Dawn broke cold and cloudy and grey. Frodo glanced skyward and muttered, “We are of the same mind today.” He halted Strider in front of Lily’s home.
You should leave. It is too early. She sleeps, unaware of you.
Bitter tears stung Frodo’s eyes. Perhaps you are right. He gave in to his own weary state, and gathered Strider’s reins to turn away, when the front door opened.
“Frodo! Come, quickly, get out of the cold, dearest!” Lily called.
Frodo’s heart clenched, then swelled with renewed love for the lass beckoning him. After sliding off Strider and dropping the reins, he hurried up the steps and into her open arms. When he could speak, he whispered in her ear. “I missed you, Lily.”
She sighed and murmured, “I missed you, dear Frodo.”
He pulled back a little and searched her eyes, then startled at the clanging of a pan in the kitchen.
“Hal, Daisy, and Pearl are here as well. I do hope you don’t mind; they thought it best...” She closed the door to the outside chill, and drew him into the front sitting room.
Frodo studied Lily intently, as if to memorize each tiny detail of her face before the time came for them to part. It took most of his concentration, and he spoke distractedly. “I’ll miss our quiet meal alone, but I do understand, and they are of course quite right... Your neighbors have fodder enough now to bandy about, what with a visit from Mad Baggins...” he smiled ruefully, coming out of the little trance he was in.
“What utter nonsense,” Lily chided. “Everyone knows everything about everyone else, until now. The gossipmongers crave to sink their teeth into something new. Your visit should consume them, at least until summer, or until your next visit...” She eyed him hopefully.
Frodo’s worried expression faded into an appreciative smile. “I believe I mentioned yesterday you were persistent... tenacious might be closer to the mark...”
Lily returned his smile. “I prefer to think of myself as the keeper of our ever-burning candle of hope, amidst the storm of our life. You stand before me, Frodo, protecting me from the worst of the buffeting wind and rain, where our candle would flicker and blow out. One day, the storm shall pass, and then we shall walk side by side, holding our candle aloft as it shines even more brightly. But until then, I will continue to keep it safe for us, and remind you it gleams still.”
Frodo choked on his words. “Dearest Lily, whatever shall I do without you?”
“Let us hope you need not find out beyond our brief separations between visits...” she soothed.
Frodo drew her into his arms again, and rubbed his cheek against her hair. They sighed together as Frodo composed himself; they would be called soon.
“First breakfast is ready!” Daisy summoned from the kitchen.
Lily and Frodo briefly tightened their embrace, then intertwined their fingers and entered the kitchen. He glanced round the kitchen in surprise. The table was laden, and Hal was already seated, with Daisy finishing up at the hearth, but Pearl was nowhere in sight.
Hal pointed straight down at the table, in front of himself.
Frodo’s brows drew together.
Lily murmured, “Pearl is asleep in his lap.”
Frodo’s brows raised in surprise. He bent low to look under the table. There, face down, with her arms draped over her da’s knees and her feet held with one hand against her da’s belly, lay the sleeping babe. Hal patted her back with his other hand.
Frodo broke into a bemused smile at the sight. Then his expression became thoughtful. “I’m sorry to put everyone to so much trouble...” he began.
“Trouble? What trouble?” Daisy asked, placing the eggs on the table.
“You’re up so early...”
“Nonsense, Frodo. We’re simply eating here instead of at the smial. The time’s not changed at all...” Hal paused and considered the uncertain hobbit before him.
“You didn’t grow up on a farm. In fact, you know very little about farming.” Hal’s voice was kind. “Cows like to be milked early and get really cranky if you’re late, every day of the year, rain or shine. So don’t go troubling your head about it. Besides, the little miss woke early herself this morning, though you’d not know it now.”
“Only because of that trick of yours.” Daisy sat at the table and indicated Lily and Frodo should sit as well. “Why being a teetering snipe with her on his legs puts her to sleep -- it works every time -- I can’t imagine, but she’ll be much happier after her early morning nap.”
Hal smiled broadly. “Don’t worry, Frodo -- when the time comes, I’ll teach you the trick.”
Lily and Frodo blushed to their toes.
“Hal!” Daisy chastised him. “You are impossible! Frodo, please forgive him,” she implored.
Frodo cleared his throat, but his reply was still hushed. “It’s all right, Daisy. Thank you, Hal.”
“Before my wayward husband says something else incorrigible, perhaps now would be a good time to make a few plans for Lily’s visit. Now, she’ll need a little time to set the house in order here; can’t be running out the door without a thought to chimneys and such. Of course, we’ll keep an eye on the place, so there’s no worries about that.”
Breakfast was spent in quiet discussion of the plans made for Hal to drive Lily to Bywater. When the time came for the trip, Hal would stay overnight, and return the next day.
Hal and Daisy wondered about Lily’s return to Deephallow, but did not press for an exact date. Frodo assured them Lily’s invitation to visit Bag End was for as long or as short as she liked; and when she was ready, he would arrange for her trip home.
Daisy smiled. “It might be wise to post a letter, and Hal’ll come for her if Will can’t bring her home. Don’t want you having to worry about getting her home without a chaperone.”
Frodo’s thoughts were far away, and he nodded absently at Daisy. He was thrilled and frightened at the prospect of Lily’s visit. For a moment, thinking about March, he remembered the worries that kept him awake, as ever, most of the night, and lost his appetite... Then he glanced around the table. This, too, was real... Lily’s family, the health and happiness all round him, was surely just as real as his darkness and the illness he faced. Beautiful, giving Lily was coming. Would she be able to bear his torment? In every word and touch, she assured him she could. He clung to this thought -- this hope -- he glanced at her, and began to eat once more, famished.
When the meal was over, Frodo and Lily began to clean up, but found Daisy shooing them away. “I’ll take care of all this lot.” She looked from one to the other. “Frodo needs to be going; Lily, see him on his way. We look forward to your next visit to Deephallow, which I hope is soon.” She smiled warmly.
Frodo reached for her hand and kissed the back of it. “Thank you for everything, Daisy. Your kindness, warmth, and generosity are unmatched, anywhere in Middle-earth.”
Daisy blushed, and Hal laughed, then added, “Coming from you, Frodo, that’s saying quite a lot. We’re right pleased you could come for a visit, and look forward to another. Pearl’ll be even bigger by then. She’s going to miss you, you know, so don’t stay away too long.” To the surprise of all, Hal’s eyes misted, and he cleared his throat.
“Thank you, Hal.” Frodo smiled and began to reach his hand across the table, then stopped, remembering the child still on Hal’s knees.
Hal returned the smile. “I think I can keep her in one place for a moment.” He proffered a calloused hand.
Frodo nodded and shook it firmly. “I’ll be taking you up on that advice for helping little ones sleep -- that trick, as Daisy calls it -- when the time comes...” Frodo gazed at Lily with a warm smile in his eyes, unafraid at this moment for their future. “Or, perhaps Lily might teach me; for she must know it, too?”
Lily blushed and looked down at her feet, but at his words her heart leapt; she glanced up at Frodo’s face and they shared their private smile. “Though Hal’s tried to teach both Daisy and I, we don’t seem to have the knack for it.”
“Go on, you two,” Daisy urged. “Frodo needs to be heading home if he’s to make it by evening without pushing that pony of his.”
Lily led Frodo to the front sitting room, where he slipped his cloak around his shoulders and fumbled with the clasp.
She laid her hand atop his. “May I?”
“Yes, you may.” He swallowed hard.
Lily affixed the clasp easily, and then Frodo led her to the front porch where they fell into a tight embrace. Afar off, they heard the rumble of thunder.
“Are you certain you should return today?” Lily murmured against his ear.
“I would prefer not to leave here at all...” Frodo sighed deeply. “But March is coming...”
“And so am I.” Lily pulled back and searched his eyes.
Frodo smiled. “I look forward to seeing you again. I shall write every day until you may come.”
“And I shall answer every letter...” Lily glanced up at the overcast sky. “I fear you’ll end up quite wet before you arrive home, for it’s not cold enough to snow; but at least you won’t be hungry.” She retrieved a satchel from a hook by the front door and presented it to him.
Frodo’s eyes widened in surprise.
“You may open it.”
He peeked inside and gasped. “Your scones, and cheese, and your dried fruit, and -- and the last of your blackberry preserves! Lily! You have prepared yet another feast for me.”
She brushed a tear away and smiled. “See that you eat it all. I’ve gone to a lot of work to get some weight back on you.”
Frodo set aside the satchel and drew Lily into his arms, where she wept and mumbled against his coat, “You haven’t even left, and I miss you.”
“And I you,” he whispered.
Lily sniffled and tightened her arms about him. “I know we talked about me coming on the 10th, but I think I could be ready by the 9th... if you and Rose could be ready by then, and don’t mind...”
Frodo pulled back and searched her tearstained face, tears trickling down his own. “I’m certain everything may be arranged by the 9th...”
“What a pair me make,” Lily lamented, and smiled. She reached up and brushed the tears from Frodo’s face.
He then brushed away hers, and cupped her face in his hands, searching her eyes. “Lily, I could not bear it if you were hurt...” he whispered.
“Shhh, Frodo dearest... life holds no meaning without both joy and pain. All I want is to be allowed to share it with you... for as long as we may.”
Frodo shook his head and opened his mouth to speak, but Lily continued. “I marvel that I may see both the wonder and doubt in your eyes. We will trust to Ilúvatar, dearest Frodo. You taught me how.”
“Lily...” Frodo breathed.
She reached up and caressed his lips with her own, then blushed at her own forwardness.
Frodo slipped his hands from her face and wrapped them around her, drawing her close as she eased her arms around his waist and returned his embrace.
Thunder rumbled again in the distance, closer than before.
“You should go before the storm catches up to you. I don’t want you out in it,” she murmured into his coat.
He tightened his embrace, then eased back a little to search her face one more time.
She raised her eyes and met his; both allowed the love they felt to shine brightly.
Frodo lowered his head and caressed her lips with his own. “Goodbye, Lily Burrows,” he whispered.
“Not goodbye, Frodo Baggins,” she whispered back. “We’ll see each other again soon.”
He nodded and kissed her once more. “I must go, or I shall never be able to leave... I’ll see you on the 9th...”
“Yes. Travel safely... may Ilúvatar bless and keep you...” She reached up and brushed his cheek with her lips, savoring his warmth one final time before releasing him.
They stepped apart reluctantly, tears brimming again.
Frodo reached for the satchel and slung it over his shoulder. He gazed into her eyes a moment longer, then turned abruptly and mounted Strider swiftly.
“You’ll give Pearl a kiss for me?”
Lily nodded, and raised her hand in farewell, and Frodo returned it, then cantered down the lane out of sight.
When Daisy woke Lily for second breakfast, she smiled kindly at the tear-streaked face of her sister.
“Lily, sweet, it’ll all work out. You’ll see him again soon.”
“I know,” Lily whispered. “It’s just... I miss him, Daisy.”
“Sweet,” Daisy soothed. “It’s only been a few hours... never mind. We don’t want you feeling poorly by the time you go to visit him, so come and eat some breakfast.” She offered her sister a smile. “Then you may return to your bed to sleep, and dream of him, for even I can see you’re weary.”
Lily sniffed and smiled for her sister, and came out to the kitchen for eggs and toast.
“He’s checking the barn and your house. With the rain coming on, we don’t want any open windows or doors. He checked the smial first, so we’ll be fine here.”
“Is the storm here already? I’d hoped it was still far away, or did I really sleep so long... Oh, I do hope Frodo is not caught in it.” Lily’s eyes brimmed with tears.
Just outside Frogmorton, the rain started. Frodo pulled his hood up over his head. “I know, Strider... I don’t care much for it myself. What say you we hole up in Frogmorton until it passes? It shouldn’t be long.” Frodo smiled to himself. “I could write Lily a letter.”
You should not write her... you deceive her...
Frodo’s heart sank. How swiftly the darkness returned! Anger awoke within him.
“No,” Frodo hissed through gritted teeth.
Anger merely feeds the darkness. Put anger aside.
Frodo glanced round, surprised; but he knew in his heart the source of the gentle words. It is true, he answered silently. I shall lay the anger aside, and pray for Your help, instead.
He sighed deeply, and nudged Strider into a canter.
The afternoon post rider arrived just after tea, and knocked on Hal and Daisy’s front door.
Daisy opened the door and broke into a smile. “Robin, what do you have for me today?”
The young hobbit bobbed his head. “Not for you, Mistress Banks; but for Miss Burrows. I tried up at the house, but there was no answer, so I figured she was here.”
“She is.” Daisy reached for the letter, and the lad pulled it back.
“I promised to deliver it to Miss Burrows... I got paid extra to get it here quick like,” he explained, his expression apologetic.
Daisy’s brows drew together. “I’ll get her.”
“Lily, Lily? Lily, wake up. There’s a letter for you at the door, and Robin is quite unwilling to give it to anyone but you.” Daisy gently shook her sister’s shoulder.
“For me?” Lily asked, sleepily. She sat up abruptly. “He can’t be home yet. I wonder who it’s from...”
“Well, we won’t know until you answer the door.” Daisy did not hide the mild exasperation in her voice. “All right, so I want to know who it’s from as well. Move along.”
The sisters threw each other indulgent smiles on their way to the front door.
“Hullo, Robin. Daisy says you’ve a letter for me.”
“Yes, Miss Burrows.” He handed the letter to Lily, who instantly recognized the flowing hand. “He paid me extra to get it here quick as I could.”
Lily’s hand trembled as she stared at the letter.
“I’ll be going now.” Robin started to turn away.
“Wait; thank you,” Lily deterred him. “Please, stay a little. We’ll fix you some tea and bread and cheese. I’m sure you must be tired after your ride.”
Daisy wasn’t sure what Lily was up to, but decided to play along. “Come, Robin, into the kitchen with you. We’ll warm you up, and let you dry out a bit.”
Lily slipped into her room and carefully opened the letter.
My Dearest Lily,
The rain caught up to me outside Frogmorton, and I decided it might be wise to take advantage of the short downpour. Strider is happily munching extra grain in his stall, and I am ensconced at a table by the fire at The Floating Log. The innkeeper was less than pleased when I pulled out my own scones and jam. The tea is not as strong as that served at the Bird and Babe. Already, the rain is letting up, so I have not but time to jot this note to you and be on my way again, if I’m to make it to Bag End by nightfall. I fear Strider and I will need to take a much slower pace going home than we did on our way to Deephallow, though I suspect Strider is quite happy with this arrangement. I miss you, my dearest, and hope this finds you quite rested and feeling completely well. The rain has passed. I must be on my way again. May Ilúvatar bless and keep you.
With deepest affection,
Lily smiled and brushed the tears from her cheeks. She found paper and ink for a hasty reply.
My Dearest Frodo,
But for missing you more than is possible to express, I am quite well. I worried so when the rain came pouring down here. I am glad you were safe and warming by a fire. How I wish I were with you. I have enlisted Daisy in holding Robin with tea and food until I may finish this, so it may be delivered to you all the sooner. I pray you arrive home unscathed, and this letter will find its way to you swiftly. I miss you, as well, my dearest. May Ilúvatar bless and keep you. I shall see you on the 9th.
With deepest affection,
Daisy popped her head around the bedroom door. “Lily? Robin is ready to be on his way.”
Lily glanced up at her sister and smiled. “Hold him a moment more.”
Daisy nodded and disappeared from the doorway.
Lily tucked the letter into a carefully addressed envelope, and sealed it with wax and her stamp, a lily. She paused to gaze at the address again. Never did I believe I should see his name and address in my hand, Lily smiled to herself. Then she withdrew several coins from a leather pouch on the dressing table and headed to the kitchen.