Frodo could not bring himself to face Will. He prepared several speeches, and even practiced them out loud, but all of them ended up either saying too much or too little. He chose instead to quietly drop out of sight. Things were settling peacefully. He wasn’t really needed...
Sam asked Frodo about the trip to Deephallow. Frodo had steeled himself for the question. He shrugged and said simply, “It was not meant to be; maybe it never was,” and then retreated to his study, to write.
Sam knew his master well enough to know there was much more to the story, but no matter how he pressed to learn more, Frodo would tell him nothing, assuring him it really was for the best. Sam could not see how. After a week, he finally gave up trying to pry more information from his friend. He wondered if this was the sort of thing he could ask the Creator about, in a prayer, and decided it was.
Most of the local residents were grateful to see less of that Frodo Baggins... the odd hobbit with only nine fingers was a reminder of the unpleasantness of the past. He was a nice enough sort, always polite, but still, a body couldn’t carry on a conversation with him without some odd word or other coming out of his mouth to remind you he’d seen some far away places and unspeakably strange things. It made one feel a little uncomfortable, him knowing so much no one else did.
Some thought Frodo was probably slipping away on more adventures, but then others would say they had seen him in the gardens at Bag End. Mayhap he had returned from some new outing... They all remembered how he used to wander the whole of the Shire. His sort never changed. But at least he wasn’t as odd as old Bilbo. No strange guests coming and going, not even that silly conjurer.
8 February 1420sr
Will was packing a small travel kit, readying for a trip to Deephallow. He wondered briefly how many times Frodo had already visited there since Yule, and chuckled to himself.
Daisy and Hal’s post arrived the day before, inviting him down to see his new little niece -- Will shook his head in wonder -- I’m too young to be anyone’s uncle, he laughed to himself.
But the timing of the post was perfect; Bell was in Waymeet, visiting her own sister’s family. It was getting harder to tear himself away from her lately; he’d be asking for her hand soon. He’d already spoken to her folks, and they gave him their blessing...
And work was light, now, until they started again on #2 New Row in March with the spring thaw.
Will hadn’t seen Frodo even once since the quiet master of Bag End took Lily home to Deephallow, the day after her birthday. Bell and he had gotten so much closer in the last month; she was pretty much all he could think about. Will felt a bit guilty he’d only tried Frodo’s door twice in that time. There’d been no answer.
I’ll see him one of these days, Will reasoned. He’d heard so many silly stories about Mad Baggins being out on another harebrained adventure, some more outlandish than others, and none believable by Will’s way of thinking. More likely he’s holed up in Bag End. Frodo actually read books, just like Lily did! He shook his head in wonder.
Frodo’s simply been ‘studying’, Will told himself again... whatever studying could mean to a hobbit... but it was a word Frodo used a lot. Or, he may even have been in Deephallow for that matter, Will smiled broadly to himself. Where’s my Old Toby? Oh, there it is -- can’t forget that for the trip!
Lily greeted her brother warmly when he arrived, but she was also unusually quiet. He asked how things were with Frodo and was met by a pair of tear-filled eyes and a dull, “We are not seeing each other.”
Will tried to tease her. “Of course not. You’re here, and he’s in Hobbiton.”
His smile disappeared as she shook her head sadly.
“No, Will.” She lifted her head and took in a deep breath. “It seems it simply wasn’t meant to be.”
She squared her shoulders and gave him a brave smile. “Now, if I do not get started, neither of us will have any dinner,” and she disappeared into the kitchen.
Will admitted to himself he was rather thick about these things and did not want to walk into the kitchen and catch his sister unawares. He raised his voice so he could be heard from the other room. “Lily? Is it all right if I invite Daisy and Hal to dinner?”
“Of course. There will be plenty,” came the reply.
Then Lily took one step around the kitchen door, a bowl in one hand, and a spoon in the other, absently stirring the batter.
“Will? I think the babe will be awake, if you get over there to see her right now... she’s usually between naps at this time of day. Go on ahead. I’ll join you very soon.”
Will was disappointed to discover his sister Daisy didn’t know any more than he did about what was really happening between Lily and Frodo. How could he, how could they all, have been so blind where their little sister was concerned, all these years? The light in Lily’s eyes had vanished, except when she was with Pearl, but even then she was seen to occasionally wipe away a tear.
The day he was to return to Bywater, he stopped in at Daisy and Hal’s after saying goodbye to Lily.
What Will was thinking and what he knew of Frodo were presently at odds.
“Daisy, do you think Frodo was” -- Will hated to say it -- “toying with her? Trifling with her affections...”
Daisy’s eyes grew round with disbelief, and then she sighed in resignation. “I had wondered that myself, but I don’t believe so. Lily won’t speak of what happened. Only that it was probably best they not see each other again... though I know she doesn’t believe a word of it. But she’ll not speak against him, and she won’t let anyone else, either.”
Hal spoke up for the first time on the matter. He bounced Pearl gently on his knee, and she giggled as he talked. “It’s between them, and they need to work it out.”
A tear slipped down Daisy’s face. “But that’s just it. They’re not working it out. Every couple has rough spots to get over.” She laid one hand on Hal’s arm, and Pearl reached for it. “Walking away doesn’t solve anything. Hal, you saw how protective he was of her, and she of him. From the first time I saw them together, remember? at the burial? And Will, you told us how he had tried to help her the night before -- before the battle -- and then took care of her that day. Then, the first time I met him, Lily was taking care of him, making sure he ate... they care very much for each other. It’s as though they’re afraid of hurting each other. I’ve tried to tell Lily that getting hurt is just part and parcel with a courtship. Someone will say something they didn’t mean. But she said it’s so much more complicated than that. Have you seen him, Will? Is he happy?”
“No, Daisy, I haven’t seen him, not since he brought Lily home. But I’ve been hearing things in Bywater and Hobbiton. They say he’s wandering again, but I don’t think so. There are too many conflicting stories. You know how we hobbits love our gossip. There’s rumors aplenty about him, and I’ll wager not a one of them true. I’ve tried to stop in a time or two, but he’s not been at home, or leastwise he’s not answering the door. With the way he and Lily felt about each other, which was plain as day even to me, I figured he was here in Deephallow, but it seems not...”
Will set his jaw and stood up to leave. “I’m going to have a chat with our Mr. Baggins...”
Daisy stood and barred his way to the door. “Will Burrows, you’ll do no such thing. You’re like a loose goat in a pottery shop.”
Will towered over her. “I’m not going to just stand by and watch my little sister be hurt like this without some kind of explanation from --”
Daisy’s nose was only inches from his own when she cut him off. “You’re right, little brother, you’re not.”
Will rocked back in surprise at her words. “What are you saying?”
“You’re going to talk to his friend... Sam... Samwise Gamgee. There’s more going on than any of us here know. Lily spoke of the deep friendship Sam and Frodo share, after we came home in November. I’d talk to Rosie myself, but seeing as how I’m not the one who lives there, I think it’s better if you talk to Sam.”
Will was openly impressed with his sister. Just like that, it was settled. He kissed her cheek and shook Hal’s hand and then embraced them both. “I’ll let you know...”
The sun’s first light was thin and watery, fighting the early morning mist, as Daisy and Hal watched Will set off for Bywater. As he rounded the last corner on the lane and left their sight, Daisy turned to her husband. “Do you think we’re doing the right thing, getting involved like this? Lily would be terribly upset...”
Hal laid a finger gently across her lips. “Daisy, she’s not pursuing him...”
Daisy gasped. “How did you know she didn’t want to do that?”
Hal smiled. “Daisy, it’s the way she is, and she reminds me of someone else very dear to my heart.”
“You led me a merry dance, Mistress Banks, but it was well worth the effort. As I was saying, she’s not the one pursuing him, we are.” He chuckled and gently kissed his wife. “Sometimes, love needs a little extra help. Frodo Baggins is a bachelor, raised by a bachelor. My gut tells me he doesn’t fully understand the strength and courage of a hobbit lass. Hmmm. A bachelor, raised by a bachelor... are we sure we want to encourage this? He’ll be needing a lot of training.”
Daisy giggled. “It’s a good thing we already know he’s an eager learner.” She turned serious. “And the look in Lily’s eyes every time I see her tells me we most definitely want to encourage this.”
In their prayers together that night, they made a point of asking a blessing on Will, Sam, Frodo, and Lily.
The voice was becoming increasingly prevalent. Frodo still prayed, though perhaps less often. He knew not what to pray for. Hope seemed to have abandoned him, as if left behind with Lily. What was there to hope for anyway? Life alone in the Shire? Perhaps he should join Bilbo in Rivendell. Perhaps it would have been better if he had never left Rivendell. She would not have been hurt, and he would never have known what more he would lose because of the Ring. In desperation, his thoughts turned again and again to the Grey Havens, and the West.
He found himself slipping on Arwen’s gem more and more often. It had not protected Lily, but it brought him some measure of comfort. If nothing else, it was something to grasp when he reached for What was missing. So much was missing...
Though Frodo tried to write in the Red Book, he found the memories too painful. He contented himself with writing notes and putting them in order for when he was able to put it all down properly. It kept him locked away in the study for hours, hidden from Sam’s probing gaze.
Frodo became adept at hiding his unhappiness from Sam. Rosie, on the other hand, seemed to see through the mask from time to time, but said nothing. She cooked meals for him and Sam whenever she was there. When Sam was off inspecting different parts of the Shire, she still cooked at least one meal a day for Frodo. He regretted that he didn’t do it justice, but was grateful for her tactful company. She would fill him in on the news of Hobbiton and Bywater, careful to mention Will -- and Bell -- now and then only in passing, so as not to seem to be avoiding news of the Burrows.
When Sam stayed at Bag End, Frodo was circumspect, not wanting his friend to know of his grief. Sam had borne so much already; Frodo did not want to burden him further, especially as there was nothing his friend could do. On occasion, Sam found him with his head on his writing desk, asleep, but never commented. He always wrapped a blanket around Frodo’s shoulders, noting each time his master’s thin frame. Sam tried not to worry, but it wasn’t easy.
When Sam was away, Frodo took to roaming the fields of the Shire after dark, returning to his bed in the early morning hours and falling into exhausted sleep. Counting leaf-tips no longer brought any peace; it only reminded him painfully of her.
16 February 1420sr
After second breakfast, Sam found Frodo staring out the greatroom window, fingering Arwen’s gem at his throat. He wore it at all times now, and his hand was rarely away from it. Samwise, get ahold of yourself! Remember your master called you stouthearted? he reminded himself, trying to screw up his courage. Well, you need to prove him right. Sam drew in a deep breath and released it slowly, hoping to calm the quaking of his body.
He stopped a few paces from his friend. “Mr. Frodo?”
Frodo did not turn from the window to look at him. “Yes?” he intoned; his voice sounded as though he were far away.
He’s in Deephallow, thought Sam. He was glad he’d talked to Rosie first. She had such a clear way of seeing these things. He took his courage in both hands and decided to brave it.
“Mr. Frodo, sir, I know you said things with Miss Lily weren’t meant to be...” He faltered when Frodo abruptly turned to face him fully, his eyes guarded, his grip on the gem tightening. Sam remembered a vaguely similar look when he offered to help his master at Cirith Ungol. He dropped his eyes at the painful memory. He did not abandon his courage; his master needed him, in order to move forward, for at the moment he was quite mired down, and it would not do.
“Mr. Frodo,” Sam’s voice steadied as he spoke, “I had a talk with Will Burrows the other day.”
Frodo raised his chin, and turned to stare out the window again, dropping his hand from the gem.
Now that he’d started, Sam would not be deterred. “He’s worritin’ about his sister, Lily.”
Frodo stiffened visibly. His hands opened and closed at his sides. He tried to sound dispassionate, but his voice was constricted. “Is she all right?”
“That depends, sir...”
Frodo turned sharply to him, his eyes questioning.
“...on what you call all right.”
Frodo’s eyes closed. He turned slowly back to the window.
“Sam, there is nothing I can do. There is nothing anyone can do.”
“Are you sure, sir?”
Frodo’s eyes were filled with anguish as he turned once again and searched Sam’s face.
“Sam, even she cannot deny that my presence causes a weariness, an illness, to come over her. It has even caused her to faint.”
“But sir, she didn’t swoon the day before Yule at Bag End, or when you walked her home. And she didn’t swoon on Yule when you were at her birthday party. And she didn’t the day you took her home to Deephallow, and you were with her all day. To be perfectly honest, sir, the only time she did swoon was that first night you met, when she was already distraught, what with the battle brewing and all.”
A grudging smile touched Frodo’s lips. “You present a persuasive argument, Sam. But,” the smile vanished, “what kind of life would it be for her to always feel ill and tired? When by being away from me, she need not feel either? Besides, I shall not live as long as other hobbits...” He raised his hand and lowered his head to keep Sam from interrupting. “The Quest took much out of me, Sam; you know it as well as I do. I’m tired and...” He chose not to add how the illness was gradually claiming him. “I cannot wish this on her. Can you understand that, Sam?”
“Yes, sir.” For the time being, Sam pushed aside what Frodo had said about himself, knowing his master was hiding something, and concentrated on the problem at hand. “I’m just saying that she could up and die tomorrow, so to speak, beggin’ your pardon, sir... You’d have protected her from whatever that accursed Thing left behind, but you both would’ve missed what little time was yours to begin with. You’re the one what told me, the morning of the Bywater battle, we should use our time wisely, remember? By my way of thinking, you and Miss Lily ought to be sharing what joy is yours, for however long or short it might be. Beggin’ your pardon, sir.”
Sam was glad to see his master had stopped arguing with him. He added one last thought, something Rosie had said.
“Besides, is Lily truly better off without you?”
Frodo was silent for a time, and Sam was pleased; his friend seemed to be thinking it over...
Then the tortured look in Frodo’s eyes changed to puzzlement.
“Sam, how do you know she did not faint when I took her home? I never told you of that day.”
Sam jammed his hands his pockets and studied the floor, unable to hide the redness creeping into his cheeks. What a slip!
Frodo’s voice became more insistent as he stepped closer to his friend. “Sam?”
Sam looked around the room and finally back at Frodo, unable to avoid his piercing gaze any longer. “I took a ride down there, after I talked to Will.”
Frodo shook his head in frustration and turned his back to Sam. He did not attempt to hide his exasperated sigh.
Sam doggedly went on. “I needed to check things in those parts anyway, so I made a quick stop just to see how she was doing. Master, you wouldn’t speak of her, but I knew you’d be concerned if anything serious had happened...”
Frodo’s shoulders sagged in resignation. He bowed his head and slowly turned to face his dearest companion. “Is she really all right, Sam?”
It wrung his heart. “Yes, master, just fine. A bit sad, she is, though she tried to hide it.”
Sam paused a moment to gather his courage. “I asked her about her trip home with you, and if she was feeling better.”
Frodo’s eyes flew to Sam’s face. He almost choked on the words. “You asked her? Oh, Sam... What must she think of me... Frodo Baggins, won’t ask Lily himself how she’s doing... No, he sends his friend instead... On top of that, he flatly refuses to allow her to be a part of his life, but then she’s not to get on with her own, either... Why? Because he has to keep his hand in the pot, so he can stir it from time to time...”
Sam’s confusion showed clearly, his brows drawn together, and he rushed to finish the story. “It weren’t like that at all, Mr. Frodo. I told her I was just in her part of the Shire and thought I’d only stop in a moment. I made sure and certain she knew you didn’t even know I’d be dropping by. I did tell her you’d mentioned she hadn’t been feeling well, but only to explain why you’d come home the same night, and you hoped she was really all right.”
Frodo sat down in the nearest chair, closing his eyes, as though trying to shut out the image Sam’s words created in his mind. Sam’s concern grew moment by moment. “She said she was fine the very next day, and murmured something about only needing a good night’s sleep.”
He waited for his master’s reaction. Well, Samwise, this is it, he decided. You’ve either made things better, or gone and made them worse.
It seemed to take a moment for the words to sink into Frodo’s overwrought mind. He repeated to himself, “She’s all right, after a night’s rest... just as she promised...”
Sam had to strain to hear the words, and even then he wasn’t sure if he’d heard it rightly.
Frodo locked himself in his study for hours, day after day, until Sam wondered if telling Frodo what he’d done was the wisest thing, after all.
While cleaning out the fireplace at the end of each day, Sam found tiny bits of burnt paper at the outer edges of the grate, alongside all the ashes. Slowly he pieced together that Frodo was writing -- exactly what, he didn’t know -- but his master wasn’t happy with it, and was throwing it into the fire.
21 February 1420sr
The post arrived at Lily’s home about midday. Lily recognized the smooth, flowing letters from the note sent to Hal and Daisy when Pearl was born. After what happened at Yuletime, Lily dared not hope to ever see her own name in his script, his goodbye then unmistakably final. Her hands shook as she carefully opened the letter.
My dear Lily,
I write this note with some trepidation, for I know I hurt you terribly when I left you After Yule to return here to Bag End. I beg your forgiveness. I miss you, and want to see you so badly, my heart aches. Perhaps you were right in saying you only needed rest? And mayhap I was too hasty in believing you would only get worse. Will you forgive me? I do not know what the future holds for us, or even if you wish to see me again. I only know I must see you, and as each day passes the feeling grows stronger. Please allow me to speak to you again. I can be there in half a day after receiving your reply. Strider, my pony, can carry me there quickly, and perhaps we can take a ride together on him (he is gentle!). The snows have ended for a time, and the locals say it will be clear for a week. I have never prayed before posting a letter, until today. My heart is filled with both fear and hope. I await your reply.
With deepest affection,
As soon as she could compose herself, she posted a reply to him, within the hour.