After first breakfast, Frodo helped Lily into her cloak, then allowed her to fasten the clasp on his own. Despite his best efforts, he could not stop the tremor that reached all the way to his toes when her hand grazed his neck.
Lily gave her husband a knowing smile before caressing the line of his jaw with her lips.
“Sweet,” Frodo breathed. “Truly, we ought to find Sam and assure him all went well with our young visitors.”
Lily blinked, and raised her brows.
“What am I saying?” Frodo chuckled. With hushed breath he murmured, “I suppose Sam can wait, a little longer...”
The corner of Lily’s mouth curved into a smile.
Frodo drew his wife into his arms.
After second breakfast the master and mistress of Bag End found their friend in his own yard at Garden Hill, checking the herb bed nearest the kitchen.
A deep sigh of relief escaped Sam. “Sure and certain, I can see by your faces your unexpected adventure ended well enough.”
Both Frodo and Lily struggled not to blush, casting each other a swift glance and their private smile; Sam had no way of knowing what his words meant to them.
Frodo cleared his throat. “We fared far better than I imagined we might, and in fact, our young guests will be returning on the morrow.”
“Will they, now?” Sam rocked back on his heels, his thumbs hooked through his suspenders. “Seeing how as it was me what saw to it the gathering was arranged, I want to hear all about it!”
Frodo started slightly, unaccustomed to his friend’s new-found confidence, then grinned. “I think mayhap dear Rosie might have a few words for us if we don’t include her in the telling.”
Sam laughed. “Aye, she would! Indeed she would! Come in then and set a spell. She decided to bake bread, today, something about it being that kind of day. Makes no never mind to me what kind of day it is, I told her. Her bread fresh out of the oven makes it the best kind of day.”
“Sam,” Frodo chuckled, “I’d no idea you were so romantic! I don’t think I’ve heard you rhapsodize about anything other than Elves before, so Rosie’s bread must indeed be praiseworthy.”
A giggle from Lily caused the two friends to look at her and wonder at her raised brows. Then she retorted with a smile, “No, it isn’t Sam; it’s Rosie who’s romantic.” At their questioning gaze, Lily rolled her eyes. “Rosie’s the one making the bread... for Sam...”
With a swish of her cloak, Lily swept into the smial, as Sam took in her words, all the while still basking in Frodo’s comment. Then he turned to his friend with a thoughtful expression.
“My Rosie is like the Elves in a good many ways, you know,” his voice warming to the subject. “She’s mysterious, make no mistake... and smart as a whip! ...but she’s better yet. She’s magical, if you take my meaning?” Sam waggled his brows, and chortled with Frodo’s nod of understanding, then became serious once more.
“And Frodo, she’s more beautiful than all of ‘em, even prettier--” Sam sighed. “Even more beautiful than the Lady of Light. Or my name’s not Samwise Gamgee.”
Frodo grinned. It was indeed a good, romantic day, and it many ways, and it wasn’t even elevensies.
“Rosie!” Lily gave her friend an admonishing look. “Sit down, and rest. I’m quite able to do the clearing away and such.”
“Thank you, Lily.” Rosie sighed gratefully, and settled back in her chair. “I’m truly grateful you and Frodo have done the cooking and cleaning up. I’m still feeling quite well most of the time, but I seem to be tiring a little more quickly than I used to do.”
“I only hope I’m able to hold up as well has you have.” Lily smiled at her friend.
Frodo was relieved when Lily and Rosie finally started talking of the coming child. He had been uncertain if she would be able to bear that Rosie was increasing when she was not. He also realized he should have known better. Lily might be sad for herself, but she would be happy for her friend. He was also terribly glad that Rosie and Lily were such good friends.
Rosie had worried for Lily’s reaction at seeing her again; afraid that perhaps she would be reminded of the market, and the ugly gossip, and turn away. She thought her heart might burst when Lily quietly thanked her for being with her that day, so she needn’t endure it alone. Rosie noted that it was almost exactly what Frodo had said when he asked her about what happened. She embraced Lily warmly, more grateful than ever for the friendship they shared. They also agreed that Lily would take a short break from visits to the market. Rosie assured her that she could pick up whatever was needed for both of them, for a little while anyway. They laughed together, realizing that it wouldn’t be very long before that would be impossible. Lily assured Rosie that when the time came, she would return the favour.
As Frodo and Lily returned home to Bag End, Frodo took note of the sky. It had been threatening to storm for two days now. He wondered when it would make good on its promise. He felt a sudden chill.
Walking hand in hand, Lily felt him shiver. She stopped for a moment; he stopped and turned to her in curiosity. Lily took his hand and brought it to her cheek, trying to warm him.
Frodo accepted her efforts and smiled, then brought her hand to his lips. He first kissed the back of her hand, and then, very gently, he kissed her palm -- the familiar offering that he knew she treasured.
Now Lily shivered, but not from the cold. Frodo slipped his arm around her and held her close to his side the rest of the way home.
25 January 1421sr
They were both slightly nervous for the afternoon story time, hoping it would turn out as well as the first; they did not want the children to be disappointed. After all, perhaps their excited reactions to the first tale had really been due more to the novelty of their first visit than to the story itself.
Lily prepared a savory barley broth for the lads to sip as they listened to the next tale; it warmed the smial, and smelled so good that Frodo teased her until she gave him some as well, over her weak protests that there wouldn’t be enough left for the lads. He merely kissed her cheek and told her he needed strength for the storytelling to come.
The lads showed up again right after luncheon. When Lily offered the broth, they at first hesitated, then accepted gratefully. They wasted no time finding their spots on the floor in front of Frodo, and the tale began.
When tea time came round, Lily brought in the tray and set it on the greatroom table. The two young brothers accepted the mugs of milk and heavily laden plates, then took their treasures to their places at table and began to down the food with sighs of pleasure. Lily wondered how well they were really eating at home. Though things were better now, there were still those less fortunate.
Lily glanced out the greatroom window, her attention caught by the lowering clouds and something she could not yet identify.
Frodo came up beside her as she absently poured him a second cup of tea.
“Frodo, what is that?” She continued to stare out the window.
Frodo followed her gaze to the view outside, and smiled. “Snow, my dear Lily.”
“The first time this season,” Lily smiled. “It’s been so mild, I wondered if we might not see any at all this year.”
They watched together in fascination for a moment. Then Frodo’s attention was drawn to the lads as they finished their milk. The contentment on his face changed to concern as his eyes surveyed the falling snow once more, then returned to rest on the children briefly.
He turned to Lily and spoke softly. “I must get them home.”
Lily nodded. She wrapped up the rest of the biscuits and cakes for the children and handed them to Frodo after he shrugged into his coat and cloak. He stuffed them in his coat pockets.
He called to the children. “Home, lads, let’s be off.”
The brothers turned wide eyes first to each other and then to Frodo. “You’re taking us?”
“Today, yes. It seems we’re in for a bit of snow, and I want to be certain you arrive home safely. Are you ready?”
Lily finished tying on the last cloak, and opened the door for them. The snow was already falling thicker. Frodo stepped onto the front doorstep and glanced first at the falling snow and then at the children. He looked back at Lily with concern in his eyes.
His voice was soft and steady as he said, “I’ll be back as quick as I may.”
Lily’s eyes reflected his concern, and she nodded. He kissed her lightly, then turned to the lads with a steadying breath.
“Andy, how would you like a ride home?”
Andy’s eyes widened. He nodded solemnly. Frodo opened his coat, knelt down and scooped up the child. He held the lad against his chest, with Andy wrapping his arms and legs around Frodo’s neck and waist.
Frodo turned back to Lily, and she pulled the coat and cloak snugly so that it enclosed the child.
Lily wondered why Frodo had not offered Andy the choice of riding pig-a-back, and asked, “Wouldn’t it be easier...?”
“Yes, but a lot colder.”
Love for her husband swelled in Lily’s heart. With Andy’s head tucked under his chin, Lily silently blew Frodo a kiss.
Frodo smiled and turned to Hob. “Do you think you can keep up, Master Hob?”
Hob drew himself up to his full height, which barely reached Frodo’s waist, and nodded. “Yes, sir, Mr. Baggins. I’m up to it.”
And so the three set off in the ever-increasing snow.
It seemed everyone had chosen to seek shelter, for no one was on the road between Hobbiton and Bywater. After an hour and a half of walking, the snow slowing them down, Frodo and his small companions reached a modest house on the near side of Bywater.
Hob ran ahead through the door, leaving it open. “Mum! Mum!! Mr. Baggins is here!!”
A careworn hobbit lass appeared from the kitchen doorway as Frodo stepped inside the door and set down his charge.
Andy turned to his mother shouting, “Mum! Mr. Baggins carried me all the way here from Bag End!”
Tears filled her eyes. “Thank you, Mister Baggins. You oughtn’t o’ had to do all that. You and the Mistress’ve been too kind.”
Frodo smiled. “Mistress Mugwort, please, it was no trouble.”
“Ella, it’s Ella, sir.”
He was grateful the lads were holding her hands so he needn’t shake hers. Fleetingly he realized that he was not self-conscious about his hand around Lily at all, but away from her... He returned his attention to the moment.
“It has been our pleasure. The lads are delightful.”
She smiled warmly at her sons. “I would ask you to come in, but...”
Hob piped up. “Da was killed by one of the ruffians a while back, and Gaffer...” His lip trembled slightly, and he quickly bit it. “Well, it’d not be proper like.”
Frodo’s face reflected his concern. “I am sorry, Ella. I understand. I should be returning, anyway. Mistress Baggins will be wondering where I am.”
Ella noted the snow, falling faster by the moment. “Mister Baggins, from the look of it, I think you’ll not make it all the way to Bag End. I’m sorry my lads’ve caused you such a bother.”
Frodo smiled reassuringly. “It truly was no bother at all. I may just stop in at the Green Dragon, until things clear up a bit. I’m sorry, but do I remember right that a Mugwort was lost at the Battle of Bywater as well?”
Ella’s eyes widened. “Yes, sir. My husband’s father.”
Frodo nodded. “The lads’ gaffer.”
Ella bobbed her head once.
Hob again asserted his place as the responsible male of the house. Indicating himself and his brother, he declared, “If not for our uncle, we’d be the only Mugworts left to carry on the family name.”
Frodo doubted the lad understood what that meant yet, but knew what it meant to himself. The lads had lost their father even younger than he had. Frodo smiled at their mother. “The lads are always welcome in our home. They’ve been raised well.”
The look of gratitude on Ella’s face was unmistakable.
Frodo inclined his head to her and made to turn back into the snowstorm. He glanced back at the lads, each still holding one of their mother’s hands. He pulled the wrapped goods out of his pockets, handed a package to each child, and then spoke directly to them.
“You take good care of your mum, and remember to come back and visit once the weather’s cleared.”
Both children nodded, and Frodo stepped into the storm, drawing his cloak tightly about him. He thought about going to Will and Bell’s on the near side of Hobbiton, but with the snow coming so steadily Frodo was uncertain he would make it. He suddenly remembered they were visiting Daisy and Hal in Deephallow anyway, and headed instead for the Green Dragon, only two doors down.
He stepped into the familiar inn, seemingly almost empty. Frodo did not recognize the proprietor, who obviously knew him. Had it been so long since last he had been here?
“Mr. Baggins, welcome to the Green Dragon. What can I get for you?”
Frodo smiled politely. “I’m headed to Hobbiton, but it seems the storm has caught up to me. I thought I’d stop in until it blew over.”
“Are you going to be wantin’ any accommodations?”
Frodo smiled to himself. “Not if I can make my way home, tonight.”
“Beggin’ your pardon, sir, but storms like this usually don’t clear up ‘nough for movin’ about, not for a day or two at least, but suit yourself. You’re welcome to make yourself at home in the common room.”
Frodo hesitated. He still did not care for common rooms, but the idea of hiding away in a room in the inn was not particularly appealing either. He nodded to the innkeeper. “That will do.”
He found a corner table by the fire and made himself comfortable. A small ale was brought, along with some bread and cheese. Frodo remembered long-ago nights of watching Rosie and Sam, and smiled to himself.
He requested paper and pen from the innkeeper, who brought it quickly, accepting the coin proffered and Frodo’s thanks.
The place was all but empty. It seemed those that had rooms had decided to retreat to the warmth of them. Frodo knew that as dinner approached, the common room would become crowded with any and all staying at the inn and many of the locals who would brave the storm for an ale and company. He wasn’t looking forward to it.
The innkeeper, working away at his chores nearby, had been studying the hobbit in the corner carefully. He struggled not to hover, but his curiosity was piqued. Since taking over the Green Dragon two years ago, he had heard many a tale of ‘Mad Baggins.’
Surreptitiously, he glanced at the quiet hobbit, and speculated that the Baggins fellow certainly didn’t seem very imposing or unusual. Mayhap the stories he’d heard weren’t quite true. It was known to happen. He almost chortled out loud, and startled when said hobbit beckoned him.
“Fred?” Frodo hoped he remembered the name correctly.
The innkeeper was surprised by the intense blue eyes that were turned to him. He blinked and took a step back. “Yes, Mr. Baggins?”
“Frodo, please...” He smiled. “Do you know the Mugwort family?”
“Yes, Mr. Bag-- Frodo. Which ones particularly? The Bywater Mugworts or the Southway Mugworts?”
“The Bywater Mugworts... Hob and Andy Mugwort and their parents.”
“Oh! Yes!” He stepped closer to the table. “That would be Ella and Andywise Mugwort. Mind you Andywise died two years ago now. Some say it was an accident, but Ella says it was the ruffians, but no one knows for sure.”
“What can you tell me about it?”
Frodo indicated the chair opposite him, and Fred plopped down, sighing in relief. Then he quickly fell into telling the story and sharing what he knew. Before long, Frodo was thoroughly acquainted with the entire Mugwort family, and smiled to himself.
Fred came to himself. “Will you listen to me prattlin’ on, keepin’ you from your writin’! Looks like the dinner crowd is startin’ to gather; I best see to them. I’ll bring your dinner first.”
“Thank you, Fred.” Frodo bent to his writing again, choosing to ignore the gawks and stares as well as the whispering.
Fred went about taking care of his other customers. Several were standing at the bar, downing one ale after another. One grabbed Fred by the sleeve as he passed on his way to the kitchen and pulled him aside.
“Isn’t that Nine-Fingered Baggins, there?”
Fred glanced to where they were pointing, though there was no need; he knew full well who they meant. He astutely assessed the speaker and his cohorts, and replied with care. “Yes, that’s Mr. Baggins, and don’t you go botherin’ him, Gus. He were caught in this storm same as you, and he’s stayin’ ‘til it blows over.”
“Maybe we’ll just make our acquaintance, just bein’ friendly.”
Fred knew from their tone and the looks on their faces they were decidedly less than friendly. He stepped in front of them, and spoke under his breath. “If’n you bother him, Gus -- you or any of your cronies -- I’ll see to it you’re put out of my inn, for the night.”
“Fred! You’d turn us out, into the cold? Over a bit o’ fun with a half-cracked...” Their looks were derisive, until they saw the fight in Fred’s eyes.
Though Fred was shorter, he still drew himself up to his full height and put his reddening face close to theirs. “If’n I hear another peep about botherin’ Mr. Baggins, I’ll throw you out on your ears.”
Their anger suddenly matched the innkeeper’s. “But Fred, he didn’t even draw a sword at the Battle. He just stood there, refusin’ to fight and not allowin’ us to kill those ruffians outright, after all they done.”
Fred lowered his voice, and took on a menacing tone. “You forget yourselves. I was there. I know who was lost. I also know what I saw. The first hobbit he tried to aid, that was my nephew. When he couldn’t help him, since it was -- was too late, he was quick to get to the next one, Roper Burrows. I saw Mr. Baggins take off his fancy coat and use it to try and help old Roper, though it truly was already too late for him, too. I saw him offer comfort to--”
“Yeah, he comforted so good he married her--” They were taken aback by the sudden rage that crossed Fred’s face.
“Enough,” he hissed. “He kept you braggarts from stoopin’ down to the level of them ruffians, and you ought t’be grateful. He may have gone off adventuring, but it’s certain the Travellers set things to rights in short order on their return. There’s much I don’t know, but this I do -- we don’t know the whole story. Now, are you stayin’, or should I see you to the door?”
The tight circle of hobbits looked abashed, and without another word turned back to their drinks.
Satisfied, Fred sighed deeply and returned to his duties, as if nothing at all had happened.
As the evening wore on, it became apparent that no one was going anywhere. Frodo paused in his writing and stared out the darkened window, where he could just make out the drifting snowflakes. The day’s last light winked out. For a moment, Galadriel’s phial rose up in his memory, and Frodo closed his eyes. He did not want to think on the Quest. He would cloak the dull ache in thoughts of Lily.
Fred saw the pained look on Frodo’s face, though it was quickly hidden by a return to his writing.
As supper approached, Fred brought a plate of rosemary mutton chops, parsnips, mushrooms, and gravy to the table and set it at Frodo’s elbow. “Let me know when you’re ready to retire, and I’ll show you to your room.”
Frodo paused and waited a moment before looking up into Fred’s kindly face. “I didn’t request a room -- I was going to try and make it home, tonight.”
Only years of listening to the trouble of others allowed Fred to hear the merest catch in the voice. “I know, sir, but it don’t look anywhere near to lettin’ up; I kept one aside just in case.”
Fred was amazed by the gratitude that could be read so easily on Frodo’s face.
“Thank you.” Frodo smiled weakly. “Whenever you have time, Fred.”
The innkeeper continued, shrewdly, “If you like, I can show you to your room now, and you can’ve a quiet supper there.”
The gratitude was now mixed with relief. Frodo gathered his writing, and Fred picked up the meal and led him to his room. Next to the fire already burning in the grate stood a table and chair. Frodo glanced at the innkeeper.
“I thought you might like to keep up your writin’ here.”
Frodo laid his right hand on the innkeeper’s shoulder. “Thank you, for everything.” He then turned to the table and laid out his papers.
Fred set the food and drink on a corner of the table, out of the way. “If you need anythin’, let me know.”
Frodo smiled and nodded his head, turning again to his writing.
Fred closed the door behind him and nodded in satisfaction. At least with Mr. Baggins in this room, he could keep a close eye out and ensure his guest was left undisturbed. He returned to the common room; it was time to see to all those other folks who were waiting on their supper.
As she watched the trio head down the lane, Lily had offered a prayer: Please, Ilúvatar, help him to see the children home safely and then bring him home swiftly to me. Please, watch over him.
With her thoughts crowded by imagines of her husband and two small lads, Lily cleared away the tea things. She then took up a vigil at the front window and watched down the lane for Frodo, noting that the snow was falling faster.
The light faded away with still no sign of Frodo, and Lily knew that in her heart she felt no resentment toward the children for having come and ‘taken’ her husband away from her. In truth, she hoped the little ones would return soon. She enjoyed having them visit, and was delighted to see what they brought out in her husband.
Lily watched the snow stop and start, her hopes rising and falling along with each change. She was careful to eat at least a little something at each meal, and managed to make herself do a few inconsequential things about the hole when she wasn’t gazing out the window toward Hobbiton, hoping for a glimpse of tousled dark curls.