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Sacrament

by CRB and Ladyhawk Baggins

20 December 1419sr The eve of Yule continued...

Merry gleefully rubbed his hands together. “Very well, if I must...

“Frodo came to Brandy Hall to celebrate his... what was it, Frodo? Your 30th birthday, wasn’t it? Pippin was only eight at the time, but he’s heard the story so many times he knows it almost as well as I do. Bilbo agreed to come to visit just before your birthdays but then decided not to, because some Dwarves dropped by for a visit.

“However, he required you to keep to the schedule just the same. You weren’t happy at first about missing out on the company, but then as I recall you quickly got over that once you were on the road. You brought Sam along on his first adventure to Brandy Hall, on the Gaffer’s condition that Sam ‘do for you proper.’ Let’s see, I was sixteen, so that would put Sam here at eighteen.”

Sam and Pippin started to laugh outright again, while Frodo bit his lip trying to suppress his own laughter. Merry waved them to settle, so he could continue.

“Frodo spent a few days with us. Then, just before he returned home to celebrate his birthday with Bilbo, he proudly offered the gifts he’d brought for the occasion. He presented a proper mathom, which made my folks quite proud to think he was turning out all right after all.”

Merry paused, purely for dramatic effect. His audience was already in rapt attention, and Pippin and Sam were doing their best not to laugh out loud again, for the time being. Frodo put his face in his hand, then pulled his fingers down just enough for his eyes to show. The smile in his eyes was full of affection as well as a look of mock-weary resignation. Merry grinned, and went on, not in the least remorseful.

“Well, then he delivered up the gift cousin Bilbo sent... mind you, he felt certain it was a book on Brandybuck history. Imagine his horror when the book was unwrapped and it wasn’t about the Brandybucks at all! In fact, it was an Elvish book! What’s more, it was the Elvish book Bilbo gave him the year before for his own birthday!

“Frodo here looked not unlike a fish, his mouth opening and closing, as his Uncle Saradoc and Auntie Esme opened the cover and flipped through the pages and went on and on about how lovely it was and how delighted they were with it and completely ignoring the mathom he’d brought. He closed his mouth right quick and smiled, so my folks wouldn’t know how he really felt. There he stood, trying to figure out how to get his book back without asking directly, and not wanting to disappoint two people he dearly loved, and confused at the same time as to why they’d have any interest in a book all in Elvish. And wondering how the mix-up happened in the first place!

“Yet there was nothing for it. He was leaving for Bag End, so he couldn’t even work his way around to asking about it.”

Sam picked up the story, trying to get the words out himself through his own laughter, which by now had brought a tear to his eye. “Mr. Frodo muttered all the way home about how could he get it back and why would Bilbo send that book specific and he wasn’t finished reading it yet and he should have just asked for it back but how could he, it would seem so churlish. He just couldn’t do that to his dear Uncle Saradoc and Auntie Esme, not after the way they took him in and cared for him. Two days we traveled by foot from Brandy Hall back to Bag End, and I don’t think he thought of another thing the entire way. If he wasn’t talking about it, I know he was thinking about it.”

Merry’s audience had been giggling and chuckling from the moment they heard of the young Frodo’s consternation, and the laughter of his cousins and friend was infectious; but Sam’s near-continuous narrative had all of them laughing out loud, including Merry, and Lily. Frodo himself was shaking with suppressed laughter, his mouth covered with one hand, his tankard of cider precariously held in the other.

Merry continued. “True enough, Samwise. He got home and what was waiting for him on his arrival? Yes, the book! My folks wondered about the gift as well, when they first saw it, but when they opened it they found his name on the inside of the cover. Then they decided to have a bit of fun. Frodo never has been able to hide his feelings! Of course, they knew by his face it was the wrong gift, and actually were quite pleased that he was too polite to ask for it back, though he clearly wanted it. They decided to tease him a bit. So they sent the book back as soon as Frodo and Sam left, knowing it would arrive at Bag End before Frodo. They also included a short letter, explaining what had happened.

“We all still laugh at the mishap. Imagine, my folks being delighted at receiving a book in Elvish! Yet Frodo didn’t doubt it a bit.”

Frodo’s laughter could no longer be contained, and it was bringing him to tears. He had put the tankard down at the nearest table and was holding his right side.

“Frodo! When will you ever learn?” Merry chimed, and slapped Frodo on the back, just as he was beginning to recover.

“No -- stop!” Frodo was laughing so hard he finally had to sit down. Fortunately, the closest seat was next to Lily. It felt natural now to sit beside her. Tears were coursing down his cheeks.

“Oh, my side!” Frodo gasped. “You’ve put a stitch there, Merry Brandybuck! I’ll think of -- something, just -- wait!” He wiped the tears from his face.

Lily asked him, laughing quietly, “What else do they know about you that they tell at parties? And that you don’t seem to mind a bit?”

“Oh, Lily, they know everything about me, everything,” he gasped in reply. “I’ve never been able to keep a secret from them. And you’re right, I don’t mind it at all. I’m blessed to have such friends.” He was still taking deep breaths, but the stitch was better. He shook his head a little to get his composure back.

Lily saw Sam and Rosie smile at Frodo. “I envy them, knowing so much about you,” she reflected, trying to hide the wistfulness in her voice.

Frodo blushed. He lowered his eyes to the floor and then searched hers for reassurance that she meant what she said. He suddenly noticed her eyes. The smile left his face. There was another reason he felt so well; it was more than just his cousins’ stories -- it was her...

“Lily, please forgive me, but you look tired. Please tell me you are all right.”

“Yes, Frodo, of course I am.” She briefly laid her hand on his, sad she had been the cause of his abrupt change in mood, and put on a cheerful face. “Here, try a scone. I promise there’s none of that mir -- what was that word Merry used?”

Miruvor,” Frodo said absently. He was cautiously studying her eyes. “The Elves make it. They are skilled in herb-lore, but it’s probably magical; even a tiny amount can restore strength to one who is failing. We tasted a bit of it on the Quest, while it lasted...”

He wished he had some to give her now. Perhaps it would have helped her...

His gaze was disconcerting and wonderful at the same time. Lily was afraid she would give away the fact she felt slightly ill if she looked into his eyes much longer. Her strength seemed to be falling away from her in tiny increments. How long could she last? She broke away from his eyes for a moment, and again offered him a scone. “I’ll eat a bite if you will, Frodo.”

“Thank you, I shall try one.” He took a bite and was going to speak again, but stopped. Accustomed as he was to eating in a hurry, he at first did not taste the morsel in his mouth, but the sweet crispness of the crust caught his attention. “This is really very good, you know!” he said to her. Lily was smiling enigmatically. “Really, you should try it,” he urged. He finished off the scone and looked across the room, craning his neck for a better view and hoping to spy more scones on the Yule table.

“These were the last. I brought two dozen of them with me today!” Her smile broadened as she watched his expression change.

“They are yours?”

His words and his smile made Lily’s heart race.

“They’re the best I’ve ever tasted... What is your secret -- if you will tell it?”

She giggled to keep from sighing in relief; he was distracted from his worry for her. “I followed a common recipe. But the secret is to brush milk on the top, then sprinkle sugar on that... I learned it from Mum.”

Frodo did not miss the sorrow that crossed her face; it vanished as quickly as it came. He wondered about her. Even if she was beginning to feel ill in his presence, he knew she would be reluctant to tell him. For the moment, he let it go, uncertain of how to broach the subject in this crowded room without embarrassing her.

“How are Daisy and the child? How is Hal doing? It must be terribly exciting with Pearl in the house.”

He was awed by the way that simple question seemed to light her face, as she smiled in fond remembrance.

“Frodo, she is the sweetest little babe. You really should see her. That’s most of what has made me a bit tired. I’ve been staying with Hal and Daisy since Pearl was born, helping them... I take care of changing her and rocking her, especially after her night feedings.”

“Night feedings...! I don’t recall Merry and Pippin doing that...”

She laughed out loud, then handed him the other half of her scone. “Oh Frodo, you really don’t know, do you? Of course not -- you’d have slept through all those nights, not being accustomed to listening for a fussy babe. I’m not laughing at you, I promise... the babe needs to have milk every two or three hours for the first few weeks; then they settle into once every four hours or so... but then each infant is different, they say.”

“Oh... goodness. Does she cry, then, every two hours? How do you sleep?”

“Well, we don’t; not well, anyway! It will be better in a few months. She will begin to sleep through the night, at three or four months... perhaps sooner, if we’re more fortunate! Although for myself, I would never complain about a babe wishing only to be fed...” Her voice trailed off.

Frodo saw and heard clearly Lily’s wistfulness.

“You will have children, too, Lily. Forgive such a bold statement...” He blushed slightly. “I have always loved children, but have given up hope of having any to call my own...”

Why was he telling her this? In the background, he could hear the assembled group listening to Merry and Pippin relating more stories about Treebeard. He was glad they were all occupied.

Lily wore a very strange expression. It looked like resignation, or sadness at some loss. He kept his voice low. “Have I hurt you in some way, Lily? If so, I am sorry for it.”

“Oh, Frodo,” -- she hesitated. “No, you have not hurt me at all.”

Lily needed to look away from his gaze; he would know what she was hiding soon enough if he got a good look at her eyes. For the first time, she could smell the fragrant evergreen and pine rushes decorating the greatroom table, and saw the red holly berries strewn all about, against the green. She stood and walked to the table, her eyes inviting him to come with her.

As Frodo stepped next to her, she reached her hand out to finger the roses standing in a vase in the center of the table; deep red, pink, yellow, and white.

“Frodo, how lovely these are! All of it! Did you have help doing this?”

He took the empty plate from her hand and laid it atop some pine rushes on the table, then gently took both her hands in his own. Immediately he felt a sense of well-being, stronger than at any time since that first night in November. She looked up into his eyes and pretended she felt wonderful as well. Her heart was happy, that much was true! -- and she would rely on that feeling to help her in the hours ahead. As she began to study his warm hands, noting their strength, Frodo felt her touch and seemed to waken, as if from a reverie.

“Lily, I’m sorry; what was your question? Oh, yes, the flowers,” he said, following her eyes to the table decorations. “Well, no, I sent out for them. I’m not capable of decorating.”

He smiled at her quiet laughter. “It’s all right, you may laugh... the hobbits of the Shire need to laugh, and go out and be, and do, and live. They need to get out more and see that Saruman and the others are gone. The lass who came to set up all the decorations... I was glad I hired it out to her; she was in desperate straits even before the Battle last month. But her husband was killed in the Battle...”

“The poor thing! Oh, I cannot imagine...” Lily stopped. “Yes, I can...” She thought about how it would feel to lose Frodo after having him for her own, for a husband... she had to stop thinking such thoughts. Unless she could find a way to help Frodo to somehow conquer the darkness -- she did not know if it were possible -- then Frodo would be avoiding her... I am torturing myself, she thought.

Lily realized Frodo could read her face quite well. And she really did miss her parents. She went on, before he asked her what she’d been thinking about.

“How I miss my father, Frodo! And my mum. If only they could see Pearl...”

He spoke softly, holding her hands more tightly. “Tell me what she is like, Lily.”

Lily stared at the greenery and the roses again, needing a rest from his gaze. “Oh! Where do I start? She is so beautiful. Everything about her is perfect,” she laughed. “Hobbits say things like that all the time, but it’s true. I love to hold her, and rock her, after Daisy has fed her. She falls asleep in my arms, and I could look at her for hours. Every little feature in her face is perfect. Her skin is perfect...” Lily looked up at Frodo. His skin even now is as beautiful as Pearl’s, she thought; but she could not tell him this.

“I -- I remember, when I was young, seeing one of the Brandybuck’s sheep deliver two lambs. The first one seemed easy, but the second was much harder, though Uncle Saradoc says it’s different with each one. Was -- was the delivery hard for Daisy? I hope it wasn’t.”

“It’s not anything I could talk about very well, Frodo, not in any detail... but she did well, and yes, there was some pain, but Daisy has already forgotten it. They say that happens, too.”

“Oh... of course you cannot tell me about that, I’m-- ” He blushed bright red. “My curiosity gets the better of me, I’m afraid. I’m glad she -- she did well.”

Lily could see in his face he wanted to know more. She tried to hide the fatigue she felt... she wanted to take a deep breath, but she would wait. Soon, she needed to have a few moments away from him, or she would not be able to stay for the whole tea.

His voice became softer yet. “Is -- is she everything they hoped for, Lily? I know that is a strange question. But it comforts me to hear of hope in the Shire. I need to hear it. I need to know the Shire will go on.”

Lily’s brow furrowed as she tried to understand what he just said. “Yes... she is everything they hoped for, and more... they are very, very happy. Frodo? What is this talk of needing to know the Shire will go on -- as if you might not -- ”

He had said too much. “I have a few old wounds from the Quest, that’s all.” He smiled, meeting her eyes, but it was the first time she had ever seen him try to hide something important from her. He was not very successful at it, but then again she had the gift of sight. Frodo carried so much light within him; but there was also pain, and much old grief.

She had to move away for a time. “Frodo, I think Sam has been hoping you’d come over there... you see, he’s waving you over. Go on; I’ll still be here when you return.” She smiled weakly. Frodo looked at her once again, and she knew he could see the weakness in her eyes.

“You can lie down, if you wish, Lily. I have four guest bedrooms. You won’t be disturbed. I can tell them you are tired, which is the truth. Let me have Rose help you. Perhaps a nap would help?”

He had not raised his voice, but his tone had changed to one of grave concern. His other guests heard it, and conversation stopped for a moment, the silence hanging in the air, until Sam coughed once and told Rosie he’d fetch her some more cider.

Talking began again, and some laughter. Frodo saw Lily sigh, and sighed himself, in concert with her heart.

She kept her voice quite low.

“I’d -- I’d rather stay awake, Frodo. I just need a little time apart” -- she hated to say this to him -- “not long! ...Perhaps only a quarter-hour.”

“Very well, Lily. But please, rest.”

He let go of her hands reluctantly, and left her side to go visit with Sam and the others. He did not look back, as Lily approached Rose and asked her to show her to a guest room. She was glad he had not escorted her there himself. This was easier. If they asked, Rose could be the one to tell the others she was very tired...

Merry and Pippin decided it was time for more stories, recounting the wonders of Rivendell and Lothlórien and going into great detail about the lives of Elves in general. They mentioned only Legolas by name. They had a captive audience; their listeners were enthralled. Frodo went about and refilled drinks from the pitchers, and made a fresh pot of tea. He kept his attention turned to his guests’ lively talk, but thought of Lily at the same time, and told himself not to worry. Worry might bring back the voice...

Laughter rang throughout Bag End, and many questions were asked and answered. The talk of trees eventually brought them round to the state of the Shire and the lack of them. Sam had been fretting about it for weeks. Ideas were shared, none of them encouraging. No matter which reforestation plan they chose, it would take a terribly long time to restore the Shire’s groves.

Fatty muttered under his breath, “Pity we don’t have any of that Elven magic Sam’s always going on about.”

The Travelers nodded in agreement. Frodo saw Sam’s expression change. He took on such a look! Frodo smiled, knowing exactly what Sam was thinking.

Before another word could be spoken, Sam hurried out of the room. Moments later he returned with a small box.

“I wondered when you would think of it,” Frodo said. “Open it.”

Just at this moment Lily returned to the greatroom. The other guests wanted a closer look at the intricate carvings on the box Sam produced; but Lily looked for Frodo. It was easy to meet his eyes, even from far across the greatroom, where he stood at the opening to the kitchen.

Frodo smiled at her gently, wondering how it was that his heart could take on so at the mere sight of her. He thought he might die of grief before any darkness or old wounds could claim him, if he could not be with her, if he could not somehow win her love -- without bringing her harm. He felt a sudden desperation, like a weight, within him; it took him by surprise.

It had been well over a quarter-hour since she had gone away to rest. Frodo waited, holding his breath. At a nod from Lily he returned, and took his seat next to her as before, handing her a cup of tea. They turned together to watch Sam open the box.

Within it lay some dirt, and a single seed.

“What is it, Samwise?” Rosie asked. How much more had Sam not told her? she wondered. But she was too happy to be annoyed at all. Sam was here with her.

He smiled broadly. “A gift from the Lady Galadriel.”

Will commented, “A lady... is she of the kingdom of Men then, the one we heard tell of?”

They all heard the awe in Merry’s voice, as he answered for Sam. "No -- she is a beautiful Elf Queen. She gave each of us a gift. This was Sam’s, along with a bit of rope.”

Will’s eyebrows raised. “Rope? That seems an awfully common gift, to be coming from a great lady.”

Sam nodded and smiled first at Will, then more knowingly at Frodo. “Ah, but that was Elven rope. It saw us through some tight spots, didn’t it, Mr. Frodo?”

“Indeed it did, Sam.” Frodo’s smile thinned and then clouded, as memories returned unbidden. He fingered the stone at his throat and said a silent prayer, forcing the memories back. He hoped fervently his guests did not see the change gripping him for that fleeting moment; it seemed to him they had not. He gave a small sigh of relief.

Bell summoned the courage to speak up for only the second time since they arrived. She saw Will’s faintly puzzled expression and knew he’d been wondering why the cat had got her tongue here at Bag End; she chattered away so easily when it was just the two of them. Bell returned his look with a little smile and turned back to Frodo.

“Frodo, what is the white gem you wear?”

Frodo’s hand immediately strayed to it, and he touched it again. He remembered putting it on this morning and wondering if it were the best plan after all, as the gem settled where the Ring used to lie, but if it might help Lily...

His friends, for the most part, were careful not to ask him anything specific about the Quest. But the question was out now, and he felt compelled to answer it. Bell was unaware of the tension the others suddenly felt. Of all the guests present, only she and Will did not know the story of the Quest. Lily knew nothing of Arwen’s necklace; Sam had not spoken of it in his story of the Ring.

The faraway look in Frodo’s eyes vanished as his mind returned to the present; he made himself focus on Bell. He could tell she was not very comfortable at gatherings, even a small one such as this, and smiled at her reassuringly. “It was a gift -- from Queen Arwen.”

Bell felt braver at his smile and gentle reply. “Who is she? Is she -- our Queen?”

The Shire had been buzzing with word of the new King in a faraway land called Gondor, ever since the burial the month before. Some of them had trouble believing in the existence of a King, and they weren’t in fact sure they needed one; but most had taken the news in typical hobbit fashion, with predictable equanimity.

But Lily wondered if this part of the Quest story was as painful as the bits Sam had shared. She wished she could take Frodo’s hand in hers and hold it. Instead, she gripped her cup more tightly.

Frodo took in a deep breath, then released it. “This past summer, Queen Arwen was wed to King Elessar, the King of Gondor and of all the Free Peoples of Middle-earth.”

Sam could not resist. “She’s an Elf.”

Bell’s eyes grew wide. “An Elf? And married to the King? But I thought he was a Man. From what Pippin and Merry were just telling... Well, that is, don’t Elves live forever?”

Frodo nodded soberly. “But not so with our Lady Arwen. She chose to give up her immortality so she might wed the love of her heart.”

The Travelers nodded in remembrance; the others could not hide their surprise.

Will pursued the thought, bothered by it. “Are you telling me she should have lived forever and now will die because she married for love?”

“Yes,” Frodo answered simply, and wondered if Lily, with her gift of sight, could see how much his heart ached at this very moment. He waited for Will’s response. Will was nothing if not consistent.

Leaning forward, Will continued, “And this Man, who says he loves her, let her make this sacrifice?” His voice was now incredulous.

Frodo smiled thoughtfully. “You sound very like Lord Elrond, the Lady’s father.”

Will made to say more, but Frodo put up his hands in surrender, and Will sat back in his chair. “I don’t understand it. How could this King Elessar allow her to do such a thing?”

Before Frodo could speak, Rosie answered softly.

“How could he not?”

All the eyes in the room turned to Rosie, and she blushed.

Will waited expectantly, and Lily smiled to herself as she saw her brother attempt to hide his impatience.

Rosie looked to Sam and then back at Will. “What good is living forever if it must be without the one you love? Most folks in Hobbiton and in Bywater thought me foolish for waiting for Sam.” Sam slipped one of his hands into one of hers.

She continued, looking into Sam’s eyes all the while. “I would have waited for years and years, even if all we had left were the last -- the very end of it all.” She turned back to Will. “For the past year, while they were gone, when everyone was saying they were dead and not coming back, all I hoped for was that Sam would come home safe, just so I could look in his eyes one more time... It does not matter how long or short our time might be -- only that I am with him.”

The little group sat quietly in stunned silence.

Lily swallowed the tears which were beginning to surface. She had waited twelve very long years, and the wait was not yet over. I have prayed so hard, she thought. Thank you for this day with him... make him well!

The room was still hushed, and Rosie suddenly became aware of just how many hobbits were in the room. She blushed deeply, and lowered her eyes.

Frodo came to her rescue. “Sam, perhaps now would be a good time to plant that acorn of yours, here at the beginning...”

Sam nodded, still gazing at Rosie in awe.

Frodo smiled, “Do you know where you’ll plant it?”

Sam turned his attention to Frodo. “I’m thinking, in place of the old Party Tree.”

Frodo nodded in approval. “I think that’s a very good idea, my friend. Why don’t you and Rosie go and do that now. We’ll wait for you. I promise there will be food aplenty -- I believe you haven’t made it as far as thirds yet.” The smile on Frodo’s face actually reached his eyes.

Rosie was quietly impressed by Frodo’s perceptiveness, and not for the first time. She felt sudden gratitude for this small gesture on his part; it would give Sam and herself a little time alone.

Sam helped Rosie with her cloak, and hand in hand they walked out to the field together, the box resting in the crook of Sam’s arm.

Pippin turned the conversation to restorations in Buckland. This was all Will needed. He was in his element, and threw himself into discussing the repairs going on in and about Bywater and Hobbiton.

Frodo leaned back into the corner of the settee and watched Lily out of the corner of his eye, only half following the conversation. Lily sipped her tea, and answered what questions she could about the damage and repairs taking place in Deephallow.

Before long, Pippin, Merry, Fatty, and Will were deep in discussion about everything that was being done from one end of the Shire to the other.

Bell watched Will quietly; she was glad he hadn’t been on any adventures. He really was a good solid homebody, the best kind of hobbit... That Lily is such a dear, Bell thought to herself. I must make it a point to invite her for tea. When is she going back to Deephallow? I think my Will said the day after tomorrow... the day after Yule. Well, then, I’ll have her over on her next visit...

Lily stared at nothing. She realized she hadn’t had the chance to get to know Bell much at all, yet... but very soon she found her thoughts occupied by the hobbit next to her. She would be returning soon to Deephallow, and he would again be left behind. She caught herself before she allowed the sudden pang of loneliness to show. This might be the last time she would see him, and she was wasting it. Slowly, she turned to face him. She looked quickly into his eyes where, for a brief instant, she saw a weariness that startled her; she also saw his immediate attempt to hide it with a smile -- for her.

In the next moment, she saw in Frodo’s eyes the realization that he could hide almost nothing from her... perhaps nothing at all. Her gift of sight was too keen. But then she saw him smile, again, in an effort to distract her from the odd weariness she had seen in him. As it was, she had to look away from him, for his eyes, weary or no, were too beautiful to bear for very long. She smiled to herself as she looked away; no matter what happened on the Quest, the evil had not been able to mar his dear face. And he was as completely unaware of himself as he had been twelve years earlier. He was the least vain hobbit she knew.

Frodo saw her suppress a giggle, and wondered what it was about.

“Will you tell me your thoughts? Or is it not the right time to ask? It is a bit presumptuous of me, I think.”

Since she was still suppressing a quiet laugh, Frodo’s curiosity was piqued, and he tipped his head a little to one side, trying to read her expression.

Lily could not tell him what she had really been thinking: I wish to spend my life with him, and yet here I am, unable to withstand the sight of his beautiful face for more than a few minutes at a time... She started to giggle. It really was quite funny; it was something she hadn’t foreseen... if she hoped to spend any more real time with him, she would need to overcome this thing, and soon!

And it was good to laugh; it pushed away the feeling of illness for a while.

“I’m sorry,” she responded softly, nearly whispering. “I’m afraid I cannot tell you just now what I was thinking. Please don’t think me rude. I assure you it was a most pleasant thought. Can you ask me again in -- in -- ?”

She stopped, and Frodo watched her expression change to something very like sorrow, and quickly, at that. His brow furrowed.

“Lily?” He was confused by her sudden change in mood. Clearly something was grieving her. But she had just said she could not tell it, pleasant as it was...

Sam told me about this once, Frodo remembered. Rosie would laugh one moment, and weep the next, sometimes with very little warning. And yet she was happy, often even when weeping. Sometimes more so, when she was weeping... Sam said it took a bit of getting used to, but he was getting the hang of it. When she cried, he simply held her.

Frodo’s heart whispered he should do just that. He sighed. He could not hold her here, in front of everyone.

“Whenever you wish to tell me, if you wish to tell me, I will be more than happy to hear it. I promise not to ask you again for at least... another day.”

He hoped his attempt at humor would take the place of holding her, but it felt like -- it felt like the time, long ago, when he asked his mum for cake, and got bread instead. The memory was strong, but not at all unpleasant, and its suddenness surprised him. He smiled anew, waiting for her.

At last Lily turned to him, and he knew her response was genuine, but it was not what he had expected. His small attempt at humor was only partly successful; to his surprise, her eyes were glistening with tears, even as she laughed.

“Dear Mister Baggins, I will tell you at some future time, but I think you may be waiting for much longer than one more day to hear me tell it.” She continued to laugh softly, her eyes still wet.

Frodo did not know what was happening, but he wanted to hold her, and he could not. He remembered suddenly that he should be up and moving about -- no doubt she needed another rest. Yes, there was a tired look in her eyes, behind all the other emotions there. But when he shifted to rise, Lily touched his arm; ever so lightly. She gave him the minutest shake of her head, and he settled again. If his staying would make her happy, despite her tiredness, then he would do it. It would be her choice, at least for now. She did not look ill, but only tired; he had to admit it.

Frodo saw her sigh with relief... contentment. He took a deep breath, and released it slowly, in an effort to calm his own heart. He wondered, indeed, how long his heart could wait. But he was very experienced at waiting... the Quest taught him patience, among other things, in the severest of ways. He needed to be more thankful. She was here, with him; his friends were all here, and well, and the darkness was hidden away, for the present, thanks to Lily. It was enough.

The front door opened; Sam and Rosie entered, all smiles, and flushed cheeks, and ready to tell of the planting of the acorn.