Go ahead; I’ll clean up.”
“Thank you, Frodo-love.” Lily softly kissed her husband, then hurried to open the door.
Rosie smiled. “You’ll want your wrap, Lily. Fall is declaring itself here, today.” And at Lily’s invitation, she stepped into the smial. “‘Morning, Frodo!”
“Good morning, Rosie. Thank you for the coffee this morning. I hadn’t realized how much I missed it!”
“You’re most welcome. Sam was mighty happy to have it with firsties this morning, too. I can hardly wait to get a closer peek at the things Mr. Lundy’s brought. With the roads to the south repaired, he said he’s been tradin’ more freely than ever before in his life, and he’s brought some real finds.”
Lily returned from the back of the smial, basket in hand, and reached for her cloak. “I’m ready.”
Frodo took the dark green, woollen material, and wrapped it gently around her shoulders.
Lily reached up and kissed his cheek. “Rosie and I’ll probably have a bit of elevensies in Hobbiton.”
“Enjoy yourselves. I’ll get some writing done, and then find Sam.”
Rosie grinned. “You’ll find him in the garden, already! How he loves to lose himself there.”
Lily and Frodo shared another brief kiss, then Lily and Rosie headed toward Hobbiton, excitedly chatting about some of the wares Rosie had sampled the night before.
Frodo watched the lasses until they crossed the bridge, then closed the rounded door and headed to his study.
Frodo wrote through elevensies without noticing, but when luncheon drew near and still his Lily was not home, he put his pen and ink away. Then he took himself to Garden Hill. Mayhap his bride had stopped there, and lost track of the time. Frodo tried to smile to himself; Lily’s need for food would remind her of the hour. Worry crept in. He endeavored to shake it off, but a chill rippled through him.
“Frodo!” Sam waved and smiled broadly. “I told my Rosie it’d not be long afore you showed up, what with your Lily in our kitchen. The lasses’ll have food on the table in two shakes. You should see some o’ the things Mr. Lundy brought this time! You’d almost think you were in Minas Tirith! Rosie and I invited him to supper when his trading’s done here, in a few days. I posted to Merry and Pippin to come join us; sure and certain, they’ll want to hear any news from the south as much as we will.”
The tightness in Frodo’s chest eased. “I look forward to it.”
Sam slapped Frodo on the back. “Come in, come in, Frodo. I’m thinkin’ you’re needin’ your Lily.” Sam grinned. “And a bit of food’ll not hurt either.”
Frodo stepped into Garden Hill through the back door just ahead of Sam, and made his way easily to the kitchen. His heart lightened at the sound of his wife’s voice, then his chest tightened. He could hear her distress in the slight quaver in her tone.
He hurried into the kitchen. His wife was smiling at Rosie, and he instantly knew that only he recognized her discomfort. Had she sensed his own worry? Then she saw him, and he watched her relax; wonder filled him. He shrugged his shoulders, endeavoring to ease the tension there.
Lily’s gaze swept over her husband. He seemed well enough, but she knew too well the events of two years past marked by the morrow. Her husband’s restless dreams woke her during the night. She endeavored to remember Gandalf’s promise that Frodo would never again be afflicted by the old illness, but something niggled at her; something was not quite right. With an effort, she put the unpleasant thoughts from her mind.
Rosie laughed. “I kept telling Lily you’d come, Frodo! And here you are!”
Frodo smiled and quickly kissed Rosie on each cheek, then slid his arm around Lily, surveying the heavily-laden kitchen table. “It’s a veritable feast! Oranges!”
Sam crowed, “Yes! And look at what else they found! Melons! And I’m hungry as can be and gettin’ hungrier. So, if you’ve a mind, Frodo, I believe it’s long past time we sat and enjoyed what our clever lasses found for us!”
Luncheon passed pleasantly enough, Lily decided. Throughout the meal, she surreptitiously observed her husband, noting he was a bit quieter than was usual, but not so much as to be remarked upon. Perhaps it was to be expected. Still, she could not dismiss the uncomfortable feeling settling in the pit of her stomach.
“Well, Frodo,” Sam chuckled. “You ready to do some real work, then?”
Frodo dragged his mind from the feel of his wife’s hand in his under the table, and smiled. “Indeed, I am, Samwise Gamgee.”
Lily squeezed her husband’s hand in return, and gazed up into his eyes. She searched the endless depths of blue and saw no shadow.
Frodo offered his wife their private smile. “Will you rest, Lily-sweet?”
“Yes, I think I will, after I put away my purchases.” Lily peered up at him curiously. “And what did you think of the chocolate you drank, Mister Baggins?”
“I don’t know.” Frodo drew out each word, knowing the answer his wife wanted to hear. He grinned at the mix of curiosity and anxiety in her eyes. “It was... passable.” Then he laughed. “It was quite good actually. I do hope more will be found among those purchases you mentioned.”
Lily gently cuffed him on the shoulder, and giggled. “Yes, though I’m not sure I’ll share it with you.” Then she laughed at her husband’s dejected expression. “Of course I’ll share it with you, which will make it all the sweeter.”
Sam laughed. “If I hadn’t seen you married myself, back at the beginnin’ of summer, I’d think you were married but a for’night ago!”
“‘Tis wonderful,” Rose declared.
“Didn’t I say it was, Rosie-lass!” Sam winked at his wife, then turned to Frodo. “We best get movin’. The work won’t get done on its own.”
Sam swiftly kissed Rosie, and Frodo meant to do the same, but when his lips touched Lily’s, he lingered. An unobtrusive cough from the other side of the kitchen kept him from taking his wife in his arms. They shared a smile, promising without words more pleasures to come.
While Lily prepared tea, she endeavored to keep at bay her growing uneasiness. She heard the back door open, and determinedly smiled brightly when her husband walked into the kitchen.
The first thing Lily noted was the colour of his face. It was usually pink upon returning from an afternoon of gardening with Sam, but today it was frightfully pale. His eyes were heavy and the sparkle utterly gone.
“Frodo!” She rushed to his side.
Before she could say anything more, Frodo gazed at her, his face a picture of remorse. “I don’t feel particularly well, Lily-sweet. Would you mind terribly if I lay down for a bit?”
Lily felt fear wash over her, freezing every part of her but for frantically whispered words, “Frodo! Frodo!”
He offered his wife a weak smile. “Not to worry, Lily-sweet, I’m only a little tired.” Then he was seized by a coughing fit.
Instantly, Lily slipped her arm around his waist to help steady him. When his coughing subsided, she guided him back to their bedroom. She swiftly helped him prepare for bed, then gently tucked him under the covers.
Hot moisture gathered in her eyes, and Lily bit her bottom lip to keep herself from letting the tears fall. “Rest, Frodo-love. I’ll fetch some cool water from the well.”
At her husband’s slight nod, Lily felt her bottom lip tremble, and bit it harder. When Frodo opened his eyes to glance at her, she offered him a brave smile. Her heart tightened when he feebly lifted the corner of his mouth, then closed his eyes wearily once more.
Lily reached out and tenderly brushed back the curls from his forehead. Fear leapt into her throat at the heat she felt there.
“Frodo-love, I’ll also prepare a bit of feverfew. It will help you feel better.”
Her husband’s nod was so slight she would not have known it happened at all but that she felt it against her hand. She did not stay the tear rolling down her cheek. Carefully, she leaned over, and kissed Frodo’s too-warm forehead.
More for her own comfort Lily whispered, “I’ll not be long, dearest. I promise.” Then she slipped out of the room.
She took a steadying breath, then heard her husband cough painfully. She sagged against the wall, a sob tearing from her throat. “Gandalf promised. He promised. He promised you would not be sick at this time if I married you. I did my part. I did my part. Why? Why is this happening?”
Hurriedly, she swiped the tears from her face, then went about drawing water from the well in the garden.
“Lily!” Sam called from the row. He noted immediately the distress on her face and hurried to her.
“Oh, Sam...” she whispered.
“Tell me what’s wrong, lass?” His face was creased with worry.
“He’s ill!” She choked and could not stay the tears from pouring down her cheeks once again.
“I’ll fetch Mrs. Longburrow!” In the same moment Sam decided to fetch Rosie as well.
Lily re-entered the smial, and heard Frodo coughing again. She closed the door, and spoke aloud to herself to drown out the fear surging within her. “Do hurry, Samwise. Hurry!” She lowered her voice to a mumble, speaking more quickly, “I must get the tea started, but first I’ll take him some cool water -- and mayhap a bit of lavender will help to ease him.”
She set the teakettle over the fire, then poured water into a cup and took it back to the bedroom. A harsh cough greeted her outside the door. She took a calming breath, and entered.
“Frodo-love, I’ve brought you some water.”
With a harsh rasp, Frodo murmured, “Thank you.” Then he coughed again.
Lily waited until it passed, then helped her husband sit up enough to take a sip of water.
Frodo sighed, and leaned back against the pillows after Lily finished fluffing them.
“I’m sorry, Lily-sweet.” He smiled weakly. “You don’t need to worry, I’m certain.”
A tremulous smile touched Lily’s mouth. When Frodo raised his hand to touch her lips, she captured it gently, and softly kissed the tips of her lover’s fingers.
“Rest, Frodo-love. Samwise is fetching Mrs. Longburrow.” At the look on her husband’s face, she laughed softly. “If you did not want to see her, then you should have stayed well, Mister Baggins.”
Lily smiled warmly, and tenderly kissed Frodo’s forehead. She could feel the heat, and memories of the previous March flooded in, almost choking her.
“Mistress Lily?” Mrs. Longburrow paused in the doorway, then entered when Lily waved her in. “So, Master Frodo, you missed my special attention, did you? You know, it would be much easier, on you and your fine lady, if you simply invited me to tea. I’d come, if you offered, you know.”
Frodo chuckled weakly, precipitating another round of coughing.
Lily frowned with worry.
“Oh, dear! Master Frodo, you sound far too much like old Jofin’s dog, down at the livery,” continued the healer. “But I’ve heard worse. In fact, if I didn’t know better, I’d say you’ve been cavorting with my grandson.”
She raised an eyebrow when she noted Frodo glance at Lily. “So you have been cavorting with Thaddeus. I should have known! It certainly makes my job easier. A poultice should help, and some tea, as well. Mistress Lily, if you’ll see me out, I’ll give you what you need.”
Lily kissed Frodo’s cheek, and whispered, “I’ll return in a trice, dearest.”
When she did, Lily found her husband sleeping more peacefully. She took a cloth and dipped it in the lavender water, then gently smoothed it across his forehead.
“Be at ease, beloved Frodo. Mrs. Longburrow says it’s naught but a cough of sorts, and you’ll recover swiftly. Already young Tad is feeling better, she says, and nattering to rise and be up and about.”
Lily closed her mouth tightly, shutting in the words which threatened to pour forth, but she did not want her husband to hear them. She pulled up a chair beside the bed, and settled down to keep watch.
6 October 1420sr
“Lily? Lily! Lily!!”
All weariness gone, replaced by worry, Lily dropped the dish towel and rushed from the kitchen, down the hall, and into the master bedroom.
His frantic face turned to her, and she flew to his side, gathering him in her arms.
“Hush, Frodo-love. I’m here.”
Frodo struggled in her arms, pushing her away. His hungry gaze devoured her.
Lily drew her brows together, and softly touched her hand to her husband’s forehead. It was cool, and she relaxed a little.
She smiled wanly. “Yes, Frodo-love, I am real. Are you all right?”
“You’re real. You’re not a dream. You are here, with me, now... always?”
“Yes, beloved. I am here with you now and always.” She smiled tenderly. “You married me, and as honey clings to a hot scone, I shall hold fast to you, for ever and ever.”
“I married you? I married you. Yes, yes. I remember.”
He calmed, and let himself fall back against the pillows once more. Then he reached up and gently caressed his wife’s cheek.
“Lily. Lily-sweet... as honey...”
Lily watched his eyes close wearily. “Sleep, beloved Frodo. Sleep.”
She slid next to him on the bed, and drew him into her embrace.
“Shall I hold you a while, dearest Frodo?”
She felt him nod his head against her breast, and tightened her hold. Then he relaxed completely.
Choking back tears, Lily whispered, “I love you, Frodo Baggins. Rest. You are safe. I will keep you safe, here in my arms. I promise.”
7 October 1420sr
Lily enjoyed the breeze feathering across her face. She wearily stretched her shoulders, and gazed across the Party Field from the back door. A smile crept across her mouth, mirroring the sun peeking over the eastern horizon.
She slipped back into the smial, then into the master bedroom. Her heart tightened at the sight of Frodo sleeping soundly, at last. She did not doubt he would be up and about by afternoon.
After several moments, she made her way to the kitchen for firsties. Yesternight, Sam delivered a plate of scones from Rosie. Almost all of them still occupied the plate near the hearth fire. Her stomach grumbled about missing too many meals the previous day, but she had been too nervous to eat any more than enough to ensure she did not become lightheaded.
A heavy sigh escaped her. The dreadful day had passed without Frodo realizing it at all, too lost in his sickness, but at least there was no evil in it. She had fretted terribly the first night, uncertain of the nature of his illness, despite Mrs. Longburrow’s assurance it would pass quickly. It was not until Frodo woke briefly late yestermorning that Lily knew he was not haunted by the past.
His sweet smile tore her heart and at the same time healed it again, then in a gravelly voice he assured her of his love. Then he held her as tightly as his weakened state would allow.
He proceeded to sleep the day away, waking only enough to take in meager but sustaining nourishment by way of broth and tea. She cradled him all the second night as well, offering prayers of unending gratitude.
Sam entered the greatroom and found Frodo wrapped in a blanket in front of the fire.
He smiled broadly. “So, Frodo, you’ve decided to join us again.”
Frodo smiled weakly at his friend. “So it would seem, Sam. I don’t remember most of it.”
“Only a day, it was, but it was a bad one... at least for your lady it was. Never I’ve seen Lily in such misery, and hope never to see the like again, I can tell you that.”
Frodo furrowed his brow trying to remember. “I seem to recall her crying.”
“That she did. I fear she must’ve cried all the first night, holding you in her arms. Went on and on about Gandalf promising you wouldn’t be sick again.”
Frodo brushed his arm across his eyes, trying to clear them. “Sam, it’s all so vague. I seem to remember Lily feeding me a light supper yesternight. She must have held me the whole night through each night, and through the day as well, for every time I awoke I was in her arms. I also remember a time, though I’m not certain when, I heard her weeping. I seem to remember I held her very tightly, not wanting to let go, though I cannot be certain of it.”
Sam smiled broadly, relieved beyond words to see his friend recovering so quickly. “Well, the worst is over now, sure and certain. You know, young Tad is already up to mischief, again, so I’d say there’s nothin’ to keep you from helpin’ me in the garden again tomorrow!”
Frodo laughed. “You’re a hard taskmaster, Samwise Gamgee, but I’m fairly certain you’ll need to ask for my services from Mistress Lily, first.”
“No question about that!” Sam chuckled, then he grew serious. “It’s good she’s in your life, Frodo.”
A warm smile filled Frodo’s face. “Very good indeed.”
The friends turned together when Lily entered.
She smiled brightly. “Are you staying for dinner, Samwise?”
“No, ma’am. My Rosie is expectin’ me home. She’ll skin me as it is, for takin’ so long to deliver that basket she readied for you.”
“Please thank her for me. It was so thoughtful. We’re blessed every day by your friendship.”
Sam blushed to his toes. “We are too.” He cleared his throat. “I best be off, or Rosie’ll tweak my ear for bein’ late.”
Frodo chuckled. “Would that be such a bad thing, Sam?”
“No indeed,” Sam grinned. He waved and strode out of the smial, whistling.
Frodo turned his gaze from the door where his friend disappeared to seek his wife’s face. She was weary, he could see it, but the worry was gone.
She shook herself from her thoughts -- or mayhap the lack of them, she smiled to herself. “No, no, not yet, dearest. Dinner first.”
“Lily-sweet, I wish you would allow me to help you.”
Frodo’s breath caught in his chest, and it had nothing to do with his cough and all to do with the adoration in his wife’s eyes.
“When you are feeling better, Frodo-love... until then, I don’t mind in the least. I’ll fetch it, and we’ll eat by the fire.”
The meal was leisurely, and they lingered through supper, mostly quiet, enjoying the peace of the moment. Lily sat at Frodo’s feet, leaning against his knee. He allowed himself to fondle the silken tresses so easily within his reach. It had been two days since last he indulged in the pleasure of running his fingers through her hair.
When they finished supper, Lily rose to her feet. She turned to gaze down at her husband, and smiled. “Off to bed with you, Frodo-love, or I’ll never be able to move you from that chair.”
Frodo returned her smile. “I don’t fancy sleeping here all night.”
He pushed himself out of the chair, and wandered down the hall, Lily beside him. Gratitude filled his heart anew. She helped him ready for bed, then saw to it he was settled.
“Lily-sweet, come to bed. You’re exhausted.”
“Soon, Frodo-love.” The tenderness Lily felt in her heart almost ached. “I need to finish putting away food, dearest, or I might as well throw out the welcome mat for every mouse in the Westfarthing. And you know I couldn’t abide that.”
Frodo chuckled softly. “No indeed. Don’t take too long, dearest.”
Lily could hear his voice growing drowsier. She softened her own. “Not long at all, beloved.”
She slipped out and sighed, feeling the tension leave her, then set about putting the kitchen to rights as quickly as possible.
When she returned to the bedroom she could hear her sweetheart’s gentle breathing. She quietly readied for bed, and slipped beneath the covers.
She shivered as she felt her lover draw her to him, wrapping her in his arms. He settled more comfortably, and she nestled closer to him.
“I love you, Frodo, with all my heart,” Lily whispered.
Frodo tightened his hold, as he murmured, “I love you with all that I am, Lily.”
And they drifted off to sleep.