Frodo arrived for second breakfast with Strider and a hired pony, dropping Strider’s reins and tying the other pony to a nearby tree. He’d led Strider and ridden the hired pony to get a feel for the animal, and decided it would suit Lily well for her next few lessons.
As he stepped onto Lily’s porch, his memory of their kiss on Strider flooded through him, taking his breath away. I should not have kissed her in such a manner, he berated himself. We are not even properly betrothed. But then a smile crept across his face. Her sweetness... and she kissed me back...
He sighed, and raised his hand to knock on the door.
Her illness is your fault. You should not love her so -- but then, you don’t really love her, do you? If you did, you would leave, and let her live in peace...
Frodo paused, and then shook himself. No. She finds joy in my company -- she told me so...
At what cost?
I do not know, and I do not understand it, but I shall not break my promise to her, for she has not broken hers to me. Now go away!
He rapped firmly on the door.
The voice lay in wait at the edges of his thought as Lily opened the door. Her sunny smile was brighter and warmer than any summer morning as she stepped into his embrace. The voice retreated.
“I missed you, so much,” Frodo whispered against her ear. Suddenly he realized what he said, and how absurd it sounded; they’d only been apart a few hours. Then she whispered:
“And I missed you.”
His eyes closed. “How do you feel this morning?” He kept his voice low, still speaking close to her ear.
“Wonderful,” she breathed. He could feel her smiling as she spoke. “I feel wonderful; even better, now you’re here.”
“That’s the best news I’ve heard since last night, when we parted... you felt well then, too,” he smiled. Perhaps there is hope for us yet, Frodo reflected. I want so much to be with her, forever...
The voice began to remind him of that other Want, once his, but he thought again of Lily, and prayed; again it retreated.
Oh, when shall I ever be free of this curse? Frodo wondered. He nearly said this last aloud, and stopped himself in time. I might never be free of it at all; I must be honest with myself. March will reveal much... he prayed again for some sort of healing, his thoughts scattered.
Frodo held her more tightly, and Lily returned it. She felt his slight change in mood, but let it go. He would tell her if he wished. For another moment they held each other; then they reluctantly stepped apart.
Lily smiled up into his eyes. “Are you ready for second breakfast?”
“Indeed. I am famished. Are you?”
Lily began to nod her head, but stopped abruptly, startled by a nicker from the lane. She peeked past Frodo and counted two ponies. Her eyes and her voice reflected her nervousness. “You remembered to bring the second pony...”
“I was hungry, but I think my appetite is somewhat lessened...” She eyed the ponies dubiously.
Frodo laughed and brushed her cheek with a quick kiss, refusing to dwell on the longer kiss he wished to give her. Lily needed to eat, and the door was still open wide... he brought himself back to their conversation.
“You need not lose your appetite over a little riding lesson. We’ll simply ride the ponies back to the inn. You did that yesterday on Strider, and you did very well. We’ll do it again today, but we’ll take the long way. I rode the hired pony on the path we’ll be taking, and I don’t foresee any trouble with either one of them. We may leave after second breakfast, or elevensies; whichever you prefer.”
Though Lily nodded her head, her face clearly expressed her uncertainty as they stepped inside the house.
Breakfast was unusually quiet as Lily picked at her food.
Frodo noticed, and laid his hand atop hers on the table. “There is nothing requiring us to have a lesson; we may pass on it. I wish only for you to be happy...”
Lily raised her eyes to Frodo’s. “That would be--” She paused and looked at her plate of food, then again at Frodo. “No, thank you. I’m sure I’ll be fine, once I get used to it... it’s just that one of my friends -- when we were little -- her pony ran away with her. She fell off and broke her arm. I’ve been a bit nervous about ponies ever since.”
“Lily, dearest!” Frodo tightened his hand over hers. “Why didn’t you tell me this before?”
“I didn’t want you to know how afraid I was,” she stated simply, and shrugged her shoulders.
“I understand why you are, but you needn’t be, truly... I’ll stay close so if anything should happen, Strider and I shall be there quickly, and I can grab the reins. We can always just ‘pony you along’ -- that’s when one pony leads another. But first, we need to get some food into you -- please?”
Lily finally nodded and smiled. She took a steadying breath and ate much of what was on her plate, as Frodo talked her through the previous day’s lesson and then outlined everything they would learn that morning. When she finished eating, Frodo suggested they clean up quickly and be on their way.
He added with a smile, “That way it shall be over with, and you may enjoy the rest of the day.”
An appreciative smile touched Lily’s lips. “In truth, I’ll enjoy all of this day, no matter what befalls. You are here with me, Frodo. All the rest will take care of itself.”
Frodo opened his mouth to speak, and quickly closed it. He nearly spoke aloud the words he had asked her not to utter, there by the Shirebourn two days before. Instead, he met her eyes for a long moment.
Lily smiled; even without her gift of sight, she could read him so easily, open as he was, his face giving away his every thought. Whether he voiced the words or no, he had just told her he loved her.
When everything inside was finished, Frodo clasped Lily’s hand and led her outside. He stepped close to the hired pony and untied it from the tree.
“Lily, I would like to introduce ‘Diamond.’ Rumor has it he is old as dirt and gentle as the day is long. I think you’ll like him.”
“Why do they call him ‘Diamond?’ Is he rare?”
Frodo lifted her hand to his lips and kissed the back of it as he struggled not to laugh. “No, dearest. See how Strider has a star on his forehead? Diamond has a diamond.”
“Oh.” Lily blushed and held out her free hand, as Frodo taught her when she met Strider for the first time. The old gelding snuffled at her palm, then lowered his head to reach for a tuft of brown grass. Frodo released her other hand so she could stroke the pony’s neck and shoulders. She noticed his thick winter coat, and grinned with pleasure at Frodo. “He’s so soft! It feels like the down on a duckling, or a chick.”
“That will go when summer comes.”
Lily ran her hands across the saddle and then along the pony’s neck again. “Hullo, Diamond. Frodo says I must not be afraid, for you shall feel it.” She breathed deeply, and released it gradually.
Frodo stepped up beside her, checked the saddle to be sure it was snug, and helped her mount. He then handed her the reins and watched to make sure she placed her hands properly.
For the first time that morning, Frodo noticed her dress; a light green chemise, an underskirt of deep forest green, an overskirt of white, covered with embroidered yellow and blue flowers, and her dark green vest, which matched the underskirt. All of it set off her eyes, her fair complexion, her glorious hair... but what was it he wanted to say?
“Lily, your dress is lovely,” he managed. “Is it perhaps too pretty to wear for riding? We may encounter some muddy patches along the way... you’d be surprised how hooves can make mud fly... Would it ever come out? I know nothing of such things...”
“Thank you,” she blushed, “but in fact this is a dress I’ve owned for years, and I wore it today for that very reason. And, should the pony cover me with mud, I have the secret of how to remove such stains, which is of course, denied to all males.”
She kept her expression as serious as she possibly could, then giggled; Frodo had started out with a completely mystified expression, for one moment believing her. Then he smiled at her gentle teasing, and blushed to the tips of his ears.
When Lily nodded she was ready, Frodo stepped away from the pony and caught up Strider’s reins, mounting him quickly. “We’ll take an easy walk all the way there, and let you practice using the reins. And if all else fails, grab a fistful of mane and hang on.”
Lily’s eyes widened until she noticed the smile tugging at the corner of Frodo’s mouth. “Frodo Baggins,” she started severely, then stopped. “Now, you’re teasing me! -- aren’t you?”
“Yes, and no. I passed a barking dog today, and Diamond only twitched an ear. I was more startled than he was, but unexpected things can happen, and do; I must be honest with you. So if something untoward should happen, and I don’t think it shall, just tighten your legs about your pony, grab a fistful of mane, and hang on. All right?” Frodo gave her an encouraging smile.
Lily turned Frodo’s words over in her mind as she looked first at him, then at Diamond’s mane, then back to Frodo. She reached forward and grasped a bit of mane, testing it, and then released it. “All right, I’m ready.”
The ride was slow and easy, just as Frodo promised, and the February air held only the slightest chill, as it had on their day at the Shirebourn. The sun was still pale, but warmer, as she reached above the tops of what few clouds hung suspended in the brilliant sky. The air felt good to breathe. It was a very good day for a ride.
They took the long way around Deephallow, allowing Lily to practice reining, as well as starting and stopping more comfortably. When they turned down the road to the inn, Diamond picked up the pace a little, then broke into a trot.
Lily struggled not to be afraid.
“Pull on the reins and sit back, Lily,” Frodo called after her, and eased Strider into a canter to catch up.
Diamond slowed to a walk again as Lily followed Frodo’s instructions, finally pulling the pony to a stop. Frodo halted beside her. Before he could speak, Lily turned to him and laughed breathlessly.
“I did it! And I didn’t fall off!”
Frodo relaxed visibly, then smiled. “Yes, you did very well indeed, Lily! I never had any doubts.” His tone was warm and full of pride.
Lily beamed. “May we do it again -- just a little?”
“Lead on.” Frodo bit his lip in an attempt to conceal his amusement.
The two of them eased their ponies into a brief trot, and then slowed just before reaching the inn.
Frodo hopped off Strider and hurried to Lily’s side to help her off Diamond. He searched her flushed, smiling face.
“Another lesson on the morrow?” Frodo asked with a smile.
“Yes, please.” Her pleasure was undisguised.
Frodo turned the ponies over to the stablehand and escorted Lily to the inn for elevensies and luncheon.
They made their way to the quiet corner table they occupied the day before. As they took their seats, they heard a pair of hobbits chatting at another table about the doings at Brandy Hall.
“Brandy Hall...” Frodo’s voice trailed away.
“That’s where you lived, after -- after your parents--”
“After they drowned... it’s all right to say it, Lily. It was a very long time ago. We actually lived there for a while before then, as well. Mum enjoyed being with family, and Da didn’t care much where we lived. He told me on one of our outings... now that I think back, he told me on several occasions he’d do whatever he could to please her, anything to make her smile... not that she didn’t smile often -- she did; but it was somehow different -- even warmer -- when he pleased her.”
Lily smiled. “Your da loved your mum.”
Frodo nodded. “And she loved him.”
“You said it was a boating accident?”
“Yes, though no one’s ever been certain about what happened... They went out together one evening, after one of Uncle Rory’s feasts, and never came back. They -- they were found downriver a bit. The boat was never found.”
“I’m sorry...” Lily’s brows drew together, and she reached forward to place her hand on his, forgetting they were in a pub. “Frodo, what were your parents like? May I ask? Or is it too painful...”
He covered her hand, so that it was between both of his, and looked from there to her face.
“Yes, you may ask... It’s not actually painful at all, now. Just after it happened, I didn’t want to talk about them or the accident. Now, thinking on them is a warm memory; like the feeling you get on a fall evening with tea and fresh biscuits...”
Lily smiled at this, and in response to his faraway expression. “Was your mum good at baking sweets?”
Frodo started, as out of a reverie, and smiled. “Yes, she was a remarkable cook indeed, and especially at baking sweets. She could create with a little bit of this and that the most wonderful biscuits... But you asked me what my parents were like. I thought Mum was the prettiest lass in the Shire...” His eyes strayed to Lily; he blinked several times.
The look of admiration in his eyes was not lost on Lily, and a soft pink tinged her cheeks.
Frodo cleared his throat and continued. “Her eyes were hazel, like yours, and her hair fell in long, curly brown locks down her back; it wasn’t quite as long as yours. Da was a mite shorter than Mum, and his hair was dark, like mine. His eyes were blue, though lighter than mine. Folks often told us they could see the resemblance. Mum was always saying his eyes reminded her of spring skies. That’s what first drew her to him. I remember her telling me, on some of our trips to market, that with him, she felt it was spring year round because of his eyes...” Frodo blushed.
Lily’s eyes widened in surprise. “What is it?”
“I’d forgotten.” Frodo’s voice was hushed. “She -- I wasn’t very old at the time, and I wanted to know if my eyes reminded her of spring, as well. I so wanted to be like Da. I could not hide the hurt I felt when she looked me over carefully and proclaimed I did not remind her of spring. I still remember her wiping the tear from my cheek, and her words. I learned them well, because whenever things didn’t go quite right, and I felt sorry for myself and wanted a bit of comfort from my mum without being too obvious, I’d ask her what I reminded her of, and always she answered the same: ‘Frodo, love, you are my summer, warm and sweet and gentle, with the cold of winter nowhere in sight.’”
A fresh tear slipped down Frodo’s cheek. Without hesitation, Lily reached up with her free hand and brushed it away, softly. Her voice matched her caress.
“She was right.”
Lily withdrew her hand from his face as she remembered they were neither in her home, nor in Hal and Daisy’s, but still sitting at the inn.
A serving lad brought a tray, setting down mugs and a bottle of cider. Frodo released Lily’s hands, and poured cider for them both.
“Frodo, how did your parents meet?”
A smile spread across Frodo’s face again. “It depends on which one you asked.”
“What?” Lily laughed.
“Da was the oldest son, and should have inherited the family home in Hobbiton proper -- not Bag End; that was always Bilbo’s... It wasn’t a large place, mind you, not that it matters. Da and my gaffer had a bit of a falling out. Da, by Bagginses standards, was an adventurer...” Frodo smiled. “That is, he wanted to see other parts of the Shire; he joined the post to do it. Then one day he made a delivery to Brandy Hall. The regular rider was ill, and Da offered to do it, since he hadn’t yet seen Brandy Hall. The letter was addressed to Miss Primula Brandybuck, from Mr. Marcho Brown.” Frodo paused and smiled into Lily’s eyes again, as the memory became clearer in the telling.
“Da was familiar with Marcho, and had heard rumors he was courting a fair lass, though she was also rumored not to be interested in the least; but that didn’t deter Marcho. Then when Da saw Miss Primula, he knew the rumors about her beauty were true. Da asked to be placed on the Brandy Hall route.”
“So they met when your da started delivering posts there?”
“Not according to Mum.”
Lily’s brows raised in question.
“Mum always assured me she saw Da riding the delivery route, when she was visiting a friend in Whitfurrows, and that’s why she was never interested in Marcho Brown... but then Da always said Mum was making it up, because she liked to be first, at everything.”
Frodo grinned. “She did like to be first, but I suspect Mum’s version is the correct one... In truth, I’m certain Da believed her, concerning seeing him first; he just didn’t like the thought of not having noticed her sooner himself.”
Lily smiled along with Frodo as he finished the tale.
“Did you know your gaffer, Frodo?”
“No. Gaffer died before I was born. Even had he lived, I might never have gotten to know him. He blamed Uncle Bilbo for Da’s adventuring, but he was so angry Da had married a Brandybuck that he only rarely spoke to his own son. When he died, he left the estate to Da’s younger brother by three years, Uncle Dudo. Da also had a sister, Dora, six years older. They’re both gone now... The estate was finally left to Uncle Dudo’s daughter; she’s eighteen years older than me. I am glad she has it, but we don’t know each other very well. We’ve really only met in passing. My family became those at Brandy Hall, and then Bilbo.”
“That must have been difficult for your mum and your da.”
“I don’t know. Mum never spoke unkindly of Gaffer Baggins. I only knew about the falling out because Da spoke of it once, on one of our fishing trips. I had asked about my gaffer several times, and been told simply that he was dead. Then one day one of my cousins teased me, saying even if my gaffer were alive, he’d have nothing to do with me, because of my mum though my cousin wouldn’t say why. I almost boxed him, but knew if I did I’d have to explain to Mum why I’d done it. I refused to believe anything could be her fault, and didn’t want to insult her by asking about what might have happened -- in case the teasing was true -- so I asked Da. He explained about Mum being a Brandybuck and how some folk didn’t approve of a Baggins marrying a Brandybuck. He asked I not bring it up again, as he and Mum forgave Gaffer and felt sad for him -- because he missed out on knowing his own family -- but all of it no longer mattered...”
Frodo’s voice trailed off. He continued to stare at his hands, wrapped around his mug of cider. Lily forgot hers entirely.
“How very sad for him, not to know your mum -- or you...”
Lily smiled and continued. “What about on your mum’s side?”
“They both passed on before I was born.”
“And then you were taken care of by your Uncle Saradoc and Auntie Esme? Do I remember that right?”
“Yes! -- when did you learn about them? Wait -- I remember -- the story Merry told Before Yule.”
They laughed at the shared memory of Merry’s story, and Lily decided to let Frodo believe that for now. She was not yet ready to tell him she had loved him since the Bywater Fair, and actually learned years ago about Saradoc and Esmeralda caring for him from one of her own neighbors in Deephallow, who was thrilled at the opportunity to gossip about the Brandybucks.
Frodo nodded at the lad hovering nearby, who refilled his cider with a new bottle. The lad remained, unable to catch Lily’s attention.
“Lily, would you like more cider?”
She started, realizing she had been staring at Frodo shamelessly, captivated by his story and reveling in his beautiful blue eyes. As ever, he seemed completely unaware of their effect.
“Oh!” she started, and smiled at the lad. “No... no thank you.”
The lad left, bowing slightly once again.
“Frodo,” she laughed softly, “I don’t remember where we were...”
“You asked whether Uncle Saradoc and Auntie Esme took care of me,” he smiled. “Actually, Uncle and I are first cousins, separated by a good number of years, but once they started caring for me, it seemed odd to call them Saradoc and Esmeralda, and I could not call them Da and Mum -- and they didn’t wish me to. So we settled on Uncle Saradoc and Auntie Esme. It also made an easy change to Uncle Bilbo, what with him being an even older cousin, and a little farther removed. I think they would have gladly kept me at Brandy Hall, but recognized the advantages of my being adopted by Bilbo.”
They were almost through luncheon. Lily studied the food on her plate for a moment, then decided to brave it.
“Frodo, there is something I’d like to ask, but I’m not sure how.”
Frodo touched her arm, and she turned her gaze to his eyes. He noted the worry there.
“Lily, you may ask me anything; anything at all.”
The love in his eyes spoke to Lily’s heart and she answered with a warm smile. “What was it like living with Bilbo?”
Lily could clearly read Frodo’s confusion at the question. She started over. “I mean, were you happy with him? Did it feel like home to you?”
“I never thought about it, really... Bag End is home to me now, more so once Bilbo left it to me. Yes, I was happy with him; not like with Mum and Da or even Uncle Saradoc and Auntie Esme. I was happy in a different way. Living with Bilbo was one adventure after another. I know he took immense pleasure in ensuring the Sacksville-Bagginses would not get Bag End with his passing. I must admit, at the time, it pleased me as well, but things have changed. Lobelia changed.”
Lily nodded and rubbed at an old stain engrained in the wood table. “Was Bilbo like a father to you?”
When Frodo did not answer, she glanced up into his eyes, wondering if she had asked too much. Then he shook himself out of his thoughts, and smiled wistfully.
“No, Bilbo was not like a father. I was 21 by the time he adopted me. Auntie Esme once said Bilbo enjoyed the benefits of the hard work put in by my da and Uncle Saradoc. She struggled the most with the adoption, next to Merry... Merry and I were together the first seven years of his life, and fortunately we still feel like brothers. Bilbo loves me, in his way.”
“And you are able to accept him as he is, and what he is able to offer...” Lily searched his face. “Do you -- do you ever feel it wasn’t enough?”
Frodo shook his head. “I had my parents for twelve years, then Uncle Saradoc and Auntie Esme for another seven. I have Merry and Pippin, and of course dear Sam... But Uncle Bilbo opened my heart and mind in ways no one else could.”
Lily stared hard at the table again. She folded her hands on the table, but not before Frodo noticed the way they trembled.
“Lily?” He lifted her chin and searched her eyes, moist with tears.
“Are you sorry -- sorry he opened the way...” she whispered, with an effort.
“What do you mean, Lily? Go on -- it’s all right...” He removed his hand from her chin and wanted to touch her cheek, but they were in a public place. Instead, he laid his hand atop hers.
“Yes, he made you his heir, but that included the -- the Ring...”
Frodo looked past her for a few moments before meeting her eyes again. “True, but not at first; and it also includes Bag End...”
“Be that as it may...” Her voice was still a whisper.
Frodo sat back and sighed heavily, and absently began to stroke the back of Lily’s hand with his thumb, unaware of the effect of this simple action. “I don’t know. Sometimes I’m sorry, and sometimes I’m not. It may take a lifetime to fully answer that question.”
Lily gazed at their hands on the table and murmured, “I should like to be there when you answer it...”
“Dearest Lily--” He stopped, and smiled, then searched her eyes, until finally she could no longer bear the intensity of it, and blushed, glancing back at his hand on hers.
She raised her eyes to his again, and he grinned. “Lily, somehow you’ve managed to persuade me into divulging more today, at one sitting, than I have in an age.”
He wanted to tell her he loved her; he ached to tell her. It would have to wait until after March.
“We should be leaving, if we’re going to take tea with Hal and Daisy,” Frodo suggested; but to Lily, for she felt it herself, it was plain he wanted their wonderful day to last, and tea would lead to her needing to rest, then dinner, and then him returning to the inn.
Lily did not miss the longing in his eyes. She blinked away the tears in her own and saw Frodo’s hand, outstretched to help her rise. She laid her hand in his, and savored the warmth and strength and gentleness in his touch. Once she was standing, he usually released her, but now he clutched her hand tightly in his own.
As they stepped into the afternoon sunlight, Frodo endeavored to return warmth to Lily’s smile.
“What about your parents, Lily? How did they meet?”
He was startled to see her brush a tear from her face with her free hand. “Lily? Are you all right? I’m sorry...” If only I could take her in my arms and comfort her, but here in the village square -- he sighed to himself and frowned slightly -- not here, not now...
“I’m fine, really.” Lily sniffed, and smiled for him.
“Shall we save the story for another day?”
Now Lily sighed. “Tomorrow. I shall tell you their tale tomorrow.”
Frodo tightened his hold on her hand, and Lily briefly leaned her head against his shoulder, then smiled up at him. He was warm. She loved the smell of the earth and the forest in his coat, shot through with the faintest scent of himself. Lily smiled to herself, and breathed in deeply of him.
And, for now, with only the merest weakness creeping in on her, Lily felt that nothing in the world was better than this: simply walking with him, her hand held safe within his.
They walked in companionable silence all the way to Hal and Daisy’s smial.
At tea, Lily shared with unconcealed excitement every detail of her riding lesson.
Hal returned to the table with a fresh pot of tea. “So, I take it the lesson went well?” he grinned, and sat down with them again.
“You should be quite proud of Lily,” Frodo announced, and caught the glow in her face as he watched her smile. “Diamond gave her a surprise today. On the ride home, he caught wind of where we were headed and decided to get there in a hurry, but Lily stayed calm, and handled him very well, indeed. Before you know it, she’ll be riding in the pony races at the Bywater Fair -- you could be ready by this summer, Lily! What say you?” Frodo teased, and Lily blushed, meeting his eyes in a shared smile.
“I know, I know: the ladies never ride in the pony races...” Frodo’s voice softened. “But truly, you did a fine job today. You learn so quickly. I look forward to our lesson tomorrow.”
Lily’s smile reached her eyes, and she sipped her tea. She stopped for a moment and looked down at her mug.
“I thought you’d forgotten the sugar, but I wasn’t sure. Here,” Frodo commented, and handed Lily the small sugar bowl.
“Thank you,” Lily murmured, and added the sugar to her tea. She stirred it slowly, and added, “Hal, you make a lovely pot of tea. The inn’s tea was a bit strong, but we’ve enjoyed our meals there, for the most part, have we not, Frodo?”
“Yes,” he agreed. “The fresh bread and cheese were quite good; not as good as yours, Daisy!” At this, Hal and Daisy both smiled. “...and I mean that sincerely,” Frodo went on, “but we both found the bacon not nearly crisp enough, and the tomatoes overly done.”
“The eggs were passable, and the stew was delicious yesterday, but not nearly as good today; it must have been a new pot,” Lily finished.
“We hardly have one day in the year where we eat at the Bird and Babe, but their stew is famous throughout the Eastfarthing, truth be told,” Hal declared. “And I don’t think even Lily’s bread can compare to my Daisy’s... beggin’ your pardon, Lily!” He winked.
“She’s had a few more years at bread making, too, Hal!” Lily smiled, and at this Daisy laughed out loud.
Frodo finished the last of his tea. “I do know, between the food, and the company, my appetite’s never been better.”
Lily’s eyes twinkled. “Mayhap we’ll get some weight on you yet.”
They all laughed, and Frodo blushed, enjoying this moment. It had been a long time since he felt part of a family. A very long time, indeed.
Frodo and Lily slipped quietly into their routine of cleaning up together.
Hal and Daisy relaxed at the table, and watched the pair work together. Hal spoke under his breath, “They usually chat while they’re doing dishes; do you think everything’s all right between them?”
Daily smiled knowingly. “Dear, watch them. See the way he smiles at her, and she smiles back, then lowers her eyes, and gradually looks into his again? They’re fine. Just fine.” She sighed contentedly.
The dishes were all put away, and the dish towels hung to dry. Frodo and Lily stood quietly gazing into each other’s eyes. He gave her a nod; she smiled, and slipped out of the kitchen for her afternoon rest.
Frodo stood for several moments watching the doorway where Lily had disappeared from his view. Then he started, almost as though waking from a dream. “I believe I hear a whimper. May I get her?”
Daisy smiled. “Frodo, have you ever changed swaddling before?”
Frodo’s brows drew together. “I can’t say as I have; at least, not in many a year. I may have for Merry, when I was fourteen or so, but I can’t rightly remember.”
Daisy giggled. “We shan’t make you learn today. I’ll get her and make sure and certain she’s proper and ready to receive company.”
Pearl and Frodo spent the afternoon in their usual fashion, enchanting one another. Near the end of their playtime, Frodo was telling her a story in the rocking chair, quietly; so softly only Pearl could hear it. Her eyes were round as saucers as she tried to mirror his every expression.
Lily felt refreshed after her rest, and stood in the kitchen doorway for several moments watching the two play together. All over again, she hoped and prayed she would one day see Frodo with their own children. It seemed impossible, and yet... Lily prayed again, in her heart, still watching them.
Frodo glanced up and caught her eye. He smiled warmly for her, and got up from the rocking chair with the babe in his arms. It was time to visit Lily now.
“Pearl, love, would you like to say ‘hullo’ to Auntie Lily?”
Pearl giggled and lunged toward Lily and then back toward Frodo, gasping with delight.
Lily laughed. “I see you like being the center of attention, at least!”
Daisy put aside her sewing. “Come along Pearl, my sweet, time’s up with Uncl -- with Frodo.” Daisy blushed at the slip and hastened on, “It’s your Auntie Lily’s turn to visit him now.” She cradled the babe in her arms and bustled out of the room.
Hal buried his nose in his farming accounts, careful not to look up from the table.
Lily blushed. “I’m sorry--”
Frodo shook his head and murmured, “I don’t mind... truly...”
Hal looked up at them from under his brows. “Why don’t you two indulge in a short walk? Not far, mind you; dinner’s around the corner.” He attempted in vain to hide the smile stealing across his face, and finally covered it by resting his chin in one hand as he sat at the table.
Frodo helped Lily with her coat, and they ventured into the gloaming. They wandered only as far as the lane, where Frodo stopped, and they stood facing each other. He reached for her hands and held them gently in his own.
He studied their hands for some time, and then met her eyes. “Lily, I’m sorry if I stirred too many memories, earlier this afternoon, about your parents...”
She searched his eyes, confused for a moment. “This afternoon?”
“When I asked how your parents met...”
“Oh! No, it’s all right... It matters very much to me that you’re interested... Sometimes, Frodo,” she paused, and needed to swallow before she spoke again. “Sometimes, this all seems like a dream, being here with you, and then I realize it is real, and I’m hardly able to believe it. I just need a little time to take everything in. I could tell you briefly now how they met, if you like.”
Frodo was still endeavoring to take in what Lily had said. He struggled to speak as calmly as he could. “I -- I think I prefer to hear the whole story, when you feel up to it. And I feel the same, Lily. Always, when I am with you. Always.”
Lily smiled, and caressed his cheek, once. “Tomorrow. I shall tell the whole of the story, as I know it, tomorrow. After our riding lesson.” Then she giggled, partly from nerves, and partly from giddiness. His words were still ringing, and beautiful, in her ears.
“I look forward to it...” he replied softly, and lifted one hand to kiss the back of it.
Daisy called from the kitchen, “Dinner’s ready! Don’t want it growin’ cold, not on a night like this!”
They sat down to dinner together, and Hal told them of his progress on the garden preparations behind Lily’s house. He determined it would take only a few more days to finish, as he wanted to wait a little longer before the final planting of the more tender seedlings, to be sure the freezes were over. There were always surprise freezes, but those could not be helped, and if he waited any longer, it would be too late to plant and still hope for a proper crop by the end of summer.
Hal and Daisy were not yet back from the barn when dinner cleanup was done. Frodo drew Lily into his arms and held her, breathing in the sweet honeysuckle fragrance of her hair. Lily nestled her head against his shoulder and sighed contentedly.
The latch on the door clanked noisily, announcing Hal and Daisy’s return. Lily and Frodo stepped apart, but held hands a moment longer.
“I’ll miss you,” Lily whispered, as Hal and Daisy opened the door.
Frodo glanced at the door, and then into Lily’s eyes, and whispered, “And I you.”
He lifted her hand to his lips to kiss it and felt her tremble. For a moment, he tightened his hold. It was so difficult to part. He cleared his throat.
Lily nodded. “Yes, tomorrow...”
As he made for the door, Frodo kissed Daisy’s hand and bowed, then smiled at Hal. He turned to smile once more for Lily before starting for the Eagle and Child.