Without knocking, Bell let herself into the smial. She paused in the entryway, and listened. Two-month-old Roper gurgled, and Bell bounced him on her hip to quiet him. A quick, decisive nod to her son assured him and herself that her in-laws were in the master bedroom.
She strode down the long hall without hesitation, and stepped boldly into the bedroom. A quick glance told her Frodo was sitting in a chair by the bed reading to Lily from what looked to be a red leather book, while Rosie was gathering up Elanor and clearly preparing to leave.
Bell huffed, “Well, I’ve just come from the Bywater market and I’m certain you can imagine the stories that are flying about in regards to the two of you.”
Frodo startled, nearly dropping the book he had finished writing and was now sharing with Lily. Discomfited, he fervently wished his sister-in-law had not come at all, or at least might have found something more pleasant to talk about. Unfortunately, he knew also that trying to quiet Bell was like silencing the nearby brook -- a feat accomplished only in the dead of winter, after a heavy snowfall. He dreaded what was coming next but knew no way to stop it.
Unaware of her brother-in-law’s morose thoughts, she continued cheerfully, “Be that as it may, you needn’t worry about the gossip any further.”
Bell laughed at the bewildered look on Frodo’s face. “You didn’t think I could let them say such things about my own sister and brother-in-law, now did you? What they say about you, they say about me, so I took care of it right smart.”
Frodo eyed her dubiously. He didn’t bother to say anything, knowing the story was coming whether he opened his mouth or no, and by keeping his mouth shut it would come that much quicker.
“Mind you, it weren’t the Bywater biddies gossiping. I suspect Lily’s plight strikes a bit too close to home for some of them, don’t you know? No, indeed, it was one Rolly Bracegirdle. You know him, I’m sure, but maybe not, what with Frodo being gone for a spell, and Lily down in Deephallow. The silly hobbit was strutting about like some cock with a roost full of hens. I expect it’s only that he’s still a tween. Still needs to grow into his feet. Though that’s neither here nor there, as it were, it in no way excuses what he was saying, now does it? Of course not.”
Bell gave them a pained look as she took a quick breath and continued her tirade.
“I’ll not bother you with all the details, don’t rightly remember them all myself in any case. All to the best, of course, I think. Suffice it to say, I simply knew I couldn’t allow him to continue on with saying such things. You should have seen the look on his face when I finished, but I’m a bit ahead of myself, aren’t I? So I put my hand on my hip -- the other was holding Roper here -- anyway, I looked him square in the eye and said -- real thoughtful-like -- ‘I seem to remember a certain young hobbit who learned an embarrassing lesson about how many ales he could drink of an evening. What was that now, two? No, three?’ Well Rolly turned red as a summer tomato. Being from round here makes it ever so much easier to stay atop the worthwhile stories, don’t you agree?”
Frodo hated to interrupt the now entertaining narrative, but Lily, Bell and Rosie were all nodding and smiling and he had no notion... “Why?”
“Why? What do you mean, why? I’d think it was obvious, as I’ve just finished telling you. It makes it so much the easier to remind folk that pointing fingers will always come back to haunt you.”
Frodo shook his head, the tide of Bell’s rush of words beginning to overwhelm him. “No, that isn’t what I meant, dear Bell,” he added to soften his baffled tone. “Why would Rolly turn red as a summer tomato?”
“Why? Well, it’s plain as the nose on your face.” Bell stopped abruptly and waved away the mild irritation at being interrupted as she remembered. “Oh! That’s right! I forgot.” She giggled. “Sorry, Frodo. Now I think on it, it was not long after you and Sam left, so of course you’d not remember.
“Let me see if I can recall it rightly. You left in late September, two or three years back, or thereabouts.” She waved her hand, dismissing the time reference. “I believe it was the beginning of October or maybe it was November. I suppose it doesn’t really matter, does it? Rolly was at the Green Dragon celebrating his birthday. His mum was readying his older sister for her wedding, and told him the party would have to be someplace besides home. His mum was always an odd sort. She was strict as could be about how much ale her men folk were allowed to drink. And you know that was simply asking for trouble. Rolly decided he’d have as much as he liked that night, seeing how as his mum wasn’t there and he’d become a tween. By the end of his third ale, he became, well, quite sick, all over Mayor Whitfoot’s feet. It was ever so awful! Ever since, when he comes to the inn for a drink he has one or two ales but never three. Well, of course, everyone knows the story, so we all had a right good laugh. I then took a careful look around at everyone present and asked, ‘Anyone else have any tales they’d like to tell? Or are we done for the day?’ Well, of course, everyone knew exactly what I meant and went on about their business.”
Frodo sat silently mystified for several long moments, then slowly began to grin. The lass was a marvel. He rose from his seat and swiftly bussed Bell’s cheek. “Bell, you are a treasure. I’m terribly glad you’re part of our family.”
Bell blushed to her toes. “Go on with ya’. You’re only wishing it was you what said it.”
Frodo shook his head and grinned. “My dear Bell, only your charm could deliver the proper message without repercussions. And I thank you.”
“Likewise.” Lily smiled warmly, her eyes sparkling.
Rosie chuckled. “It’s a good thing I waited a little longer; Sam’ll love hearing about this. He never did care much for old Rolly.”
Bell blinked at everyone’s delight. Didn’t they understand how awful this all could have been? Then she remembered. “Oh, Sam was there, and laughing with me.” She blushed. “I think he meant to put Rolly in his place himself, but I beat him to it. I hope he’ll not be too annoyed with me.”
Rosie embraced Bell. “I’m certain you set it all straight with more grace than my Sam might have. You know how protective he can be.”
“I was thinking that very thing, but still hoped he wouldn’t mind me stepping in to have my say.”
Rosie’s eyes glowed with mischief. “I can’t wait to hear Sam’s side.”
With Elanor secure in her arms, Rosie swept out the door with a laugh and a wave.
“Now,” Bell continued decisively, “since I’m here, I’ll prepare you both some supper before I head home. Will’s picking me up in the pony cart, as he needed to check an order at the mill.”
Frodo and Lily shared a bemused look, as Bell sailed out the bedroom door, with a babbling Roper still comfortably riding her hip.
21 September 1421sr
Frodo sat beside Lily on their bed and brushed the back of his hand along her cheek. “Are you certain you don’t mind, Lily-sweet?”
Lily struggled to hold her tears in check. “I’ll miss you, dearest Frodo, but my heart tells me you need to go.” Some dark corner of her heart wondered if he might not come back, but she firmly reminded herself that it was not her decision to make.
“I’ll miss you as well, beloved.” He brushed his wife’s lips with his own, not daring to deepen the kiss.
He craved her, and even the light touches were becoming difficult, knowing they must yet remain light for a few more months. The journey was a good idea. A brilliant idea. It would safely remove him from temptation. He smiled wryly, seeing the knowledge in Lily’s eyes.
He brought her hand to his mouth, and kissed her palm, then folded her fingers over the caress. “Rosie has promised to help you while I’m away...”
“We’ll keep each other company until you return.” She hadn’t meant to add that last bit, but she couldn’t help it. She needed him to know she didn’t so much expect him to return as much as wanted him to come home, to her.
With a final swift kiss, and a warm smile, Frodo slipped out of the room. He found Sam waiting for him outside the round green door of Bag End, his cloak about his shoulders, and the ponies at the ready. Frodo and Sam set out together, for a very different adventure. They took the Stock Road and camped on Green Hill.
29 September 1421sr
The Grey Havens. Frodo gazed about him in wonder. The beauty of it sang to his soul, soothing, welcoming. Yet in the blues and greens, he saw hazel eyes, blue with curiosity and introspection, and green with passion and courage. Were it not for Lily...
A trembling hand touched his own, and Frodo drew his thoughts from his beloved wife to his beloved uncle.
“Bilbo, the Red Book is finished and I turned it over to Sam for his safe keeping.”
“Good! Good. That is good to know. It must not be forgotten.”
“No...” Frodo sighed, unable to escape the ever-present twinge of guilt. “Bilbo, are you sorry you must go on alone?”
Bilbo eyes opened wide in surprise, and then he smiled and touched Frodo’s face with unsteady fingers. “I think, I should have to say yes, and no.”
Frodo gave a weak laugh. “Bilbo, you are becoming more and more like the Elves, who answer both no and yes.”
Bilbo returned the smile. “Frodo, my lad, I am not much longer for this world, either here in Middle-earth or across the Sea. If you were to go with me, you would soon be altogether alone, for a very long time indeed. No, you and Sam will come one day, when it is time. You two should go together. Only think on me once in a while.”
“We’ll think of you more than once in a while, dear Bilbo.”
Uncle and nephew stood on the deck of the ship, side by side, gazing out to sea.
Bilbo cleared his throat, and fingered the head of his cane. “You know, Frodo my lad, I decidedly preferred disappearing, as I did at the party. It seems I still don’t care all that much for goodbyes.”
Frodo smiled. “You know, I always wished I could have said goodbye, then. This time I can, but I don’t want to. I shall miss you, Uncle Bilbo.”
The old hobbit turned to his young nephew, and gazed up slightly into the younger hobbit’s eyes, committing to memory the endless depths of blue. “I shall miss you as well, Frodo, but not as much, I think, as you would miss all that you would leave behind in order to accompany me. Your dear Lily is indeed a treasure worth careful holding. I do wish I could have seen her one more time, and your new little lass.”
“We could have stopped...”
“No, no. This is best. You will tell her good-bye for me?”
“Yes, of course.” Frodo’s eyes filled with bright tears.
Bilbo’s gaze became distant and unfocused. “What have you named her, Frodo?” He turned his attention back to the present and his nephew. “And how much longer before the wee thing puts in her appearance?”
“Her name will be Amaryllis, after Lily’s mother. And it’s a couple of months, yet.”
“Amaryllis.” Bilbo tested the sound on his tongue. “A big name for such a little thing, don’t you think? But no, I think mayhap she’ll grow into it well enough. She will be a Baggins, after all.”
Frodo could not help himself as he made another attempt to prolong their final parting. “Are you quite certain you’d not like to wait a little longer, and see her for yourself, Uncle Bilbo?”
Aged eyes turned misty. “My lad, I’ve spent so many evenings listening, in the Hall of Fire -- sleeping, too! Be that as it may, I believe I’ve reached the place in my life when I truly long to go into the West. And though I’ll miss you, I’m certainly not alone. I’m with those I’m most comfortable with, Frodo-lad. And you must be where you are happiest, and we both know that’s in the Shire.”
The old hobbit smiled broadly. “Besides, there is nothing quite like sharing the places you love, for the first time, with someone who’ll appreciate them. I should know,” he declared gruffly, “for I remember what it was like sharing in your discovery of the Shire. Soon, you’ll have a little lass, and then more, and each time you’ll rediscover the Shire through their eyes. It’s an experience not to be missed, I assure you.”
Bilbo searched his nephew’s shining eyes. “I enjoyed my turn, Frodo; now it’s yours, as it rightfully should be. You’ll tell your little ones of their Uncle Bilbo, won’t you?”
Frodo nodded vigorously. “Yes, Uncle, I’ll tell them. They’ll hear the story of Smaug, just as you told it to me, and--” Frodo grinned “--of your efforts to teach me to cook.”
The hobbits laughed. They stood by the rail, overlooking the sea, in companionable silence, for a time, watching the sun slip slowly down the bowl of the bright blue sky.
A seagull flew close, crying on the breeze, and Frodo’s voice dipped softly. “I shall teach them of their dear uncle, and his wonder at the world, whose latest adventure has taken him to live with the Elves, far across the Sea, into the West.”
Bilbo smiled. “I think I shall enjoy exploring the West with Gandalf.” The old hobbit leaned in close. “He’s grown far too serious of late.”
Frodo’s answering smile was tremulous. “You’ll straighten that out before you leave the harbour, knowing you.”
“Indeed.” Bilbo winked.
Lord Elrond quietly approached the pair. “It is time.”
The hobbits glanced quickly at each other, and fell into a tight embrace.
“I’ll miss you, Bilbo,” Frodo choked.
“And I you, my lad.” Bilbo straightened abruptly, and absently dried his face with his sleeve, then took a step away. “Mustn’t keep a lady waiting.” He smiled, then became serious. “Do give your dear Lily my love, Frodo and -- and tell her I’m sorry for the grief I caused.”
Frodo’s eyes widened, then his face softened. “She’d tell you Ilúvatar arranged it all, with every detail accounted for.”
“She’s a kind and wise lady.”
“Yes, she is,” Frodo smiled. “And she’d never forgive me if I didn’t tell you... I love you, Bilbo. Thank you.”
Bilbo’s eyes grew wide, and brimmed with tears. Then he quickly grasped the younger hobbit in his arms, holding him unexpectedly tight.
“I love you, too, Frodo-lad.” Bilbo then held his nephew at arms length. “Thank you, for all you did.”
The old hobbit straightened, and became gruff once more. “Now, off with you.” And he herded Frodo off the ship.
Frodo and Sam stood together on the pier, with Merry and Pippin waiting for them on shore.
Lord Elrond gazed on Frodo and Sam. “Should such a time come, and you decide to wander, there is a place on a ship for you, if such a desire stirs your heart.”
“Who knows,” Bilbo chortled from beside the Elf lord, “we may yet meet again.”
Frodo smiled warmly. “We will, Uncle. Someday, we will.”
The gangplank was removed, and the hobbits lifted their hands in farewell. Gandalf stepped beside Bilbo, laying a hand on the elderly hobbit’s shoulder. Then the wizard inclined his head to the hobbits on shore.
He murmured to Bilbo, “Well, old friend, this is not precisely as I thought it might be.”
“No,” Bilbo sighed. “But it is as it should be.” Then the old hobbit smiled mischievously. “Bag End should have a Baggins in it, and now it shall be filled with Bagginses!”
Gandalf stared at the old hobbit, then they both began to laugh.
“Do you hear it, Mr. Frodo?” Sam whispered.
Frodo nodded, and smiled. “It’s been so long. It’s good to hear them laugh like that, one more time.”
Sam nodded, and watched the ship disappear on the horizon, with his friend. When at last nothing more could be seen of it, Sam put his hand on Frodo’s arm.
“Do you think it’s time we were headed home, Frodo?”
Frodo stirred himself from his thoughts. “Yes... yes, Sam. I’m ready to go home.”