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Sacrament

by CRB and Ladyhawk Baggins

28 February 1420sr

Frodo stepped onto the now-familiar front porch and wondered how much longer he should stay in Deephallow. He needed to return to Bag End to prepare for her visit, but when? How long would it take to set everything in order? Frodo realized he hadn’t the faintest idea, and smiled to himself, bemused. All this was so far beyond anything he’d ever imagined...

There was never any need to imagine. All you needed was kept safe on a chain in your pocket, and then about your neck, but you carelessly lost It. You miss the cool smoothness of It and Its warm golden light...

Yes... Frodo almost staggered backward. No! He struggled not to shout aloud as he threw all his strength of will back at the voice. All I need is here; all I need is her. Her warmth and beauty are real. She does not twist my thoughts, or whisper lies...

Are you certain? What about that other hobbit her father spoke of?

It does not matter, not now...

Doesn’t it?

Go away. I do not want you here.

Truly? If you did not want me, you would get rid of me... but you haven’t yet, have you?

Though Frodo felt the voice ebb away, comfort was lost to him, for it hovered near, biding its time. He shuddered as he envisioned it lying in wait for him in the lane when he returned to the inn that night.

O, Ilúvatar, will I ever be rid of my need for It? Frodo shut his eyes, fighting back tears. She must not know of this battle; it is too much for her. She deserves the light and warmth of summer, and the budding life of spring, not this cold, miserable, despairing darkness... What shall I do?

Knock, a gentle voice whispered.

Frodo raised his hand and lightly tapped on the door.

It opened, almost as if she were only on the other side, waiting...

He embraced her, perhaps more tightly than was seemly. He wanted to bury his face in her hair and lose himself in her. Instead he allowed himself only to breathe deeply of her sweet fragrance. How would he bear being parted from her, even for a short time?

Lily felt the desperation in his embrace. She tightened her arms about him, then pulled back a little to search his eyes. “Frodo? What is it?”

He shook his head, blinked and cleared his throat. “I missed you.”

A smile lit her face. “I missed you, as well. I’m glad you’re here. Second breakfast is ready -- did you bring Diamond?” She marveled as she felt him relax and watched the shadow in his eyes disappear in his smile.

“You’re ready for another lesson, then?”

“Yes, I am. Come eat breakfast and tell me about it.”

As she eased her arms from about him, he clutched her hand. The struggle she felt within him when she first opened the door was diminishing. Whatever was bothering him... she knew, and knew well enough it was not over; but for now Frodo was at peace.

When Frodo closed his eyes before the meal, Lily closed hers as well. They tucked into their eggs and tomatoes with a shared smile.

“You’re eating better this morning,” Frodo observed, his eyes twinkling.

Lily grinned. “It’s easier to get the food down without the lump in my throat. Diamond is a sweet old thing.”

“Speaking of the sweet old thing, if you’re up to it, we’ll canter a short way today. I tried Diamond this morning and you’ll enjoy his easy gait, but we’ll want to do it away from the inn.”

“Why’s that?”

“I’m afraid he’s a bit barn sour.”

“What?” Lily’s brows drew together in confusion.

“It means a pony doesn’t really want to go out for a ride, and once he is out, he’s anxious to get back home to the barn. Diamond isn’t too bad, but it’s best not to press our luck with him. We could canter over toward Willowbottom, and then enjoy an easy walk back to Deephallow.”

Lily’s eyes clouded for a moment and then cleared. The cantering would be all right; she decided not to be afraid. She nodded, then captured Frodo’s eyes and held them with her own as she measured her words. “I trust you.”

His breath caught. “Lily--” He started again. “It matters very much to me that you feel you may trust me. I shall endeavor to continue to earn your trust, and never cause you to regret your belief in me.”

She smiled and blushed pink. “I know.”

Their eyes met, and held. Frodo leaned closer, then seemed to catch himself, and blinked hard. He sat back and cleared his throat. “If we’re to be back in time for elevensies, we’d best be on our way.”

---------

Frodo helped Lily into the saddle, then mounted Strider.

“I like the dress you’re wearing today.” He nudged Strider closer to Diamond, to study it more closely.

“Thank you. Yesterday’s will require a few days of laundering to remove those mud spatters...”

Lily smiled. She was pleased he noticed her dress, then more pleased yet, as she realized he was taking in more than the dress. And he missed entirely her joking reference to the mud stains...

“Those are wild roses, aren’t they? Did you embroider them yourself? They’re lovely...”

He seemed to be looking at the dress; then he lowered his head and closed his eyes.

Lily did not see Frodo shut his eyes. She had glanced down at the soft pink of the roses, arrayed with tiny green leaves and vines, against the cream of the linen fabric in her overskirt. Her chemise was her favourite cream-coloured one, matching the overskirt.

“Yes, they are, and yes, I did embroider them. Thank you... I enjoy it; Mum taught it me. Indeed, I think it’s the only thing I can do better than Daisy!” she giggled.

When she looked up again, Frodo met her eyes briefly. She was surprised by the tenderness in his expression. He seemed to be struggling to hide something else behind it, but he was unsuccessful. Lily perceived his desire easily, even without her gift of sight.

Frodo glanced away, toward the eastern horizon, as if scanning the distant forest; but she saw he was only gathering his composure. I wish I could reveal such feelings to him, Lily realized. It is not the time. One day I shall be able to, I pray... but it is too early now. His voice interrupted her thoughts.

“The roses are lovely, indeed; but no flower could ever hope to rival your beauty, Lily.”

Without another word, he reached for her left hand and kissed the back of it, then smiled slightly, and placed her hand back on the pommel. He reined Strider away from the house and out toward Willowbottom, looking back to see if she followed.

---------

They practiced reining, starting, and stopping, and then trotted a short ways.

With a nod from Lily, they eased their ponies into a short canter. Frodo pulled up Strider, and Diamond followed suit.

Lily laughed. “It’s wonderful! May we do it again?”

The smile tugging at Frodo’s lips belied the serious consideration he seemed to be giving the request. “I believe that can be arranged, but only a little further; then we need to head back.”

“Why can’t we ride all the way to Willowbottom?”

He laughed softly. “It’s too far!”

“But it’s only just ten miles or so!”

Frodo laughed again. “You’re persistent, I’ll give you that.” His grin gave away his pleasure at her enthusiasm. “Dear Lily, you’re not used to riding. I should never forgive myself, as pleasant as this adventure with you is, if I allowed it to go on too long... walking and sitting would be decidedly uncomfortable for you after such a long ride, so soon. When you’re more used to it, we’ll indulge in longer rides...”

Lily pouted only a moment, and then giggled. “Dear Frodo! How can I possibly argue with that face? All right, one more short canter and then we turn back to Deephallow.” She paused and continued, softly, “Thank you for watching out for me, and putting my needs first, even when I do not know what they are myself.”

Frodo blushed and opened his mouth, but closed it again, then replied, “You’re welcome.”

After another brief canter, they turned their ponies toward the inn, and home.

---------

At the Eagle and Child, they again found their corner table and settled comfortably. Frodo ordered the inn’s other specialty, shepherd’s pie, for both of them, and cider. He closed his eyes for a moment; Lily touched his hand, and then closed hers to join him in giving thanks.

They were thirsty from their ride, and drank deeply of the cider, then resumed their conversation where they left off.

Frodo’s smile was almost imperceptible, but full of affection, as he recalled fond memories. “Yes, I learned most of what I know about riding, and pony care, from Da. I stopped working with the ponies for a few years, but living at Brandy Hall they’re not easy to avoid, as the Brandybucks even now have quite a large stable of ponies. It was easy to take a lesson any time I wished. I finally picked it up for a while again before becoming a tween, and then there was the adoption...

“I taught Merry to ride when he was five... Merry begged daily for lessons, until Uncle Saradoc gave us permission. Merry earned quite a goose egg on the side of his head, in a particularly spectacular fall. Auntie Esme forgave me, as it wasn’t my fault!”

Frodo chuckled at the memory. “He was six by then and riding for over a year, and thought himself quite the skilled rider. I warned him not to jump that creek, but he paid no mind, of course. That’s Merry! The pony balked and side stepped abruptly, unseating him. There wasn’t a thing he could do. I knew he’d be sore all over for days. But he got right back on, without a whimper. He tried to hide the fact he’d been hurt, but it was easy to see; you’ve never seen a lad try so hard not to grimace! Not one tear, mind you, not till we got home and his mum started to cry over him. He hated upsetting her.”

“Poor Merry,” Lily sympathized.

“Fortunately, he was none the worse for wear,” Frodo continued. “Were you taking lessons when your friend broke her arm?”

“Yes. Mum and Da wanted me to learn; of course we were all expected to. Will and Daisy took to it quite quickly, but I never did.”

“You’re making up for lost time very fast, indeed.” He smiled, and began to cut into the steaming hot pie. “I can see this will have to cool. Is yours just as hot?”

“I found out--” she stopped, and drank some cider. “I found out too late! Yes, mine’s too hot as well.” She smiled to assure him she was not hurt.

“How did your parents meet, Lily?”

Her eyes took on a faraway look.

“Would you prefer not to tell me?”

Lily blinked. “No, it’s all right. I was simply remembering. I would like to share their story with you... Mum and Da met at a spring festival here in Deephallow.” She giggled. “Da ran into Mum and spilled his ale on her favourite dress. She didn’t have particularly pleasant words for him. In fact, she scolded him thoroughly. He apologized, and asked her to dance, after promising to replace the dress, even if he had to sew it himself.”

They both laughed, with their heads close together.

Frodo’s eyes were bright. “And did he?”

Lily continued to giggle; her brows drew together. “Did he what?”

“Did he sew the dress himself?” His eyes bespoke mischief.

“No!” Lily laughed, and put down her fork to cover her mouth to keep from laughing too loudly. “But he did replace the dress, with one which Mum declared was just as pretty.”

“Did it become her new favourite?” Frodo’s eyes twinkled as he gazed at her intently.

Lily blinked several times. “I’m sorry... what was it you said?”

She smiled to herself for a moment, for Frodo was unaware he had taken away utterly her ability to concentrate.

“Did the dress your da gave to your mum become her new favourite?”

“Oh! Yes... I remember asking Mum that, the first time she told the story... I’ll never forget the look that passed between her and Da before she answered. I knew I wanted the same feeling...” Lily stopped short.

“What did she say?”

“Indeed, it was her new favourite, until her wedding dress...”

Frodo swallowed hard, and paused. “So it was love at first sight?”

Lily sighed. “For Da, yes. It took Mum a little longer -- at least to the end of their fifth dance.”

Unbidden, memories of Lily’s father came to Frodo; but his only memories of Roper Burrows were the dying hobbit’s last words. Frodo had promised him he would take care of a daughter, someone named Lily, before he knew it was the same beautiful lass who now sat opposite him. He had promised she would be taken care of... A chill ran through him, and he lifted his eyes to hers.

“That is a beautiful tale, Lily. Thank you for sharing it with me.”

“Are you quite all right? Your thoughts are far away...” Her voice held concern, not accusation.

Frodo blinked hard and stopped his tears before they could start. There would be other times and other places to speak of his memories of her father. This was not one of them. He would not cast a shadow on the joy of this moment.

“In fact my thoughts are centered on someone very near me. She’s quite lovely, and is sharing luncheon with me as we speak.”

They briefly gazed into each other’s eyes and shared a smile. The serving lad brought a pot of tea and took away their empty cider mugs.

Frodo began to pour tea for them both, then caught the lad’s attention. “Please bring some sugar, thank you.”

“Yes, sir.” The lad bowed slightly and hurried off.

“Have you any gaffers and gammers still living hereabouts, Lily?”

“My gammers and gaffers are all gone now, but I’ll never forget the wonderful times we spent together. Gammer and Gaffer Burrows lived in the smial Daisy and Hal now live in. I remember Gaffer Burrows telling stories of our relations, the Tunnellys, in Bree.”

Frodo replied in surprise, “You have relatives in Bree?”

“Gaffer Burrows met Gammer when she came to visit a cousin in Deephallow. Gaffer followed her back to Bree and courted her there. They lived there until Da was eight or nine. Then Gaffer’s da passed on and left him the smial here in Deephallow, and they came home. Gammer’s health, and Mum’s as well, was such they couldn’t travel much, so we’ve never been back to Bree.”

The lad returned with sugar, and Frodo added some to Lily’s tea.

“Tell me more about them,” Frodo asked eagerly.

“Gammer Burrows taught me to sew. In fact, she sewed the dress Da gave Mum to replace the one he ruined! Gammer Burrows thought it a good investment, in the long run.”

“She was right.” Frodo smiled warmly into her eyes.

Lily returned the smile appreciatively, and continued, “Gammer and Gaffer Chubb lived in Willowbottom. Gaffer Chubb would ride me on his shoulders, and it was Gammer Chubb who taught me to make the blackberry preserves you love so well.”

Frodo inclined his head toward her with a teasing smile. “I am forever in her debt.”

Lily giggled again, her eyes sparkling.

The barkeep nudged the old white-haired hobbit. “What did you find out about that lad Miss Burrows is with? Frodo Baggins, you said his name was yesterday...”

“That’s the one I told you about before; remember?” the old hobbit replied. “It was him and his man servant and young Master Meriadoc Brandybuck and Master Peregrin Took, the Thain’s heir, what cleaned out the Shire of all them ruffians. Baggins, well... he’s an odd sort. Too bad, really... seems he’s taken after his cousin Bilbo’s mad ways. What do you reckon Miss Burrows sees in Mad Baggins?”

“Who can say? She’s a lass, and you know how fickle they can be. I know a number o’ lads who’ve tried for her hand and made not a lick of headway. It can’t be his money she’s after, as she’s plenty of her own from her mum and her da. But there it is. You know...”

The barkeep lowered his voice further. “...both sides of her family seemed more interested in making money than children. Both her mum and her da had not more than one brother or sister, and she’s one of only three...”

The old hobbit nodded sagely. “I remembered that.”

Frodo glanced about the room. “Lily, I’ve lost all track of the time, and it’s almost tea. We’re going to be late.”

Lily shook her head. “Not if we don’t dawdle.”

The couple slipped out of the inn hand in hand, and hurried home. As they were running up the short hill to the smial, Lily told Frodo she would race him the next time, setting him to laughing at the mere idea of a race; he could not recall the last time he’d raced anyone for the fun of it.

“And don’t think I mightn’t win, either, Frodo Baggins!” Lily asserted breathlessly, as they entered the kitchen. She expected to see Daisy there, but they were alone, for the moment.

“Believe me,” Frodo panted, “I would try my best not to let you win, for it must be done fairly... but, then again, you are the younger, so how fair could it be? You must give me a head start, dear Lily!”

“A head start?! Listen to you!” She was panting as well. “Oh, I have a stitch in my side!”

Frodo was getting his breath back, his hands on his knees. “Actually, I was thinking just now that I may let you win, and you shall never know it.” He gazed at her, waiting for her reaction.

Let me win?!” Lily was giggling, and sat down in the rocking chair at the hearth. “You can’t do that, it isn’t fair at all!” Her smile was bright; as bright as her eyes. She did not feel the fatigue yet. “No head starts, and no letting anyone win! You know full well you’re in your best years right now, dear Frodo; and so am I.”

She suddenly realized she wanted very much to hear his response.

Frodo stood up straight and approached her, then went down on one knee beside her and rested his hands on the arm of the chair. One of her hair combs had fallen loose in their run, and her left hand was in her hair, holding the curls back and away from her face. The other held her waist, as the stitch there eased. She let go of her side, and reached to place her right hand on his.

His voice became more serious. “You’re quite right, Lily. We are both in our best years now; that’s the common thought about it, at least. But I pray our best years are ahead of us; for both of us. I -- oh, Lily, I have said too much. I cannot say such things to you, not until after March...” He kissed her hand, once, as it rested on his own, then lay his cheek upon her hand, as if to rest.

Lily’s eyes misted with tears. She released the hold on her hair and let it fall where it would, all auburn softness, and Frodo felt it touch his cheek. He raised his face to hers, and she saw the sadness in his eyes; they seemed a deeper blue.

“You already gave me your heart in December, dear Frodo. You have not said too much. And I have already told you I cannot love another. We understand each other well. I know what we face is difficult. I do not know what shall become of us. I only know I want to be with you as much as I am able. I pray for this, as well. March will take care of itself.”

They did not have time to think or speak further. Daisy entered the kitchen, followed closely by her husband. They were without Pearl; it was her naptime.

“It seems the Deephallow air truly does agree with you both! I’ve never seen a couple more in love,” Daisy declared.

Lily pressed Frodo’s hand with her own, hoping he would not be angry at the remark. Then she saw the pain in his eyes. Indeed, he knew what Daisy had said was true. Yet Lily knew he still feared for March. How I wish I could reassure him my love shall not waver then! Nothing could ever change my love for him!

Hal handed Frodo an envelope. “The post delivered a letter for you while you and Lily were out riding. It’s addressed to you at the inn, but it seems they know you’re here, and brought it by.”

Frodo recognized the somewhat scrawled but firm writing, and glanced up again at Lily. “It’s from Sam.”

“What does he have to say?” Lily struggled to sound cheerful, hiding the quaver in her voice. She knew Frodo would be returning home.

He opened the letter and read it through swiftly. “Sam is putting in the spring garden at Bag End. Merry and Pippin have written, and will be visiting for several days in the next day or two. It’s best I’m there when they arrive.”

Frodo attempted a smile. He raised tear-filled eyes to meet the tears in Lily’s own as she bit her lip to keep it from trembling.

Daisy cleared her throat and offered airily, “Come on, you two, help me with tea. I’d like to be able to drink mine in peace before the wee one awakens and demands... hmmm, well, she won’t be demanding my attention, but yours, Frodo. What to do with all the extra time to myself for one more day?” She smiled broadly.

They barely heard her. Frodo finally blinked, and asked Daisy to repeat what she’d said.

---------

Any talk of Frodo leaving was avoided during tea.

“So, Lily: how was the riding lesson today?”

Hal continued before she could answer. “I never thought I’d be asking you that. What with all the times I offered to teach you! I guess you were just waiting for the right instructor. Come on, now, out with it! How’d you fare today?” He grinned at her.

Lily smiled and sat a little straighter, then schooled her face to feign pride and slight indifference. “I will have you know we cantered today, and I did just fine, thank you.” She tried, but could not contain the giggle that slipped out. “It was wonderful... And Diamond has a lovely canter, smooth, and easy to sit. I’ve never gone so fast before!” She adopted the austere tone once again. “Mayhap I shall enter the pony races...”

All eyes turned to her, wide and slightly shocked; even Frodo, who knew it was a ruse. Daisy choked, “Lily Burrows, what’s gotten into you--”

Lily started to laugh.

“You tease!” Daisy turned to Frodo in mock wrath. “You! It’s you what’s brought my sister to this! Stuff and nonsense about being in the pony races! Honestly!” She allowed a smile to soften her face and her voice. “And I’ve never seen her happier...”

Frodo blushed furiously. “I--”

A familiar wail echoed through the smial. This time Frodo did not start at the sound, but grinned.

Daisy’s eyes widened. “She’s up early. Well, she must know you’re leaving, Frodo, and wants to spend more time with you.” She smiled, trying to ease the sadness in Lily’s eyes.

“Why don’t the two of you take her for a walk? Hal and I will clean up tea today.”

Frodo searched Lily’s eyes, the worry he felt clear in his own. Under his breath, he asked, “Shouldn’t you rest?”

Lily held his eyes with her own; she felt suddenly as though it were just the two of them in the room. She murmured, “I’d like to be with you, please. I will rest up tomorrow, after -- after you leave.”

“Are you certain?”

“Please?”

Frodo nodded, slowly.

Daisy saw to changing Pearl, then brought her from the nursery, bundled warmly against the chill. She gave the babe to Lily.

Frodo reached for Pearl, and she set at once to cooing and babbling. He laughed, and smiled at the babe as he spoke. “Let me carry her. It will be quite easy for me; I know how heavy she can become after just a short time.”

He tucked Pearl into his left arm and offered his other to Lily. She grasped it, as Hal held the door open for them.

---------

They walked into the nearby woods, Pearl wide-eyed with wonder at the different colours and sounds, and the feel of the outside on her face.

“Lily, I wish I could stay--”

“Oh, Frodo, so do I,” she swallowed her tears. “But you do need to be home when Merry and Pippin arrive. Please, may we not talk about you -- you leaving?”

Frodo nodded, unable to speak.

“The past week has been so much more than I ever dreamed...”

They talked, and laughed, sharing their memories of their time together since Frodo’s arrival six days before. When the Sun began to cast her long afternoon shadows, they knew it was time to return to the smial for dinner.

Pearl had fallen fast asleep in Frodo’s arms on their walk back to Hal and Daisy’s hole. The smoke rose from each of the three chimneys as the smial came into view once more, as if welcoming them home. They sighed, and kissed each other just once, lightly, before entering.

Hal and Daisy nodded silently to the pair as they came through the kitchen, on their way to the nursery. Frodo still held Pearl in his arms, and Lily smiled at her older sister, touching her arm as she passed.

Frodo slipped the babe into her cradle and brushed the downy curls near her forehead with one finger. Lily covered her niece with the yellow blanket, Frodo’s gift. They lingered a moment in the room, gazing at the sleeping child. A tear escaped down Lily’s cheek, and she dashed it away. Frodo reached for her and drew her into his embrace. She wept silently into his coat, her arms wrapped around his waist.

“Shhhh, Lily,” he whispered into her hair. “Shhhh, dearest. If Ilúvatar wants this for us, we shall have it. I have more hope now than I have ever had, because of you. Despite the fear; and despite all else.”

She continued to weep against him, quietly, and nodded her head once. As he held her, he almost did not hear her muffled words.

“I don’t want you to go.”

He whispered again. “I don’t want to go, either. I pray we shall come to the day when neither of us will ever have to be parted again. Lily, I want you --”

It was not enough. The words were not enough.

She had difficulty speaking as she pulled back from his embrace. “Frodo, I -- I want you, too. My dearest love...”

He could not answer her with any words, and he knew better than to kiss her now. He was too dangerously close to giving in to all of it, to asking for her hand, here, now, at this moment, without a thought for March, for the darkness, or any illness. He stopped himself. Nothing could be more selfish than to curse her with days of unremitting sickness. His prayers had been heartfelt, but his inner doubt was grievous. Why should Ilúvatar grant them a miracle? He could not tell her of his doubts. She was already unhappy.

The inviting aromas of dinner permeated the smial.

“They shall be calling us soon, dearest. Here,” he murmured, and pulled a handkerchief from his pocket as he eased away from Lily. He handed it to her with a coaxing smile. She smiled back at him weakly and took it to dry her eyes. They gazed one last time at Pearl and left the room together.

Dinner passed with Frodo and Lily regaling Hal and Daisy with stories of Pearl’s every delight on their walk. Lily pushed the illness away, and reached more deeply for strength. She knew Frodo was watching her for any sign of weakness.

Without a word, they fell into the task of doing the dishes, while Hal and Daisy took care of the barn animals.

“Frodo?” Though she tried, Lily could not hide the hesitancy in her voice. “Would you please stay for supper? Yes, I’m a little weary, but not terribly...”

“Lily...” He wanted to acquiesce, and could not hide the longing in his own voice.

“Please... I promise I shall rest tomorrow and the next day, if need be...” The words caught in her throat; she took a deep breath and continued. “Please, stay a little longer tonight...”

“I should not... but how may I say ‘no’ to you? You have kept your promise to me...” He hesitated. “I want to stay, but you must promise to tell me if I--”

Lily covered his lips with her fingers. “I promise I shall tell you when you need to leave.”

Frodo kissed her fingers, and Lily’s eyes closed briefly; then they stepped apart as Hal and Daisy entered the kitchen, noisily.

When Lily related Frodo’s decision to stay for supper, Hal laughed.

“I’m not one bit surprised --”

“Neither am I,” interrupted Daisy. “I know my Hal well enough to guess some comment is coming about not missing the chance at an extra meal, food and otherwise.” She eyed her sister, meaningfully. “So I’ll spare you both.”

“Me?! I’d never tease...” Hal thought a moment. “Well, knowing me I would, in fact--”

Daisy smirked at him, but he only winked at her in return; she gave up and laughed. “While Hal’s setting the table --” Daisy declared, and threw him a look; he grinned and began gathering the dishware. “You’d never believe where one of the hens has laid her nest. Here Hal went to all the trouble to build proper nesting boxes for them, and one of them up and decides to nest right under the cow’s hay manger. Who knows how long some of those eggs have been there! It’s too cold for them to lay now. I shudder to think what the inside of one’s like. I reckon they’ve been there for weeks, maybe a month, or more... It’s dumb luck the silly thing hasn’t yet been stepped on.”

Lily would properly thank her sister later for turning the conversation. Hal and Daisy shared one story after another on the oddities of their farm animals, all the way through supper. Frodo wondered if Pearl was missing a meal.

Lily giggled and answered for her sister. “She’ll wake when she’s hungry, and then no one shall be in any doubt as to what she wants.”

Frodo’s brows drew together.

“She’ll cry so all may hear. You’ve heard it before. She’s fine. The outdoor adventure with us wore her out, more likely than not. It was good for her. No need to worry; she’ll not go without.”

“Actually, now I think on it, I believe I would recognize her ‘I’m hungry’ cry... it’s very distinctive!” He looked to Daisy and Hal. “I’m going to miss her, including those big, fat tears of hers... Merry had fat tears, too.” Frodo’s smile was serene and wistful at once.

Lily marveled at the change in Frodo’s appetite in the past week. He was buttering his third slice of Daisy’s fresh bread, still oven-warm. Frodo had actually put on a few pounds... he has so far yet to go! she decided. Lily knew he would not eat as well upon his return home. He told her his appetite was really healthy only in her presence. It worried her. There was nothing to be done for it at present; she could only pray for his well-being, for protection from the darkness, when they were apart...

“That maidchild will be missing you as well, Frodo, and don’t think she won’t!” Hal interjected with a chuckle. “She’ll be looking for you on the morrow, and then I’ll have three unhappy females in this smial to deal with!”

Frodo needed to think it through for a moment. Lily, and Pearl... Then he smiled. Daisy would have to endure Pearl’s frustration. He looked at Hal and grinned.

“You’re quite right, Hal; that does make three! How may I make amends?”

Lily and Daisy shared a glance between them, but the other two hobbits missed it. Lily dreamed of Frodo staying; but company was coming to Bag End, and he must be there. She sighed a little to herself, gathering her strength. She had done well, but was beginning to tire.

---------

As the meal ended, Lily sought her sister’s eyes, and an understanding passed between them.

Daisy rose from the table and began clearing it off, and Hal and Frodo rose to help her. She waved Frodo away. “You two spend what’s left of your time together this evening in the parlour. Hal and I will be in soon enough.”

Frodo looked Daisy in the eye. “Thank you, Daisy, for everything...”

She smiled and blushed at his sincerity, and blushed even more when Hal raised his eyebrows at her, for she rarely blushed. “It’s nothing at all, Frodo, go on with ya’!”

Lily led the way into the parlour and made herself comfortable on the settee. Frodo hesitated only a moment and then sat next to her. He shifted and turned so he could face her.

“How are you now?” He searched her eyes, and took one of her hands gently, raising his right hand to brush a stray lock of hair from her cheek. He wanted to hold her, but this would have to do, until he knew more of how she felt. Frodo suddenly noticed his missing finger, and for a brief instant lost himself in memories. The Quest. He withdrew his hand from her cheek, and instead grasped her other hand, so he held both her hands in his. He thanked Ilúvatar; Lily’s eyes were closed for that instant, and she had not seen his distress.

“I’m well enough... growing weary, but still well enough for a little longer yet.” She smiled for him. “Now tell me, what of Sam’s acorn?”

Frodo started at the unexpected question. He returned her smile, then thought a moment. “It’s growing swiftly, as are all the trees Sam planted. It’s really quite something; the Shire’s never seen the like of it before. You’ll see it when you come to visit... You will come?”

Lily’s eyes widened in startled amazement at his question. “Yes, of course, I’ll come... I need only see to making all the arrangements, and then I’ll come.” She reached up and kissed his cheek, softly. “All shall be well, Frodo, somehow. We’ll find a way, together.”

Frodo’s eyes pooled, and a single tear slipped down his cheek. “You don’t know, dear Lily... what it shall be like--”

“All in good time... we’ll hope, and pray, and let the morrow take care of itself... I’ll miss you terribly, dearest Frodo.”

“I’ll miss you more than words can express.”

Frodo bent his head and kissed her. Lily longed for more; his lips were warm, and sweet -- but he pulled away.

She searched his eyes. “I’ll come as soon as I may. I promise.”

“I am able to see the weariness in your eyes, Lily dear,” Frodo murmured.

She sighed. “Come for an early first breakfast, at dawn, please? You did say you’d be up before dawn; you -- you wanted an early start?”

“Yes, I -- gladly. Yes. Are you certain you’ll be recovered enough?” It was no use trying to keep the excitement from his voice. She knew well he would always want to see her, as often as he could...

Lily smiled, and reveled in being able to reach up and smooth his furrowed brow, as she had the night before last, and to see and feel the tension in him ease, if only a little. Her smile deepened. “I’ll be all the better if I may be with you.”

Frodo’s breath caught in his throat. He caressed her cheek with his fingertips, and his thumb traced her lower lip, gently.

He watched her blue eyes turn more to green. She was trembling, and raised her left hand to touch his cheek. He gave in, kissing her again, slowly.

Lily closed her eyes, and endeavored to breathe deeply and evenly; the kiss was lovely, but brief. I am only a little dizzy, she assured herself. She heard him whisper her name, and then he grazed her lips again. He lingered another moment; their breath mingled, and she waited for another warm kiss, anticipating, still trembling. She then sensed Frodo forcing himself to stop.

He stood quickly. “I must go.” His voice caught.

Lily opened her eyes and found him gazing down at her with love.

She felt somehow sleepy. It was not a bad feeling. She felt she was speaking through a haze, or a dream. “I’ll come as soon as I may,” she repeated softly.

Frodo smiled gently, and nodded. “I shall see you in the morning...” She was so beautiful to look upon...

Oh, Lily, Frodo marveled to himself. There’s so much more I wish to say, but I cannot; do you understand? Do you know? he wondered.

He kept his voice soft, so as not to disturb her restfulness. “Good night, dearest. No, please stay; don’t get up.” He kissed her brow lightly.

“Good night, Frodo. I --” Lily paused, and thought again, smiling. “Good night, dearest.”

Frodo shook himself, and with an effort turned away. He walked back to the Eagle and Child, filled with dread for another night of shadows and sleeplessness, and with anticipation for the morrow; for seeing Lily once more.