The Sun broke over the eastern horizon and blazed across the cloudless sky. Though it did not ease the chill, it melted all the snow but that which was sheltered within shadowed recesses created by rocks and trees.
It was a pleasure for both of them to once again fall into their morning routine. Lily started the major cooking of the day and Frodo continued his work on his own writing. They shared second breakfast and elevensies in the study, enjoying the coziness of the room.
“Frodo!” Lily clapped her hands excitedly.
From the back of the smial, Frodo rushed to the greatroom. “Are you all right?”
Lily giggled and pointed out the window. “I told you they would come.” Abruptly, she turned to the kitchen. “If I hurry, I’ll be able to dip soup into mugs before they arrive.”
Frodo stared down the lane, his mouth slack. She had told him the lads would find their way to Bag End the same day the snow cleared. A smile spread across his face as the two little hobbits, wrapped in their cloaks, stopped to wipe the mud from their feet in the dead grass outside the gate.
“Lily dearest, I think warm water in the bathing room might be more expedient.”
“Oh, yes, of course.”
He reveled in her happy giggle, then opened the door wide. “Welcome, gentlehobbits!”
Andy grinned broadly and ran up the steps to the front door as fast as his little legs would carry him. Not fast enough. Hob grabbed his younger brother by the shoulder and stopped him before he reached the top step.
Hob peered up at Frodo, uncertainty in his eyes. “We tried to clean off the mud, best we could, Mister Baggins, but...”
Frodo smiled. “Not to worry, Master Hob. Mistress Baggins already has hot water in the bathing room to warm your feet on the outside, and then a bit of beef broth, with mushroom and barley, to warm you on the inside.”
Frodo leaned down and whispered, “The soup is my favourite, you know.” He nodded and winked. “Ready?”
Both lads nodded, though uncertain as to what they should be ready for. They gasped and squealed when Frodo wrapped an arm around the waist of each child and tucked them against his side, heads hanging down in front and feet sticking out behind.
Lily’s heart leapt at the sound of the children’s merriment and Frodo’s warm laugh as the lads were hauled unceremoniously to the bathing room. Their feet were scrubbed clean, then dried with fluffy towels by Frodo’s gentle hand. She met them in the hall.
“Methinks, Mister Baggins, today might be a good day for telling tales in the study.” She bent to look into the lads’ eyes more easily. “Mister Bilbo Baggins’ chair is there.”
Hob and Andy’s eyes grew wide. Hob’s voice was filled with awe. “You mean the real Mister Bilbo Baggins?”
“Indeed,” Lily assured them. “The one and only, whose tale you are now learning.”
The little fellows nodded madly, excitement gleaming in their eyes.
Frodo felt warmth bubble through him, and silently offered a prayer of gratitude for this perfect moment.
He settled the brothers on the rug in front of the familiar overstuffed, strawberry-coloured wingback, and checked the fire. Lily brought in the mugs of soup, including one for Frodo, with a knowing smile.
Lily laid out two small, damp cloaks in front of the kitchen fire to dry, but returned quickly to the others, positioning herself just inside the doorway. Like the children, she was enchanted by the story, and by the serene voice of the storyteller.
As Frodo told Bilbo’s tale, Lily began to notice he added bits and pieces she had not read before in Bilbo’s Red Book. Understanding dawned as she realized he was adding details he knew for himself. She also noted with some amusement that he was delaying the telling of the Stone Trolls, and she smiled to herself. He could put it off to the next visit, but no later. He closed the day’s story with the crossing of the stone bridge -- the Last Bridge.
Her own memories washed over her. Warmth filled her, from head to toe, until she thought she might burst from joy. How blessed she had been. The sadness of all the years of seemingly hopeless dreaming had all but disappeared. She had loved Frodo for so long, and now she gazed on him, her husband, her lover, her dearest friend.
Frodo glanced up and caught her watching him, her face aglow. He felt a lump form in his throat. His eyes locked with hers, and in that moment he could almost feel her caress.
“Mister Baggins, sir, is it over, already?” Hob wondered aloud.
With a quick blink, Frodo returned his attention to the two little hobbits sitting at his feet. “Only for today, Master Hob and Master Andy. There is much more, and when you return I’ll share it.”
Lily scurried to the kitchen to gather up the tray, glad she had prepared ahead. Then she returned to the study with enough food to feed all of them, with the thought in mind of packing a fair share of it to go home with the lads.
Though the lads asked endless questions, Frodo would only answer those pertaining to the story told thus far. If they wanted to know about what came later, they must needs return to hear it.
At this news Hob and Andy managed to look crestfallen for a moment, until some new question would surface and their cheerful babble would resume. But before long, it was time for them to leave.
The couple saw the brothers off from their gate, waving and inviting them back in two days’ time. Hob and Andy stopped every few yards to turn back and wave, again and again.
As they watched the little hobbits disappear over the bridge to Hobbiton, Frodo slid his arms around Lily’s waist, and drew her in front him, then pulled her back gently against him, his arms wrapped firmly across her belly. He softly kissed her hair.
Lily sighed. “You can delay it no longer, Frodo-love. Next time, you must tell them the story of the Stone Trolls.”
A grin stole across Lily’s face as she felt her husband convulsively tighten his hold on her, at the same time choking slightly. She continued, wholly unable to disguise the mirth in her voice, “Mayhap it might be wiser if you read that particular passage to them, from Uncle Bilbo’s own account? I don’t think you’ll make it through, otherwise.”
“Imp,” Frodo murmured, and nibbled her ear.
She swallowed a chuckle, and then gasped softly. “Mister Baggins, it is difficult to concentrate when you are doing that.”
“I know,” he whispered into her ear.
A soft sound of appreciation escaped her, then she struggled to continue. “Do not dismiss out of hand the notion of reading it from the text, Mister Baggins. After all, if you read it, mayhap you’ll be less likely to become distracted, by other memories...” Her voice dropped to a husky whisper. “Our memories.”
“And mayhap,” Frodo mumbled into her hair, “I ought to read it several times, to fix it more firmly in my mind... and mayhap you ought not be in the room at all...” Frodo nuzzled his wife’s neck, breathing deeply of her. “I’m uncertain if even that will be enough to keep my mind from wandering where it will.”
Lily’s breath hitched, and she swallowed hard. “What if we invite Sam?”
Frodo pulled back an inch. “Why?”
“To help you keep your mind on the story, of course.”
“Or let him tell the tale,” Frodo decided. “I’m certain he knows it at least as well as I do, if not better.”
Before Lily could answer, Frodo continued, “A brilliant idea, Mistress Baggins. I’m certain he would be delighted to relay the story.”
Lily giggled when her husband once again nuzzled her neck; his soft breath tickled. “I’m uncertain if he’ll be as pleased as you think by the prospect of needing to remember the tale. You know how uncomfortable he is about sharing such things. That is to say, he’s fine with it, until he realizes all attention is on him. Mayhap if it’s only the two little ones, he might be willing. Be that as it may, we shan’t know unless you ask him.”
Frodo kissed her just below her ear. “I believe Sam is a storyteller at heart, but is simply in want of a bit of proper guidance.” He kissed her neck again; he was finding it more difficult to remember the conversation at hand. “Yes, I believe that will do quite nicely,” he managed.
He kissed her shoulder at the curve of her neck, and she leaned back against him. His voice was muffled against her skin, “I’ll ask him, later.”
“Yes,” Lily breathed, her voice unable to disguise the feelings her husband was stirring.
“I love you, Mistress Baggins.” He felt her tremble, and heard her sigh.
“And I adore you, Mister Baggins.”
“You mean the world to me, sweet,”
“You fill my world with warmth, my love.”
And the game was on, as Frodo guided her into the smial.
1 February 1421sr
Only half-awake, Frodo greeted Lily’s gentle stirrings with a kiss, brushing her lips with his own.
Softly, she whispered, “I’m sorry,” and turned away from him, though staying within his embrace. She pressed his hands against her belly, to help soothe the deep ache she felt there.
Frodo sighed deeply, and tenderly turned her back around to face him. He gathered her close to his heart and reassured her. “All is well, beloved.”
“I know,” she whispered, her voice forlorn.
A few tears slid down Lily’s cheeks, wetting Frodo’s breast. He kissed her tousled curls and began to rub her back.
“Dearest Lily, shall I invite the Gamgees to join us for supper? Would you like that?”
Lily’s heart swelled, and tears lodged in her throat. How richly blessed she felt. “Yes, beloved, I should like that very much indeed. If you don’t mind, that is.”
Frodo chuckled. “You needn’t worry about anything, sweet. I’m quite able to do the entire preparation for a simple meal, now. You’ve taught me well. But do not ask me to make it elaborate.”
Lily laughed, and Frodo held her closer.
Frodo took care of his Lily the whole of the day. He found pleasure in seeing to her comfort, though he was also immeasurably grateful her monthly courses did not seem as severe as when they first wed. His heart whispered that these times offered him the opportunity to return in kind -- somewhat, at least -- the loving attention she had given him from the start of their relationship.
When Rosie and Sam arrived for supper, they knocked and let themselves into Bag End. Frodo had informed them, after a fashion, of Lily’s current state, without actually having to say anything at all, as Rosie immediately understood from Frodo’s hedging. The couple stepped into the front hall and was greeted by the whiff of sizzling bacon as they hung up their cloaks.
“Frodo! Lily!” Sam called.
“Here!” Frodo stepped into the archway between the greatroom and kitchen. He grinned broadly. “Come and make yourselves comfortable. Everything’s ready. I’m finishing up the mushrooms.”
Frodo disappeared back into the kitchen, and Sam and Rosie threw each other a raised-brow glance.
Rosie whispered, “I’d not realized Frodo’d be cookin’.”
Sam shrugged his shoulders. “He told me Lily’s been teachin’ him, so maybe it’ll be all right.”
Rosie threw him another uncertain glance.
“Best get it done and over, I guess,” Sam stated resignedly.
In unison, they took a deep, steadying breath and made their way to the kitchen. Their mouths dropped open at the sight of freshly baked scones on the table.
Frodo laughed. “Lily made those. She likes them hot, and does it so quickly they’re no trouble at all for her. I made everything else, so to speak.”
As they surveyed the spread, Sam added their gift to the middle of the table, which was filled from end to end. It was covered with a platter of bacon and two large bowls of mushrooms; their earthy aroma filled the smial. Tomatoes, laid up the summer before, had been fried following the bacon and still steamed in another bowl. A jar of peaches and a crock of blackberry jam also graced the table.
After taking in the last two items, Sam and Rosie gave Frodo a speculative look.
Frodo glanced at what they had seen, and smiled sheepishly. “Well, she did those as well, but it was last fall, so I found them and opened them.”
Rosie rolled her eyes, and Sam snorted, trying not to laugh.
Frodo shrugged, and at that, they all laughed.
Lily stopped in the doorway, and smiled. An indescribable joy swept through her, and gratitude at seeing her husband so at ease and so happy.
Frodo noticed her almost instantly, and approached her, reaching out to grasp her hand in his. “Lily dearest, despite my best efforts to prepare our repast on my own, our dear friends have managed to point out that you still performed more than half the labour.” At Lily’s questioning glance, Frodo continued, “The tomatoes, bottled last fall, as well as the peaches and jam -- and of course, your delicious scones.”
A careful perusal of the table left Lily smiling bemusedly. “I suppose that’s true, but you still did all the preparation today of laying it out, and cooking all but the scones.” She sighed. “I do miss having flowers on the table.”
Abruptly, Lily blinked and stepped closer to the table. She reached out and lightly touched the little bouquet of catkin.
When she raised her eyes, Sam blushed crimson and stammered, “Rose thought you’d like them.”
Lily’s eyes filled with tears. She could barely form the words, “They’re beautiful. I do like them, very much indeed.” She caressed the fuzzy buds. “Frodo and I have meant to go hunting for them, but haven’t yet taken the time. Thank you, so much.”
Behind Lily, Frodo nodded his appreciation to their friends.
“Well,” Rosie declared, attempting to overcome her own fit of tears, “I’m that hungry, I am, so if it’s all the same to the two of you, I’m more than ready for supper.”
Lily nodded, beaming, and they settled around the table. And after Frodo offered a prayer of thankfulness, they fell into the comfortable conversation of gossip about the Shire.
“Sam,” Frodo cleared his throat. “I’ve need of a bit of help from you, if you’re willing.”
Sam gave Frodo his full attention. “You know you need only ask...” He almost added ‘sir’; they both knew it, and smiled.
“On the contrary, I’ve every confidence in you, but I also know you well enough to know you’ll hesitate at my request.” Abruptly, Frodo realized he could not easily explain to Sam and Rosie why he himself could not comfortably tell the tale of the Stone Trolls to the young hobbit-lads. He searched his mind for a plausible reason.
“What is it you need, Frodo? You only need ask it, and you know it.”
“Indeed, I do,” Frodo smiled. “You know Hob and Andy Mugwort have been visiting...”
“O’ course I remember that. It’s goin’ well, then, is it?”
“It is. In fact, we’ve reached the part in the story about the Stone Trolls.” Frodo paused, hoping for inspiration, as he had not yet hit on anything himself.
Sam crowed. “It’s a great part o’ the tale! I think my favourite, but for the Elves, o’ course. Well, more so, now I’ve seen ‘em for myself.”
Frodo grinned. “Indeed? What would you say to sharing it, with the lads, the day after the morrow?”
“Me?” Sam gaped. “You want me to tell the story?”
“I think it would add to the lads’ enjoyment to hear the story from someone besides me. It would make it more real, would it not? For now, there’s only funny old Mister Frodo Baggins telling his uncle’s tale, but if you were to share your most favourite part, it would...” Frodo searched his mind for the right words. “It would lend a sense of truth to it.”
Sam blinked. “But it is true! We saw it for ourselves! At least the proof of it, anyway.”
“Yes, yes... We’ve heard the tale all our lives, but we’ve also truly seen the place it happened, and they have not, and may never...”
Sam gave his friend a narrow-eyed look, and his voice was level when he spoke. “You don’t want to tell it, do you?”
Though he asked it as a question, Frodo knew it was a statement of fact as far as Sam was concerned. He gave his friend a beseeching look.
Then Sam’s eyes widened. “You can’t tell it, can you?!”
Frodo blushed to his ear-tips.
Sam laughed. “All right, I’ll tell if for you, then.”
The wives watched the exchange, and shared a glance of deep affection, a knowing between them that this was as it should be, always.
“It’s settled,” Lily stated with a grin, and hoped it was well and truly settled, and that the conversation would move on. She glanced at Rosie for aid.
“Oh!” Rosie’s eyes glowed. “There’s another peddler from the south, and a special market’s been arranged for the morrow. I know you’re not up to it this time, Lily, but Sam’s comin’ with me, so we can pick up some things for you.”
“That would be wonderful!” Lily could not hide her own genuine enthusiasm.
Frodo glanced at his wife and then at Sam and Rosie. “I could go. I need to stop in at the Green Dragon and pick up the papers I left there.”
Rosie and Sam exchanged a quick glance, then looked between Frodo and Lily. “If you like,” Rosie offered, “we could pick it up for you. We’ll be goin’ to Bywater to visit my folks, anyway.”
Sam gently rubbed Rosie’s rounded belly. “Mrs. Grubb says this’ll probably be the last time we can make the trip.”
Rosie blushed prettily, a shy smile lighting her face. “I’m feelin’ fine, truly, but she says it’ll be too much for me soon. We’re goin’ down on the morrow and then returning the day after.” Before Frodo could say anything, she continued hurriedly, “We’ll be home in plenty o’ time for the lads, so you needn’t worry none about that.”
Rosie glanced at her friends, then searched Sam’s eyes. He offered her the merest of nods. Her face grew uncertain, and a little sad. “Me mum wanted me to come to their home -- to birth the babe -- but...” Her voice lowered, “but I want to be in Garden Hill, my own home, my own bed. It isn’t that I don’t love them, but Bywater is where they had their family. Here is where we’ll have our family.”
She gave Frodo and Lily a pleading look.
Lily nodded, and smiled gently. “Your garden is right outside your bedroom window. It will either be in bloom or close to it by the time your little one enters this world. And knowing you and Sam, you’ll both be the happier for being able to share that beautiful garden right away.”
Rosie’s troubled expression vanished, and she smiled radiantly. “That’s it exactly! I want to be able to look about my room, when my children are grown, and feel the memories embrace me. If you know what I mean?”
Frodo nodded slowly. “You’ll fill your home with love, Rose Gamgee, you and Sam, and you and your children, all of them, will feel it, and know it. It will shape and strengthen the bond you share, the bond that will grow with each shared memory. You’ll tell your little ones, each one, about the day they were born in the room their parents share, with the window facing the garden. And they’ll know they were dreamed about and wanted and welcomed and loved. I think perhaps you may give them no more precious gift than your deep and abiding love, for each other, and for them, to tie them to you in every possible way, starting from the very first moment.”
Tears cascaded down Rosie’s cheeks, and Sam would have swiped quickly at his own tears, but that Rosie held his hands tightly to her belly.
Frodo turned to Lily, offering the Gamgees a little privacy by at least not watching the moment of tenderness between them. A shiver of fear raced through him, afraid to see hurt in Lily’s eyes at what was not yet theirs to share.
Lily met her husband’s uncertain gaze. She knew his worry, even without her gift of sight. He knew her well now, and she experienced a rush of loving thanks to Ilúvatar for blessing her with her husband. Frodo’s words were not simply to ease the concerns of their friends. He meant what he said, every word. She knew without doubt that this was what he dreamed and hoped for, for them.
She faced him and mouthed the words, so that only he would see. “Some day.”