Sam did not arrive at Bag End until well after first breakfast, and had the feeling he had walked in on Frodo’s morning ritual of pacing, although at the moment, his friend was staring out the greatroom window.
“Mr. Frodo, what is it?”
His master turned and walked to the settee. It had been left where it was since the gathering two days before. He sat where he had then, and reached out, letting his hand touch, ever so lightly, the place where she had been.
“Sir, are you all right?”
Frodo’s eyes slowly lifted to Sam’s, a mix of joy and sorrow mingled in their bright blue depths.
“Frodo?” Sam was beginning to feel uneasy.
“I’m taking her home to Deephallow today, Sam.”
Sam pulled up a chair across from him.
“You can always visit her, sir.”
“Sam,” Frodo paused to look into the fire and then back at his dearest friend. “I’m not sure I should...”
“Did she tell you about the other hobbit then, sir?”
“What? Oh! No, no, and I have no desire to ask... No. For today, I want -- I need to believe she cares only for me...”
“Then -- is it the other thing -- the darkness -- you were telling me about?”
“Couldn’t Mr. Gandalf do anything for you?”
“No, Sam, nothing.” Frodo put his face in his hands.
Sam went to stand just beside him, and put his right hand on his master’s shoulder.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Frodo... So you won’t be seeing her again, then?”
Frodo raised anxious eyes to meet his friend’s concerned ones. “I’m taking her home to Deephallow today. I shall have the whole of the day with her.”
Samwise wondered if his master even heard his question, but decided to let it go.
“That’s wonderful! ...isn’t it?”
“But Sam, what if she becomes ill only part way there? I cannot leave her part way...”
Sam took a deep breath as understanding dawned. “Mr. Frodo, she did all right the other day. Maybe it’s not so bad as you think, if you don’t mind me saying so. Maybe you both just need time to get used to each other.”
It almost broke Sam’s heart to see the hope flare in his master’s eyes.
“I don’t know what it is between the two of you, sir, but it’s something, and it don’t seem right you giving up before it’s even begun, if you take my meaning, sir.”
Frodo smiled wanly.
“When are you taking her home?”
“After second breakfast.”
“And I’ll wager you haven’t eaten anything at all yourself today. I’ll get you something you can eat on your way, while you finish getting ready.”
Frodo’s smile broadened as Sam practically shooed him away.
As he prepared to walk out the front door, Sam queried him. “Do you have coins in your pocket, sir? Just in case...”
Frodo patted his pockets to hear the jingle, then nodded his head. Sam then put an apple into his master’s one hand, and a thick chunk of bread and butter in the other, and pushed him out the door.
Frodo stopped and turned back.
“What about food and such for the trip? For her?”
Sam laughed. “She’ll take care of that, and no mistake. She’s like Rosie that way. What’s more, sir, and beggin’ your pardon, but it’s bound to be a fair sight better than anything you’d bring!”
He clapped Frodo on the shoulder. “Now, off with you, Master, or you’ll be late.” Sam suddenly felt like a mother sending a child off on a day trip. He returned Frodo’s wave from the lane and closed the door.
Then he thought about Rose and her order that he bring Frodo to dinner. Somehow, he didn’t think she’d mind that he’d fail this particular task. In the meantime, there was more than a little work still needed doing about the place. He went to it.
Frodo set himself to his familiar walking pace, hoping the brisk walk would help keep the voice at bay. He slowed a little as he took time to offer a prayer to the Creator that all would go well. He did not expect the darkness to be taken from him, but still hoped Lily would be spared further harm from it.
As he quickened his pace again, he thought about what Sam had said. It was true; she didn’t seem to be as ill these last few days. Maybe it was getting better. Perhaps really all they needed was more time together. He firmly pushed the voice away. Today would prove if Sam were right.
Will had to coax almost every bite of first and second breakfast into Lily’s mouth. He hadn’t seen her this nervous for some time. He knew she could hide her feelings when she wanted to, but she wasn’t doing it very well this morning.
He was glad he’d gotten to know Frodo much better over the past few weeks. Will shook his head as he remembered his third day working for Frodo. One of the laborers, certain Frodo was off wandering, had referred to him as ‘Mad Baggins’ in passing. Will reprimanded him, advising him he didn’t have to stay. But Frodo was more than fair. The hobbit had apologized to Will, and the infamous title was never heard again on the premises. Will realized later Frodo overheard it all, and yet he still treated everyone, including the rudesby, with the utmost respect.
Most days, Frodo could be found somewhere about. He’d been interested in every aspect of the construction of #3 Bagshot Row, almost as if he were trying to learn everything and anything he could of it... he was not like other hobbits, who, for the most part, couldn’t be bothered learning something new.
And he left me alone to do what I do best, Will thought. He didn’t interfere. Frodo was very happy indeed when both #3 and #1 had been completed before the worst of the cold set in. They had moved tremendous amounts of earth to the site in order to rebuild the smials. Frodo had hired out as many able hands as were needed. Even #2 had been dug out of the new little hillside; but it would not be completed until spring.
Working on Bag End itself had been a pleasure as well. Frodo had eagerly lent a hand whenever needed. Will smiled as he remembered the temporary frustration his employer felt when told he was better off out of the way. The odd thing was how it never turned from frustration into anger, as it would have in anyone else... Frodo was very patient. Unusually patient.
Yes, Lily could certainly do a lot worse... Will had been approached by a few of his acquaintances, looking for an introduction to his sister, but he knew none of them was right for her. He remembered watching the two of them together at Frodo’s tea and then Lily’s birthday party. She really seemed to like the odd fellow, and he obviously returned the affection... and he was wealthy, so she’d be well cared for. Frodo seemed far and away the best prospect.
Will watched Lily pace back and forth in the parlour and wondered why she was so nervous. It was plain even to himself, an average hobbit, that Frodo loved her. It even seemed to go beyond that, somehow... beyond the common everyday love he saw all about him in the Shire, and could not find any words to describe it. It was just different, that was all. She couldn’t possibly feel afraid in any way, going on a day trip alone with Frodo Baggins... that could not be the cause of her nerves. That she cared for him was plain, too. Will eyed the basket briefly; Lily didn’t cook like this for him.
Maybe she’s afraid of living alone at the old family house, with Da gone. Well, I’m worried about it too, he thought, and decided that had to be the answer.
Will picked up his long pipe and began to tamp some old Toby down into it. Frodo had given a great lot of the leaf to himself and his whole work crew. It was a fine, fine gift. Things were looking up in the Shire. He was sorry his father wasn’t here to see it. Nor Mum, but at least she hadn’t seen the worst of what had become of the Shire. That was good.
He had to admit, he was more than a little relieved when the knock came at the door; Lily was wearing a hole in the parlour carpet. The few things she had brought with her were packed and ready by the door well before first breakfast. He also saw the cloth-covered basket there with her things. He could tell by the aroma wafting from it that they certainly wouldn’t go hungry. He’d tried to sneak something from it earlier, but Lily was too quick for him.
Will welcomed Frodo into the parlour while his sister made another quick sweep of the place to be sure she hadn’t forgotten anything. Frodo didn’t even have time to sit before Lily entered the room, completely unable to hide her bright smile. The smile... he seemed to remember that, but from where? The Fair, perhaps? He would ask her about it. He relaxed a little as he realized this was something he could talk about with her, and it held the promise of being pleasant.
It was time to leave. Will picked up her bag as Lily lifted the basket. Frodo gently took it from her. An image flashed in his mind, but it was not from two days ago. This one was from a fair, sunny day. The Fair! He grasped at more of the memory, but it was gone just as quickly as it had come.
”I’ve got the pony-cart all ready,” Will assured them, interrupting Frodo’s thoughts. “I hired it with the idea of possibly staying in Deephallow for a few days, but things” -- he blushed -- “things here in Bywater might be keeping me busy.”
Frodo smiled, but was preoccupied. “That’s fine, Will. Thank you.”
The bag and basket were settled behind the seat. Lily gave her brother a quick kiss on the cheek and smiled up at him. Her soft-spoken thank you was heartfelt. Then Frodo handed Lily up into the cart and sat beside her. It was a pleasant enough day, but the ride would be a little brisk...
"Will? Have you a lap quilt in the house for Lily?"
"It’s already there, behind the seat."
"I see it. Thank you." He tucked the lap quilt around her before he picked up the reins and clicked the pony forward. "Goodbye, Will."
Will said goodbye as Lily waved to him over her shoulder; he waved back with a satisfied smile. His sister’s face plainly told him he’d done the right thing asking Frodo to take her home; it was a good thing Bell thought of it.
Once they were well out of Bywater, Frodo asked his question. First he glanced over at her. She seemed a little tired, but that was to be expected, with all the activity of the last few days. Her eyes were closed, with her face turned to the sun, and a soft smile touched her lips.
“Yes?” She opened her eyes to meet his briefly, and then looked out over the countryside, brown with the coming of winter. The sky was a brilliant blue -- like his eyes, she thought.
“I’m sorry I don’t remember meeting you at the Bywater Fair. How long ago was it now?”
Lily replied carefully, uncertain of where this was going. “Twelve years ago.”
"That’s right, you said that at the tea. I’m not in the least surprised Merry remembered. He has a penchant for names and dates and places. Alas, I have not the talent, though I would like to believe I would have remembered meeting you.” He smiled ruefully at her.
He seemed to be sincere. Lily relaxed.
“Would you mind terribly telling me about it? Perhaps something will stir my memory...” Frodo paused; he was almost afraid to say what he was thinking. But it couldn’t hurt to tell her the truth; somehow he sensed she would prefer it.
“I would very much like to remember something so pleasant -- it was a pleasant meeting, I hope?” Frodo could not keep the worry from his voice.
Lily laughed softly. “Yes, Frodo, it was pleasant... well, once the first bit was over.”
Frodo’s eyebrows lifted in question.
Lily continued, “You might remember it better if Merry had gotten the facts straight rather than trying to spare me.”
Now Frodo’s brows drew together.
Lily’s hands were folded in her lap; she began to fidget. “Truth be told, I ran into you and dropped my basket --”
“The basket! I am sorry, Lily, please forgive my interruption, but I kept remembering a basket, and could not imagine why! Please go on.”
“Do you remember anything else?”
Frodo studied the road in front of them for a moment. “No, I’m sorry. All I remember is a basket. Please, tell me everything. Maybe something you say will help me remember.” Frodo smiled. “You were saying you ran into me.”
Lily blushed. “Yes, and I dropped my entire basket of vegetables on my foot...” She hesitated.
Frodo realized she was embarrassed. He suddenly knew he never wanted her to feel uncomfortable or awkward around him, if there were anything in his power to prevent it. “Merry was probably more right than you know. I do tend to be a bit of a dreamer, and I often walk without paying any attention to my feet. Any of my friends will tell you that; you need only ask them.”
He was heartened to see the grateful smile that made its way to her lips. She was so lovely...
An unexpected desire to drop the reins and kiss her swept over him, but he simply could not steal a kiss from her in this fashion. It would be completely improper. She had no escort, and he certainly could not serve for this. Besides, she was not yet even promised to him...
Not promised yet?!... listen to yourself! You speak as if she would ever be promised to you!
“No... stop...” Frodo murmured.
He felt rather than saw Lily touch his arm for only a brief moment. The voice disappeared.
Frodo turned to her at once, wondering how she fared. It was impossible to tell; her eyes were closed. He did not know what to say, or how to thank her, but he could not let the moment pass.
“Thank you... I -- I am sorry, Lily.”
How could such an evil thing be upon them, when the air was so clear, the sky so bright, the earth so alive, even in winter?
After a long moment -- Frodo realized she was composing herself -- Lily turned to him and smiled.
“No thanks are needed, and no apology... I -- may we talk about the Fair again?”
Her eyes seemed moist with tears.
“Of course, yes, anything you wish, I --”
He forced himself to look back at the road and to speak normally. He swallowed hard, then tried to add some levity to his tone, desperate to cheer her.
“Where were we now? Oh, the basket! Tell me, were your vegetables from Farmer Maggot?”
Lily laughed out loud, and Frodo stared at her in wonder. How he delighted in the sound of her laugh! And how he longed to tell her!
She continued, “You asked me about that then, as well.”
Lily nodded. “You recognized the carrots and the mushrooms.”
“Indeed.” Frodo felt suddenly far away, but not unpleasantly so. Before meeting Lily, it had been so long since he had tried to recall anything pleasant from his past. It’s as though I’m out of practice, he thought.
Sudden insight struck him. “And this is what you didn’t wish to tell me yesterday, in front of Will and Bell...”
“Yes,” she smiled. “Yes.”
“Please, do go on,” Frodo grinned. “Tell me the rest.”
“We were talking about the virtues of his crops when Merry and Pippin came up and joined us, though I didn’t know their names yet. Pippin got us all something to drink, and we talked for a while longer, about this and that...”
Frodo’s eyes looked to be searching the horizon. “I seem to remember the basket of vegetables and there is some vague memory of speaking with -- with a beautiful lass...”
For the first time, Frodo could see her, from that day, hazy as the memory was. He forgot he was holding any reins, forgot all else, in an effort to hold onto the memory.
His breath caught in his throat. How could I ever have forgotten her? he sighed, and tried to hide his disappointment in himself. The memory of her face was gone.
For the moment, Frodo could not look at Lily, although he knew she was watching him, waiting for him to finish speaking. He realized the pony had stopped. He must have pulled on the reins.
He braved a smile and looked at her, hoping she could not read his feelings. Then he almost laughed; of course she could read them. Suddenly, he felt much less lonely.
The pony turned his head to glance back at Frodo, as if to ask what his intentions were. He snorted, and stamped the ground once. Frodo clicked him on, and the cart jostled, one of the wheels squeaking in protest over a rock.
Frodo was able to look at Lily once more. He was amazed at her quiet patience, then realized that in the time he’d known her she had never seemed impatient. She was gazing at him.
“I do wish my memory were clearer,” he continued, with some effort. “Did we only talk?”
“Yes. It was only for about an hour, so I was not surprised when you did not seem to remember.”
She saw his eyes cloud with sadness. His voice lowered.
“I remember much of my life before Bilbo left the Shire, but after that -- there is much I no longer remember, and other things I remember -- too well.”
She lowered her voice as well. “Why did things become less clear after Bilbo left?”
Without a moment’s hesitation, he answered her. “He left me the Ring. It shadowed everything, it seems, from the moment it became mine.”
Frodo was suddenly lost in thought. If the Ring had not belonged to me, would I have been more aware of her then? Would I have felt the way I do for her now? Would my life have been altogether different?
The voice snaked in again. Of course it would have been different, but it is not. This is your life now. You were given a task, and you failed.
O, Ilúvatar! Frodo closed his eyes for only a moment.
Lily felt the uneasiness creep over her. She needed to distract herself, and offered a short prayer. Frodo continued to speak, almost as though he knew.
“You -- you were saying -- ? What happened to end our conversation at the Fair?"
“Oh, yes... my mother and my cousin Violet came looking for me, and I introduced you to them, and we headed for home.” The ill feeling eased.
Frodo’s brow furrowed again, and Lily wished she could smooth it.
“How do you remember me? If it was only for an hour?”
Lily almost gulped as she searched her mind for an answer that would not give her away.
“Oh, well, since then I have heard your name come up in conversations from time to time.”
Frodo laughed humorlessly. “Ah, yes, ‘Mad Baggins’... that explains why you were so nervous to see me that first night at Will’s house. It must have been terribly frightening for you.”
Lily knew she held no claim on Frodo. She could not reveal her true feelings for him. He might be overwhelmed at the depth of those feelings. Nor did she want him to feel sorry for her. Gently, she laid her hand on his arm once more.
“I heard a few of those stories. But I heard different stories from Rosie.”
He trembled, inwardly. She doesn’t know how her touch, even this simple touch, affects me. Or perhaps she does...
He longed to tell her the truth; it hurt not to tell her. It felt like an ache within his breast; it was an ache...
Frodo searched her eyes, grateful he did not need to keep too much of an eye on the way ahead, for the pony would stay its course until it ran out of road.
“How long have you been friends with Rosie?”
Lily knew now she could be completely honest. “Rosie and I were acquainted through my cousin Violet; actually, that same year, Rosie and I started to become good friends. She talked of Samwise, and so her talk often included you as well.”
Frodo nodded in understanding and then smiled. “So you heard the biased opinion of Master Samwise Gamgee.” He chuckled.
The illness Lily felt had ebbed away, but she was growing tired.
“Frodo, could we stop for something to eat now?”
Frodo looked hard at her, suddenly concerned. “How are you?”
Lily returned his steady gaze and smiled. “Fine. I am just a little tired, and all this talk of Farmer Maggot’s crop has made me hungry. I’m sure I’ll feel better after we’ve eaten.”
Sam was right, Frodo mused. He was amazed at the generous amount of delectables Lily prepared for them; and it was decidedly better than anything he might have provided. He felt indulged, somehow; no, cared for...
Lily saw him close his eyes for a brief moment before they began to eat. Then they shared the meal quietly, happy for the moment, and for the good fortune which allowed them to have the day together.
They spent the next part of the journey talking of the things they had seen at the Fair, though Frodo remembered only bits and pieces. It was enough for them to remember a few of the same things.
As the morning wore on into early afternoon, Lily grew more weary. Frodo knew they should arrive at Deephallow in time for a late dinner or early supper. Their conversation drifted from the Fair to concerns of the Shire and then their favourite foods. They laughed and decided to stop again for another meal.
The ground was too cold to sit on, even with a blanket, but since they had eaten their last meal up in the riding seat, Lily asked if they might share this one in the back of the pony-cart, where they could stretch their legs a bit.
“That’s a fine idea,” Frodo agreed.
Lily unwrapped the lap quilt from around herself while Frodo stepped back into the cart. He helped her over the back of the seat, taking her left hand in his right to help balance her; but when she teetered for a moment on the edge, he caught her by the waist to stop her fall.
She was slightly breathless as he let go of her waist.
Frodo’s smile was apologetic. “Forgive me, Lily -- but I couldn’t let you fall just then. I should have come round and helped you down from the riding seat, then helped you to the cart from the back, but I had hoped to keep your feet off the cold ground. You’re all right, I trust?”
Lily blushed slightly. “Yes, perfectly fine, thank you.” She was glad he did not notice she was tired. I am hiding it well, then, she decided.
As they ate and talked in the cool sunshine, they were pleased to discover they shared many of the same interests. Lily dabbled in her own garden in Deephallow and learned her letters when she was quite small from an eccentric cousin who learned them, as a lad, from Bilbo himself. They talked of books they had both read. With so few available, they had read many of the same ones, their extended families borrowing and trading whenever the opportunity arose.
Frodo helped Lily back up into the riding seat as they prepared to set off again. Something about the lap quilt stopped him as he tucked it round her again. He made his way back around to the other side and hoisted himself up to the seat.
“That lap quilt brings back memories... I can’t quite place it. Isn’t that odd?” he said. He was staring intently at the pattern; it was checkered, light green and yellow. The blanket was bordered with yellow silk.
“Memories from long ago?” Lily asked. She glanced down at it.
“Yes, very long ago... many of those memories are still very clear to me. That’s it! It looks very much like -- ” he smiled at her. “You won’t laugh?”
Lily giggled, then covered her mouth. “No, of course not! And I was only laughing just then at the expression you wore when you were so concerned I might laugh. Please forgive me.” She was still smiling.
“You are forgiven, just this once.” The severity of his words was completely lost when he could not stop the twitch at the corner of his mouth without biting his lip.
He realized he’d heard her giggle -- it was a musical sound -- only a few times before. He’d been distracted then, but there were no such distractions now. He could simply enjoy the look on her face and the sound of her voice. Once again he wanted nothing more than to lean forward and kiss her. He tried to remember what they had been discussing. The blanket.
“It reminds me very much of the favourite blanket I owned as a very young child. I could not have been more than 4 or 5. I carried it everywhere. Everywhere! I would even try to take it into the bath with me. I couldn’t be parted from it. Mum no doubt tried to reason with me that it would get wet in the bath, but I remember hating baths for a time because it meant certain separation from my best friend.” He smiled wistfully.
“I had a favourite blanket as well; I think I may tell you that now, since you have told me of yours!”
Lily smiled brightly, and Frodo returned it, completely transfixed. They had had so little time together unhindered by battle, grieving, and his darkness... Her smile was for the moment untouched by these things...
Frodo realized he’d almost let go of the reins. He cleared his throat in order to break the spell of the dream he was in.
“Mine,” she continued, “was all a light blue colour, very much like...” she stopped, unsure of how to go on.
“Like what?” Frodo asked, his curiosity piqued.
“I was about to say, like the colour of the sky, but that is not exactly it. It was more like -- like the colour of your eyes.”
She searched his eyes at this, and tried to read his expression. He was blushing, ever so slightly. I am so tired, she thought. I am being careless. I need to be more careful...
Frodo said nothing, but coughed once, and clicked the pony on its way, still watching her face. He realized she had said more than she meant to, and wanted her to be comfortable. But he could not deny that her comment pleased him in some indefinable way. He was unaccustomed to such attentions.
“And did you carry yours everywhere? Was it your friend as well?” he asked, looking ahead at the road for the moment.
She quietly released her held breath, relieved. “Yes, oh yes, and I had a name for her.” She smiled. “I had forgotten I named her, until now! Bluebell, I called her. I couldn’t fall asleep without her. When Mum wanted to wash her I cried, afraid I’d never see her again.”
Lily had to hold back a tear now; thoughts of her mother and that long-ago sweet time still did this to her, especially when she was tired. But this was not any usual fatigue, and she knew it well. She blinked and stopped the tear, grateful Frodo missed it.
“You told me once about her, Lily. The night we had tea at Will’s. About how dear she was to you.” He continued quickly so she could not say the word ‘precious’ again. That was the one bad memory he had in fact retained from that evening. When would he tell her of his inability to tolerate that simple word, a word which had once been so full of goodness? It was evil now, and even thinking about it was dangerous. He wanted no more assaults from the darkness, most especially not with Lily here beside him...
“You must miss her greatly,” he said suddenly.
Lily wondered exactly where he had been, but did not ask. Her gift of sight told her only that he was away, and had returned. She nodded slowly in answer to his statement, and he caught it from the corner of his eye as he watched the road.
“I miss mine as well... we were fortunate, both of us, to have had loving parents, even if only for a time, weren’t we?” He turned his head to smile at her.
The warmth of his smile was like a balm on Lily’s soul. She wondered if he knew this.
Lily answered him thoughtfully. “Yes, and father taught me always to be thankful. ‘To be thankful is to know’, he always said. He was so wise. It has helped me often, on dark days. There is always much to be thankful for.”
“What an interesting phrase...” Frodo paused to turn it over in his mind. “It sounds unfinished, but it is not. And indeed, it is true.”
An hour or two from Deephallow, Lily closed her eyes. The ill feeling had been mostly ignored, but it was becoming more difficult to do so.
Frodo glanced over at her. “Lily?”
Lily nodded without opening her eyes. “I’m all right, really; I’m just a little tired.”
“Rest a while, then. I’ll wake you when we get there.”
Lily’s head bobbed a few times, and then found Frodo’s shoulder. Frodo’s grip on the reins tightened as she nestled against him to get comfortable.
Within moments, she was asleep.
He wished Deephallow would never come.