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Sacrament

by CRB and Ladyhawk Baggins

26 February 1420sr

Lily slept late but awoke refreshed just before second breakfast. She remembered the previous day, and smiled to herself, until she remembered what happened yesternight.

“Please, Ilúvatar, help him keep his promise...”

She would have said more, but the door to her bedroom was being gradually and quietly opened. Daisy peeked around the edge of the door. She broke into a delighted grin.

“Good! You’re awake.” Daisy scurried into the room and made herself comfortable on the edge of the bed. “Tell me everything.”

Lily laughed, and her eyes sparkled.

Daisy laughed in return. “Goodness, those eyes say everything! But I want to hear all the details anyway.” She leaned closer to her sister.

After a satisfying stretch, Lily sat up cross-legged, pulling the blanket around herself. She eyed her sister briefly, then gently pulled at a thread on the coverlet.

“Lily Burrows!” Daisy cuffed her sister playfully. “You’re teasing me! Out with it!”

Lily giggled. “Oh, Daisy...” She sighed. “Where shall I start?”

“Well, first tell me you’re all right. You really looked poorly yesternight; very poorly...”

“I’m fine, really! I just needed a good night’s rest. You know how I am when I’m overwhelmed by my emotions.” Lily knew she could tell her sister at least this much. Suddenly she sat up straight.

“Frodo told me you sent a message boy to him at the Bird and Babe?”

Daisy blushed and lowered her eyes. “Lily...”

Lily leaned forward and placed her hand lightly over her sister’s mouth. “It’s all right. I know you were only worried about me. Da and Mum would’ve done the same... I’m not angry, and neither was Frodo. I’m not sure he would have declared himself, otherwise.”

Daisy snatched her sister’s hand away, her eyes wide. “He declared himself?!”

Lily looked around quickly, afraid Hal might hear.

“Don’t worry.” Daisy waved away Lily’s concern. “Hal’s out working in the barn... Tell me! He asked you to marry him?!”

“Well, no...”

“But--!”

“I said he declared himself.”

Daisy sat back and looked her sister over suspiciously. “Either he wants to marry you or he doesn’t.”

“He wants to, but he -- he worries about things... He wants me to be sure it’s what I want, as well.”

Daisy rolled her eyes. “But we already know that!”

“Yes, I know... but it’s not an unreasonable request. He asked that I come in March to spend some time with him at Bag End.” Lily carefully considered her next words. She wished she could tell Daisy all of it -- but it was too difficult, and her sister would fear for her, not understanding anything of the darkness Frodo carried. “His health is not what it was, since the Quest.”

Daisy was puzzled. “Is he all right? It isn’t catching, is it? I mean, has he seen a healer about this? He looks healthy enough...”

“So many questions, all at once!” Lily giggled; she hoped her nervousness did not show. For the first time in her life, she was grateful her sister did not share her gift of sight.

“You don’t need to worry, dear sister. I’m not at all concerned. We have spoken of it, a little. From what I understand it is something he must live with as I live with my fainting spells. I will learn more in March. Frodo is simply very protective of me. I’m certain it will all work itself out...”

Daisy crossed her arms, momentarily unsatisfied, then smiled broadly. “Well, if you’re not worried about it, I’m not either. And you’re right, it’s not an unreasonable request. Oh! And you can stay with Will! I wish I could come with you, but I’d be no help at all, since I’d still be busy taking care of Pearl.” Daisy sighed.

Lily smiled and almost giggled. In her mind, Daisy had already worked through and settled everything but the details.

“Actually, Frodo says Will has the apprentices at his house. But Rose Cotton will put me up, and act as chaperone... Oh, Daisy!”

Lily sighed happily, remembering Frodo’s kiss on Strider, and again at evenfall, in the starlight. “I am so happy...”

“You ought to see yourself in a mirror -- there’s a blush on your face as red as any rose! Right up to your ear tips!” Daisy met her eyes, but Lily could only glance away and giggle.

“All right then, little sister... I can see you’re not about to tell me every detail. That’s fine. I wasn’t pulled from the garden yesterday; I can guess at a few things on my own, thank you! What’s this? Do I see happy tears, as well?”

Daisy laughed and embraced her sister, who laughed along with her. Lily could only nod as she returned the embrace; for the moment she was too happy to speak.

“Up with you! You missed first breakfast! Come on.” She grabbed the blanket away from her sister. “Eat first -- knowing you, you need something in you, or you won’t get much further. Then you need to get ready for the rest of your day with Frodo.” She grasped her sister’s hand and dragged her laughing from the bed and into the kitchen, where she handed her a chunk of bread with jam.

Lily finished her breakfast and dressed with care for the day. As the time for Frodo’s arrival drew closer, she felt more uncertain. What if he decided not to risk her becoming ill again? What if he wasn’t coming?

A wail disrupted the quiet of the smial. “Lily, would you be a dear and get Pearl, please?” Daisy didn’t tell her sister that her pacing to and fro was making her nervous. Why was she so uneasy? Frodo would be calling soon, as he promised last night... She’s probably just impatient for him, Daisy decided.

Just before elevensies, Daisy retrieved Pearl. “Lily, why don’t you freshen up. Frodo should be here any minute.”

Lily nodded absently. Her mind was already fully occupied with thoughts of Frodo, and heartfelt prayers that he would keep his promise.

---------

At the Eagle and Child livery, the stablehand prepared Strider for riding. “So, are you headed home today, Mr. Baggins?”

Say yes, the voice urged him, over and over. Go. You are harming her...

Frodo prayed before the voice could succeed in disarming his resolve to see Lily. His mind cleared, and he pulled himself out of his own thoughts in order to think through the stablehand’s question. He sighed, and stroked Strider’s neck.

“No, not today,” he replied, and taking the reins, he led Strider toward the morning light streaming through the livery doors. “I should be back shortly.”

He knew the stablehand asked the same question every day as a way of making conversation; nothing was meant by it. Yet Frodo knew the darkness would approach again; he would resist it. He had made Lily a promise, and this promise he would keep.

All the days before this, he approached Lily’s home with excitement and anticipation. Today, he could not shake off his worry and dread. What if she had not recovered? He knew she would try to convince him to stay, all the same, but he must do what was best for her. He could not place her life in jeopardy to satisfy his own want, and yes -- need. It is true, he realized. I need her. But I cannot endanger her, not even for this.

Perhaps they should revisit their agreement. Perhaps. But he knew, beyond doubt, he would not break his promise to her. He would keep the promise until she released him from it, if that time ever came.

Instead of mounting Strider, Frodo led him to Hal and Daisy’s, an idea forming in his mind. It would be difficult... his arms suddenly ached to hold her again. No, he must do all within his power to protect her... holding her would not do. His ache deepened at the thought of avoiding her embrace. There was nothing for it.

He glanced at Lily’s home as he walked by; his heart tightened as he remembered why she was not there. And once again, he pushed the voice away.

At Hal and Daisy’s front door, Frodo knocked lightly. With Pearl in her arms, Daisy greeted him warmly, bringing him into the kitchen, as Pearl commenced a noisy welcome for him.

“We normally put guests in the parlour,” Daisy paused, “but ever since -- ever since you were there with Da at the battle... and with us at the burial, well...”

Her voice faltered, and she held Pearl more closely, looking at her daughter and smiling for her. Tears formed, and Daisy blinked them away.

“Da never got to see her... and he was so excited a babe was coming. We all thought it would be a lad... all except for you, and Da... he thought it was a maidchild, too.” She bit her lip.

“I’m so sorry, Daisy.” Frodo took the tiny hand Pearl proffered and smiled at her gently, then looked to Daisy again.

She laughed softly. “I was only trying to say you feel more like family to us... You’ve never seen the parlour, have you then, Frodo?”

“No, I haven’t,” replied Frodo, and kissed Pearl’s hand. She shrieked and reached for him.

“Well, it sounds like it’ll have to wait; Pearl truly missed her afternoon playtime with you yesterday,” Daisy teased. She worried a little when she saw how guarded Frodo’s smile was. Pushing her concerns aside, she handed Pearl to him. He loved to hold the babe, and Daisy knew it; he took her immediately and rested her on his left arm, where she sat happily. He took her tiny left hand into his right, to steady her.

“You can make up for some of that time now,” Daisy offered with a smile. “I know Lily’s ready. Let me see what’s keeping her.” With that, she left the room.

“Hullo, Pearl.” Frodo’s smile was sad.

Pearl seemed to notice. Her tiny right hand reached up to touch his face. Her little brows drew together; she looked as serious as he’d ever seen her. He smiled again, this time not allowing any sadness to show. Pearl brightened at once.

How easy she is to please, Frodo mused; but his thoughts wandered to Lily. I wonder if our lives -- hers, and mine -- shall ever be this simple. Perhaps I truly have ruined her life. She loves me -- she has loved me... for how long? I know since December, for she told me then -- and yet my heart whispers it’s been longer... And for what? She believes she cannot love another, for the whole of her life, and yet it may all come to naught in the end... I should not have seen you again after that first night, Lily... but you sought me for comfort on the day of the Battle... I should not have seen you again after that... but Sam conspired with you to feed me... Oh, Lily, did you love me even then? I did not know it... I should have warned you away. He felt sick at heart.

Frodo heard Lily’s soft step. He knew it without looking. Still on his arm, Pearl turned toward Lily and reached for her. Lily kissed her hand, then smiled, until she realized Frodo was not looking at her.

Slowly, he raised his eyes to Lily’s, afraid to meet her gaze.

The fear in Frodo’s eyes tore at her heart. She gave him a bright, full smile, the one which had always cheered him, from the beginning, from November; from as far back as the Bywater Fair. But Frodo remained distant, unable to return her smile.

Daisy returned and stood nearby. Gently, Lily lifted Pearl from Frodo’s arms. The babe began to whimper as Lily spoke to her.

“Pearl, my sweet! I know you would love to spend the day with Frodo, but for now, it is my turn. You may have him back later.”

She kissed her niece on the cheek and passed her to her mother.

“Come to Mum, love,” Daisy cooed. “It’s probably time you had a change, anyway. Like your Auntie Lily says, you can see Frodo again later.” She continued chattering to Pearl as she carried her down the hall.

Lily stepped close to Frodo, expecting the embrace he’d given her every morning since his arrival. He lightly took her hands in his, and swiftly kissed her cheek -- so swiftly she barely felt it. He avoided her eyes.

“Frodo?” Lily’s voice was soft and concerned.

He glanced at her for only a moment, then asked brightly, “Shall we be off?”

He stepped toward the door. Lily followed him outside. He caught up the pony’s reins.

“Would you like to learn to ride Strider?” Frodo endeavored to keep the strain he was feeling out of his voice.

Though he smiled at her, Lily knew he was building a wall between them.

“Yes, Frodo, I should like that very much...” She stroked the pony’s soft nose. Oh, Ilúvatar, what shall I do now? she wondered. Does Frodo still hear Your voice? Is he listening? Surely, if he were, he would not be withdrawing this way... Her heart ached already at the mere thought of it. Empty. She felt empty...

Frodo moved to help her up, but she stopped him. When he glanced at her, finally, she captured his eyes and allowed him to see the hurt she felt.

The false brightness he had been hiding behind crumbled, and tears sprang to his eyes. “I am so sorry, Lily...”

She tried to give him a gentle kiss, but he pulled away, and she fought the tears that sprang to her own eyes. “Frodo?”

“I don’t want to hurt you any mor--”

She softly covered his lips with her fingers. “I know, Frodo. I will not make a promise I cannot keep, for I am certain I will become ill again... but you see? I am better this morning. I do not understand exactly why I become ill or why I feel better; I only know what is... and I do not mind a little discomfort, if I may be with you.”

“But--”

“No. Yesterday, was wonderful and magical and --”

“-- you became ill.” Frodo’s voice broke on the last word.

He flinched away as Lily touched his cheek; she withdrew her hand, and dashed away the tear that slipped down her cheek.

“Only after I spent an entire glorious day with you, Frodo! And I did not faint. I would not trade our day together for anything.”

“Lily, dearest, I cannot bear to see you so ill, knowing I am the cause. And then you are grieved again when I try to protect you from my darkness by keeping distance between us... You are doubly hurt each time.” A tear slid down Frodo’s cheek.

This time he did not pull away when Lily touched his cheek to wipe away the tears. She tried once again to stem her own, blinking in the pale sunshine.

“Frodo, I shall keep a little distance between us,” -- she watched him start to sigh with relief, until she continued -- “only a little, to give you peace of mind today.”

“Lily, you can’t--” Both his eyes and his voice betrayed his fear.

She put all the love she felt into her voice. “Please, Frodo, do not choose for me. I know my own heart.”

Lily could see it in his eyes; he was beginning to bend.

“I only wish...” His voice trailed off.

“For whatever reason, this is what Ilúvatar has given us, and I choose to be grateful for it... To be thankful is to know.” Her smile reached her eyes.

“But your illness; what if...”

“Whatever happens, Frodo, dearest...” She paused. “I have no regrets.”

Finally, their eyes met and held. She whispered, “No regrets...”

With some uncertainty still lingering in his voice, Frodo responded softly, “No regrets...”

Lily nodded her head and smiled again for him. “I missed our morning embrace. If you prefer, I shall wait until the morrow for it.”

Hesitantly, Frodo reached for her. Lily could see he was trembling, and knew it was out of fear, fear for her. She stepped close to him and wrapped her arms around his waist as he enfolded her gently against him, softly kissing her temple. His arms tightened around her, and she sighed contentedly. She felt him relax. She also felt the hint of the illness, but knew she could push it away for quite some time yet.

Finally, Frodo sighed heavily. He kissed her cheek and with a nod from her, helped her up onto Strider.

Lily gazed into Frodo’s eyes; hers sparkled mischievously. She refused to allow what had occurred between them to colour her mood. Each moment with him was dear, and she would not lose any of it to sorrow; not if she could help it.

“So, was the promise of riding lessons merely a ruse to put distance between us?” A smile tugged at the corner of her mouth.

Frodo started, and then smiled, a little sheepishly. “We may start now, if you like.”

With a quick nod, Lily let her smile broaden. “I’d like that very much indeed, Mr. Baggins.” She didn’t allow herself to think about what she did next; she quickly winked at him. “What’s first?”

Frodo’s eyes widened at this, and then he laughed. She had quelled his fears again, and relief flooded through him, setting him on a narrow line between laughter and joyful tears. He felt renewed. Lily did this to him -- for him.

He took a deep breath and cleared his throat, trying his hardest to regain some measure of composure before starting the lesson.

She waited, watching the play of emotions across his face, and loving each expression in its turn.

He was ready now.

“It’s always important to not be afraid, for your pony can sense it. He needs to know he can trust you, and he won’t if he thinks you’re afraid.”

Lily nodded and patted Strider’s neck, then turned her attention to Frodo again.

He handed her the reins. “First, you need to learn to hold these.” He gently positioned her hands on the reins. Lily trembled at his touch, and her heart beat faster. She made an effort to steady her breathing, and smiled as she noticed Frodo blink several times. His hands lingered over hers rather longer than was necessary, and he looked up to see her expression soften, for him. He cleared his throat again, and tried to think about the lesson.

“Now, gently pull on the left or right rein, depending on the direction you want to go. When you want to stop, give a gentle tug on both reins at the same time and sit back just a little. When you control the head, everything else will follow.”

As Frodo stepped away from Strider, Lily’s eyes widened in surprise; she was on her own. What if Strider bolts? she worried.

Frodo continued, “Remember, you hold the reins. Strider will do whatever you ask, but he needs to know what you’re asking.”

Lily took in another steadying breath. “How do I start him moving, but not too fast?”

“Lean forward a little; just a little. Good. Now, nudge his sides with your heels -- don’t kick him -- just a gentle touch.”

Lily thoroughly reviewed everything Frodo had explained, and followed it exactly. Strider took an easy step forward. She sat back, surprised, and Strider stopped. She turned excitedly to Frodo. “He stopped without me pulling on the reins; I just sat back, like you said!”

Frodo smiled up at her.

She leaned a little forward again and Strider took several more steps. Lily sat back and giggled with delight as Strider stopped once more.

Frodo laughed with her and walked alongside as she moved Strider forward again without stopping, all the way to the end of the lane. He waited to see what Lily would do next.

She sat back for a moment, bringing Strider to a halt. She thought again through Frodo’s earlier instructions, then leaned forward and gave a gentle pull to the right rein, and Strider headed south toward the center of the village, to the Eagle and Child Inn.

Frodo admired Lily from that first night in Bywater, but now his admiration grew. True, Strider was a good pony to learn on, being of a steady temperament and well trained. But Lily possessed a spirit hungry to learn; to reach a little further. She was most definitely not a typical hobbit-lass. He sighed. All the enjoyment she felt now was his, as well.

When they arrived at the Eagle and Child, Frodo helped Lily down from Strider, although she admitted she felt somewhat reluctant to relinquish her newfound perch. She gave the pony extra pats before the stablehand was allowed to take him away to his stall.

Frodo offered Lily his arm, and together they entered the Eagle and Child. They enjoyed elevensies in a quiet corner of the common room. Several hobbits stopped to chat with Lily, and she introduced Frodo to each in turn.

A white-haired hobbit bowed his polite farewells to them, and Frodo watched him make his way back to the barkeep. “I imagine you know all the folk hereabouts,” Frodo commented.

Lily smiled and spoke under her breath. “Indeed; but in truth, these ones usually don’t pay me much mind.” Her smile broadened. “They are curious about you.”

“Me? Because of where I’ve been?” Frodo could not hide the discomfort he felt at the thought.

“No,” Lily giggled and blushed. “Because I’ve never been seen about the village with a lad other than a family member, until now...”

Frodo’s eyes grew wide. “Never?”

What shall I say? she wondered. How I wish I could tell him I have loved him for all these years! But I cannot...

“Never... not that the lads haven’t asked...”

Lily’s blush deepened, and although Frodo found it charming, he also sensed her discomfort at this admission. In an effort to distract her from it, he asked her about the inn.

They chatted their way right through luncheon; it was over too soon. Both sensed the quickening of time when they were together; there was a sweetness to it, but sadness, as well. They wanted their time to last.

The hour for tea approached, and Lily remembered they were expected at Hal and Daisy’s. They decided to leave Strider at the stables and walk back. As they stepped out of the inn, Lily could not resist asking for another riding lesson on the morrow.

Frodo raised his brows and returned her smile. “Would you like one?”

Lily thought a moment, reveling in Frodo’s own anticipation. “Yes; yes I would, if it’s all right with you -- and with Strider, of course.”

“I’ll hire another pony, and we’ll go a little farther afield.”

Frodo laughed as Lily’s eyes grew wide.

“Lily -- you’ll be fine... and we won’t go very far or very fast.”

“All right...” Her voice reflected her doubt.

They enjoyed the leisurely stroll home. Lily slipped her hand into Frodo’s, and their fingers intertwined. She felt him tremble slightly, and he tightened his hold on her hand.

Lily pointed out various establishments -- the potter’s shop, the bakery -- and had stories to go with each. Some were tales of her own experiences, and others were of events long past. She was unaware of Frodo’s distraction as he tried to study her face and listen to her at the same time.

As they approached Hal and Daisy’s smial, Frodo slowed and stopped. Lily stopped as well, and turned to search his eyes; the worry was back, as if a small shadow had been cast on the bright blue she loved so well.

“How are you faring, Lily?”

Lily’s brows drew together. “I’m fine...” Her eyes questioned him further. “Why do you ask?”

Frodo continued. “You don’t feel ill?”

Lily shook her head. “No. Frodo, I am fine... I promised I would tell you when I become ill, and I shall.” She offered him a comforting smile.

“But yesternight...”

“Truthfully, it caught me by surprise. I did not realize how weary I had become until it was required of me to stand on my own two feet. I’ll be more careful... I promise.”

She gave his hand a gentle tug. “Come; Pearl is waiting for her afternoon playmate.”

Pearl was still napping when they arrived at the smial, but afternoon tea was ready. Lily spent most of the time excitedly telling Hal and Daisy about her first riding lesson. With somewhat less enthusiasm, she added that they would have another tomorrow, but that Frodo would be riding as well.

Frodo and Lily cleaned up after tea. Without warning, Pearl’s wail cut into the relative silence of the smial.

Frodo nearly dropped the plate he was drying.

Lily giggled. “You’re still not used to that sound, are you?”

“No. Do you really ever get used to it?”

“As a matter of fact, that’s the main reason why it gets louder!” She smiled at Frodo’s expression; he was still amazed at how loud Pearl could be. Lily watched him for a moment, until he turned back and caught her simply gazing up at him. Frodo smiled at her; it was the secret smile they shared only between themselves. She blushed, and looked down at her feet.

Moments later, a clean, wide-awake Pearl appeared in the kitchen, held in her mother’s arms.

Lily chatted to her niece and washed the last of the dishes. “Well, hullo, Pearl! It’s good to see you up and about. I brought someone home with me. I think you’ll be very pleased!

“Frodo, I’ll finish putting the dishes away... You really should not keep a lady waiting.” She grinned at Frodo’s startled look.

Daisy approached him with the babe. As soon as Pearl focused on Frodo’s face she immediately reached for him, gasping and shrieking, her arms outstretched. Frodo laughed as he took her.

Warmth filled Lily’s breast, watching her niece enveloped in Frodo’s embrace. A prayer rose unexpectedly in her heart. Please, Ilúvatar, allow me to see him hold our own daughter, just like this...

She caught her breath and held the dishtowel tightly in her hands. Lily Burrows, she scolded herself, he’s only said he wants to marry you, not that he will. Get a hold of yourself. She took several deep breaths, folded the towel, and hung it to dry.

She shook her head to clear it and stepped close to Frodo and Pearl. The babe looked at her, then away, and then leaned closer to Frodo, who blushed bright red and lowered his eyes. “I do not blame you in the least, dear Pearl.” Lily laughed, and cocked her head to one side to look into Frodo’s eyes. “I’ll be back in a bit. Don’t let her have her way every time, or you shall spoil her beyond all reason.” She then winked for the second time that day.

Frodo did not resist or hesitate, but swiftly kissed Lily’s cheek. He glanced at Hal and Daisy from the corner of his eye, relieved they seemed preoccupied in some conversation. He found Lily gazing at him with love in her eyes, the love she could not voice, at his request. Frodo wondered if it were such a good idea -- and then reminded himself why he made the request; March was coming.

Lily gave him a parting smile, and slipped away for a rest.

---------

By the time Pearl grew hungry, Frodo was himself a little tired, and it surprised him, until he recalled he had not slept at all yesternight. He’d tossed and turned until he finally rose and went for his routine midnight walk about Deephallow, then returned to his room without being seen by anyone. Frodo smiled mirthlessly to himself; his Elven cloak was still coming in handy. He had endeavored to sleep again, but finally gave up completely and paced until dawn, worried for Lily.

Daisy rescued him with a smile then, taking Pearl, and leaving him alone with Hal.

“Frodo!” Hal clapped his hand solidly on Frodo’s shoulder. “I haven’t been able to have a good talk with Daisy since yesterday... I know you and Lily spent most of the day together, and wondered--”

Almost as if she knew, Lily appeared in the kitchen and started dinner for Daisy.

“Dinner’s on the table that much faster if you two help me,” she declared, and then her voice was mock-warning. “Otherwise, who knows when we shall ever eat...”

Hal gave Frodo a knowing look. “Daisy always uses that one, too... she hasn’t let me go hungry yet, but there’s always a first time, I reckon?”

“I’d rather not find out the hard way.” Frodo smiled, and looked directly into Lily’s eyes. “My appetite’s much healthier these past few days. I can only attribute it to the fine cooking in this establishment and the one next door -- not to mention the loveliness of the cooks! Therefore -- Miss Lily, I am at your service.”

Hal played along. “Yes, indeed, ma’am.”

Both hobbits bowed low, and Frodo kissed Lily’s hand as she began first to giggle, and then to laugh. Frodo and Hal tried to maintain the impassive demeanor of servants, but within moments they laughed along with her.

----------

The meal was enjoyed with quiet conversation about the work Hal accomplished that day and some news of one the neighbor’s cows calving early. Hal’s older brother Tom was the one the locals called out in the dead of night when there was any sort of complication with a calving or foaling.

Lily and Frodo cleaned up together, and Frodo prepared to leave; he had no wish to see Lily weaken as she had yesternight. No matter how well she seemed now, it was better to be safe, yet his heart ached at the thought of leaving her again for even one night.

Frodo Baggins! he chided himself wearily. Already you cannot bear to leave her for one night, and March thirteenth is still ahead! His heart skipped a beat as he realized it was no more than a fortnight away. And he had asked her to come as soon as she could, in March. Before the thirteenth; surely she’ll come before then...

How shall I endure the waiting until then -- the wait to know if she will still want me? And what shall I do if she does not? How shall I live? I cannot force her; I cannot make her love me if she hates what she sees in March...

I want things to stay as they are. I want her with me; I do not want to go on alone...

Gandalf’s words from long ago echoed in his mind, so near the wizard might have whispered them in his ear. ‘All you have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to you. Trust yourself. Even the wisest cannot see all ends. Hobbits can still surprise you in a pinch.’

“Gandalf?” Frodo murmured. He was breathing harder than before. He looked to Lily. She laid her hand on his arm.

“Dear Frodo, what is it?” Her voice was soothing.

He searched her eyes, trying to sort out the words and meanings in his mind. “Lily, it was Gandalf -- things he told me once, he whispered to my heart again, just now, almost as if he were here...”

“I pray his words were comforting...”

“Yes... yes. I--” he smiled, but still felt confused. “When he spoke them in the past, his words were for the most part unsettling, even frightening, but now -- now they are comforting. Though he did not say it directly, I know he would have me be more patient.” Frodo studied the floor for a moment, and then he met Lily’s eyes once more.

“Gandalf is usually right,” Frodo admitted, with a wry half-smile. “But it’s very, very difficult to be -- to be this patient. Yet I must.” He paused. “I just realized Gandalf’s never asked me to do anything that was easy; only hard things! Isn’t that odd?” Frodo smiled, then forced himself to look away from her when she returned it. He wanted only to kiss her at this moment, and tell her how much he loved her, before leaving. Lily’s voice slipped through his tangled thoughts, like a fresh breeze in spring.

“Would you stay through supper tonight?” She searched his eyes.

Worry swept over Frodo’s face. “But you--”

“You arrived later than usual, this morning, and I’m still feeling well. Please? Just through supper; no longer?”

Frodo nodded slowly, and Lily smiled and sighed in relief.

As Hal and Daisy entered the smial after feeding the barn animals, Lily beamed and struggled not to giggle too much as she announced, “Frodo is staying for supper tonight.”

---------

Supper was roast pork, golden potatoes with gravy, sweet parsnips, and fresh rye bread. Hal reminisced about farming with his da, adjacent to the property he now owned. He and Daisy and Pearl visited his folks regularly. They were to visit them in four days, for his mum’s birthday.

The meal was finished with cheese and apples.

“Lily, show Frodo the parlour,” Daisy suggested. “He hasn’t seen it yet. Hal and I will clean up this time.”

Lily smiled at Frodo and led him by the hand out of the kitchen.

The parlour was a warm, inviting room, but Frodo noticed nothing in it except Lily. Though the feeling of wanting her near was strong, their agreement was for just through supper, and no longer. “I should go...”

Lily gazed into his eyes. “I know, but I wanted to... to say something to you... away from Hal and Daisy...”

Frodo turned fully to her.

“Dearest Frodo, clear the worry from your face... I only wanted to thank you for keeping your promise, and to say I enjoyed the day.”

Lily now felt confident enough to touch his furrowed brow, smoothing it with her fingertips. He closed his eyes; she felt him calm at her touch. When she took her hand away, Frodo opened his eyes once more and gazed into hers, his expression one of intense gratitude -- much like after their shared kiss on Strider. To Lily it seemed all out of proportion to the simple touch she had given.

“Lily, you’ve no idea...” Frodo began, but did not finish.

She smiled warmly at Frodo’s deep sigh of relief. “Mayhap it would be wise if I told you aforehand you need not be concerned when I wish to tell you something, to save you grief!”

“I’m sorry, Lily.”

She shook her head. “No, Frodo. I understand. I only hope, and pray, one day this shadow will fade.”

Frodo breathed to speak and found Lily’s fingers gently covering his mouth. He kissed them, and she touched his cheek before lowering her hand.

“Your doubt is revealed in your eyes,” she continued. “I do not need to hear the words. But I shall still hope, for both of us.”

Tears glistened in Frodo’s eyes, and he blinked to clear them. “I enjoyed the day as well. Thank you, dearest Lily, for keeping your promise, more than I can ever say...”

Lily inclined her head and asked, “Will you come to second breakfast tomorrow? I missed you this morning.” A soft smile touched her lips.

Frodo choked on his words. “I missed you as well.” He cleared his throat and started over, managing a grin.

“I shall come, and I’ll bring Strider and another pony for your next lesson.”

Lily gave him her bright, full smile. “I look forward to seeing you... and Strider! -- I don’t know about the lesson; I’ll decide when it’s over.” Lily continued braving a smile. She did not want him to leave.

Frodo searched her eyes. “I should go now.”

She saw him to the front door. “Thank you again...”

“Until tomorrow...”

“Yes, tomorrow...”

“I shall miss you...”

“And I you...”

Frodo reached down to caress her lips with his own.

“I thought I heard you two in the hall. Not leaving already, are you, Frodo?” Hal asked, unaware of his interruption.

Without releasing Lily from his gaze, Frodo answered, “I’m a little tired, Hal. It’s been a busy day, and with another riding lesson tomorrow, I want to be sure I’m fresh for it.”

Lily smiled into his eyes, her own reflecting her gratitude to Frodo for his taking full responsibility. “I’m a bit weary myself, Hal. What with all the excitement of beginning to learn to ride, I want to be fresh for my next lesson on the morrow, as well.”

“Probably a wise idea. I’ll let you two say goodnight.” Hal winked and grinned broadly, then realized it was lost on the pair, and returned to the kitchen. They heard him greet his wife and child, and Pearl’s happy response.

Lily hoped Frodo would give her the kiss Hal unwittingly brought to a halt before it started. But she watched the change in his eyes and realized he had bent to kiss her without thinking, following his heart and not his mind, and now his unguarded moment was past.

She sighed, then covered her disappointment with a gentle smile as she murmured, “Thank you again for staying. I know it was a difficult choice for you.”

She watched as something changed in his expression; it was as if a tiny wall had broken. He could no longer hide his fatigue.

“Frodo, dearest; you are so weary!” She did not resist her desire to caress his cheek again with her fingers.

Frodo caught his breath, then covered her hand against his cheek with his own. He sighed and brought her hand to his lips to kiss the back of it. He gazed into her eyes and murmured, “It’s nothing one good night’s sleep cannot cure. And I shall sleep well tonight, for you are well... Goodnight, Lily.”

“Goodnight, Frodo.”

Frodo released her hand and stepped into the night, then returned Lily’s wave before she closed the rounded door. She leaned against it and smiled. He grew ever more aware of her, and now read her almost perfectly... she was only a little tired; only a bit weak. It had indeed been a very good day.