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Sacrament

by CRB and Ladyhawk Baggins

11 March 1420sr

Lily awoke refreshed. She allowed herself to lie abed a little longer than usual, curled up under her quilt, carefully planning the morning. A sigh of resignation escaped her as she remembered she would not see Frodo until elevensies.

She started at a knock on her bedroom door. Before she could answer, Will popped his head in and grinned.

“Wondered if you were up yet.” He stepped into the room carrying a tray.

“Tea and scones!” Lily’s eyes widened.

“I can brew a fair pot of tea,” Will declared indignantly.

Lily raised her brows. “And the scones?”

He stared fixedly at the tray as he set it on the table by the window. “Rosie brought some by last night after you were asleep, with orders I save them for you for breakfast this morning.” He glanced at her, then back at the tray, and straightened the plate of scones, the teacup, and finally the pot. “Are you all right? You went to bed awfully early.”

“I’m fine, truly, just a little worn from the travel and excitement of seeing -- of being here.” She did not attempt to hide her smile when her brother finally looked at her again.

“You really do care for him. He’s an odd sort, but fair as any I’ve ever known. He’s been through some very hard times, Lily.” Will opened the drapes and glanced back at his sister.

Lily’s gaze became guarded.

“Well, he has! You can see it in his face. He’s tired, Lily. I’ve never seen anyone so tired, and I’ve worked almost the whole of my life. I know tired when I see it. There are lots of stories about him, too... most of ‘em are harmless enough, but not all... It won’t be easy on you.”

“Why do I feel you’re trying to talk me out of this?”

Will sighed heavily, and sat on the bed beside his sister. He searched her eyes. “I’m not trying to talk you out of anything. I’ve never seen you so happy, and by my way of thinking, you’re good for him. He’s also less... strained, when you’re about. It’s as though you bring out the best in each other...”

“I’ve never heard you so serious, or so level headed,” Lily teased, gently.

Her brother smiled. “Truth be told, it’s Bell what sees these things. I just want to be sure you know what you’re getting into, and don’t get hurt. You’re my sister. Nobody’s allowed to pick on you but me!” He offered half a smile, only partly jesting.

Lily thought a moment and picked at the quilt. “Thank you, Will. And you’re right, it won’t be easy...” She sighed and smiled, serenely. “He understands me, Will. How many folk can you say that about?”

Will smiled. “Not many, that’s sure and certain. All right then. I -- and Bell -- will always do what we can to smooth things, just so you know... She likes you, Lily.” He searched his sister’s eyes again, then shook himself. “Enough of all this seriousness! I’m working on a house in Hobbiton this morning, so I’d best be on my way. Bell and I’ll see you at tea.”

He dropped an affectionate kiss on the top of his sister’s head. “Drink the tea and eat the scones. Rosie told me she’d be dropping in to take you to the market nigh on to eight o’clock; seems she doesn’t think much of my pantry.”

“Will, you have nothing in your pantry. Rosie provided most of what we ate yesterday.” Lily eyed him critically.

“See here, I’ve got what I need, ale and cheese and apples, and bread--”

“When was the last time you looked? The cheese’s dried out, the apples are barely recognizable, and the bread is a decidedly unsettling green!”

“Just can’t please some folks.”

Will ducked out of the room as Lily threw a pillow at him.

--------

Rose knocked at Will’s front door the early side of eight.

“Come!” Lily called, as she finished drying her teacup and plate.

“Are you ready?” Rose smiled. “No beating about the bush. I know you’d’ve liked to see Frodo earlier, but there are some things I want to talk to you about, and I wanted to give us plenty of time.”

As Lily eyed Rose dubiously, she laughed. “Don’t worry, Lily. I’m thinking you’ll be quite pleased in the end.”

Lily raised her brows in curiosity.

“I’ll tell you on the way,” Rosie smiled, and handed Lily the extra basket she’d brought. They headed out onto the porch and into the bright morning. The cool air was crisp and invigorating.

“What a morning!” Rose exclaimed, taking several deep breaths as she surveyed the lane. “I wish my Sam were here. The seeds he planted are little saplings already and doing well. You can almost see them grow. Even in two days, they’ve grown a bit. See the new leaves?”

They linked arms as they headed for the market.

Lily studied the young poplars. “Remarkable! I wish he were here, too, Rose. Sam is so dear...”

Rose smiled wistfully. “Aye.”

“He’ll be gone a fortnight, do I remember that right?” Lily asked.

“Aye, and I didn’t think I’d -- here it’s only been two days, and I miss him so much already, it hurts. A whole fortnight --!”

“I know. When Frodo and I were parted for two months, never have I cried so much. I’ve never known such pain. Before... before we met in November -- well, before that, I didn’t really think I’d really ever meet him again after the Bywater Fair, all those years ago. But since November... to be parted...”

Lily shook her head, then glanced around, endeavoring to find the source of the music they heard.

“The cooing of the turtle doves actually sounds joyful this morning,” she observed. “Did you know they mate for life?”

Rose laughed softly. “How do you know that?”

“Hal and Daisy have a pair that nests in one of the trees near their barn every year. One is missing a toe, on its left foot, and the other has a discolouration on its wing. We’ve seen them every year for seven years, now. They usually don’t come until the end of April or beginning of May. These must be early.”

“And they mate for life... you can’t stop thinking about him, can you, Lily?”

“No,” Lily blushed. “No, I can’t.”

“Remember I told you and Frodo yesterday, the Gaffer misses Samwise, and I’d go see him sometime? Well, I saw him at the Green Dragon last night.”

“Yes,” Lily nodded, her uncertainty clear on her face, though her gift of sight told her the news was good.

Rose squeezed her arm and went on. “I told him I was chaperoning you and Frodo, and he said I ought to bring you for a visit for a few days. He’d like the company, and you and Frodo would be a lot closer.” Rose laughed. “From the look in your eyes, I’ll take that as a ‘yes’ and not a ‘maybe.’”

Lily giggled and blushed as Rose resumed with a grin. “You’ll see where my Samwise grew up, and hear stories from the Gaffer about Frodo, from his earliest visits to Bag End--”

Rose laughed at Lily’s stifled squeal of excitement.

They entered the market grounds, already busy with the noise of vendors, children running and shrieking with glee, and someone playing a tin whistle. The wares and goods shone colourful and bright in the morning sun.

Rose glanced all around her, then at Lily.

“We’d best stop talking about that now, or we’ll not get a thing done without the whole of the market gawking at us. But before we leave off -- Will and Bell can come up to Bag End for tea, seeing’s how Will’s in Hobbiton already, working. So it’ll be nice for them as well. So we’ll still want to get a few things for Will’s kitchen, since we haven’t decided what day we’ll be going to the Gaffer’s. We already know the pantries at the Gaffer’s and Bag End are well stocked, but I think we’ll want to get a few special extras.”

“We can use my basket for Will’s things,” Lily offered, “as I’d like to get an item or two just for him, and we can put the things for Bag End and the Gaffer’s in yours... Oh, Rose, going to stay at the Gaffer’s sounds wonderful; thank you so much...”

“Never you mind; I’m just being practical. You came to see Frodo at Bag End, didn’t you?”

Worry swept across Rose’s face, and her voice dropped to a whisper. “That’s what my Sam said... was he not supposed to tell me?”

“It’s all right, Rose... I don’t mind you knowing. I suspect you’ll know a lot more before all is said and done...” Lily tried to ignore Rose’s mystified expression. “Yes, I did come to see Frodo at Bag End, but there is much yet he hasn’t told me...”

“He’s quite good at being closed-mouthed about things...” Rose stopped walking and turned to face Lily. “Sam’s pretty closed-mouthed, himself, more now than he ever used to be. I’m hoping, with time, whatever happened on that Quest’ll fade, and take the shadow in his eyes with it. I can’t imagine how much harder it must be for you and Frodo...”

Lily’s eyes misted, then cleared, and she smiled. “It’s ever so much easier knowing we don’t face the future alone. You and Sam are the truest friends anyone could hope for.”

The two lasses smiled at each other, then wandered through the market, carefully stowing their purchases in one basket or the other. Taking a rest, they ate second breakfast at the Green Dragon, then finished up at the market.

---------

As they left the hubbub behind and headed for home, they returned to their earlier conversation. “Rose, when should we tell Frodo what we’ve decided? I mean, we’ve made all these plans for Bag End, and we haven’t spoken with him yet.”

Rose thought a moment. “Knowing Frodo, he’ll fret, and then make far too much fuss if he’s allowed to think about it too much. Remind me sometime to tell you how much time he spent planning for the afternoon tea at Yule... and that was just for an afternoon party. We’ll talk to him before he leaves tonight, or maybe tomorrow night...”

They laughed and talked of plans for elevensies at Will’s, luncheon at Bag End, and then back to Will’s for tea. They sighed and shared a knowing laugh; it would all be considerably easier when they were at the Gaffers.

Will’s house was in sight as they came round the curve in the lane.

“Good morning, Lily and Rose.”

Lily spun around in delighted surprise. “Frodo!”

“It seems I’m a bit early...” He smiled, almost sheepishly.

Lily’s expression softened. “I’m so very glad you are.”

She hoped Rose did not notice the concern in her face -- there was no need to worry Rose -- but Lily saw the pain hidden behind Frodo’s eyes.

Rose laughed. “So am I. Now you can carry the baskets.”

Frodo chuckled and accepted a basket in each hand, then offered an elbow each to Lily and Rose; they giggled like tweens. Rose grasped his arm lightly, and Lily curled her fingers around his arm, smiling up into his eyes.

Just for a moment, she felt the darkness, and then it slinked away. She shook her head slightly; Frodo saw it, and knew what Lily sensed.

Rose smiled to herself as she commented to the couple, wondering if either would hear. “The truth is, Frodo, you’re not actually early. Lily and I took rather longer than expected.”

Lily whispered close to his ear. “I missed you.”

Frodo smiled and turned his head to whisper back, “I missed you, as well.”

Rose laughed. “You’d think the two of you’d been separated for days, rather than overnight.”

Lily and Frodo both blushed, lightly.

“It’s very sweet. I miss my Sam as well, and I wish I could tell him.”

“Why don’t you write him?” Lily wondered.

“I wouldn’t know where to send it. I’ve a general idea where he is, but not so’s I could post a letter, and he won’t write me. He’s not one for writing just to say ‘hullo,’ not even those wonderful verses of his. He’ll sing for me the most lovely songs, but if I don’t write them down, they’re lost.”

Rosie held the door open to Will’s to let Frodo in with the laden baskets, Lily still at his side. She led him into the kitchen and helped him settle them on the table.

“You’ve got quite an assortment here,” Frodo observed. Lily heard a strain in his voice; he was hiding something, or trying to.

“You haven’t seen Will’s pantry,” Rose remarked. “Into the parlour with you. I’ll take care of this lot.”

“We could help,” Lily offered.

“Yes, but I don’t believe you’ve had your, ahem, proper morning greeting.” Rose smiled. Before Frodo or Lily could utter a word, Rose went on. “I know it’s not the most important part of a courtship, but it is a nice part, and easier to keep genteel when there’s a time limit. Elevensies will be ready presently.” She turned to empty the first basket.

Lily and Frodo smiled their gratitude and disappeared into the parlour hand in hand. In the center of the room, they stopped and glanced back toward the kitchen; Rose was out of sight. They gazed into each others’ eyes. Lily still saw pain in Frodo’s, and a request, or a question.

“Dear Frodo, let me hold you for a moment,” she offered, and he acquiesced at once, afraid of harming her, but exhausted and in need of her help.

Lily was shocked to feel a measure of strength leave her as they held each other tightly, but was glad when she then felt health and relief pouring into Frodo; she thanked Ilúvatar for her gift of sight, but even more for the ability to help her beloved. Beloved... yes, he is that to me, she smiled to herself.

Frodo pulled back quickly from her arms, but Lily answered him before he could ask the question.

“I’m all right... I’m not hurt.” She could not show any fear in this moment; Frodo would be too alarmed, and might leave...

His colour was better. He was breathing more deeply and more evenly.

“I feel so much better... oh, Lily...”

It was true, then. The darkness was intensifying, even though she was closer to Frodo now, and actually able to spend time with him...

For the first time, Lily sensed a knowing in the darkness... then she felt it retreat, as if aware it had been discovered. She trembled. Frodo still held her left hand in his right, and she was sorry he felt her trembling, for he would worry.

“Frodo?” Lily hesitated for several moments.

“Yes, Lily?” He searched her eyes with growing concern. “Are you truly all right?”

She was, for the time being. “Yes, Frodo, I am. Even better; for it is clear you are more well now than you were moments ago.” She smiled up at him.

He closed his eyes for a long moment, and sighed; then he met her eyes once more. “In the whole of my life -- what may remain of it -- I shall never be able to thank you enough, dearest Lily...”

She squeezed his hand and smiled for him, nodding once, but was saddened by his words, hinting at a shortened life. For the moment, she set those feelings aside. She must ask him.

“Frodo? -- at the Shirebourn, you said March brought the anniversary of another wounding. Is it soon?”

“The thirteenth.” He cleared his throat; it felt dry.

“Only two more days...” Lily suddenly felt afraid. “We’ll be all right...” She wished her voice held more conviction.

“Lily,” Frodo swallowed hard. “If it’s too much for you, I want you to leave. I’ll understand, mayhap more than you know.”

A timid smile touched her lips. “I’m a lot stronger than I look.”

His eyes brimmed with tears. “You don’t know, dearest...”

“True; I don’t, but I cannot believe a loving Creator would abandon us after bringing us together. Rather He foresaw this time, and offers us hope...”

A tear slid down Frodo’s cheek. “But Lily, I’ve given up hope before; what if--”

Lily’s eyes widened, and she quickly covered his mouth with her fingers to stop the words. He kissed her fingers and she removed them slowly. “I do not know, Frodo dearest...” She longed to say the words, but sighed and continued. “I do not pretend to understand or even to be able to imagine what happened on the Quest. I do hope one day you’ll tell me... We have but two choices: move forward together, or move forward apart.” She searched his eyes, and felt the acceptance in him before he murmured the words.

“Lily, there’s so much you do not know...”

“We shan’t worry beyond the next few days...” she assured him.

He nodded slowly. “If you are willing, we’ll move forward together... for the next few days.”

“I am willing.”

Lily closed her eyes and raised her lips to meet his, and they shared a gentle caress. Frodo tightened his arms about her, drawing her against him, and she slipped her fingers into his dark chestnut curls. The kiss lengthened, then deepened, and Lily sensed a desperation in it not unlike their kiss on Strider. She clung to him, and he held her closer, supporting her.

For a brief moment Frodo stopped and gazed into her eyes. Lily was breathless, but fine; she was not weary. And she wanted more.

He placed his left hand behind her head and they kissed again, his right hand warm on the small of her back. Lily shifted slightly and wrapped her arms about his neck, smiling into the tender insistence of his kiss, even as tears of joy filled her eyes.

They did not at first hear Rose beckon from the kitchen, lost as they were in the taste of their kiss of promise.

Rose waited a few moments before calling for them again. She’d heard their hushed voices, a little surprised they would choose to talk, and yet not. It was quiet now. She decided to try summoning them a third time before actually going to fetch them.

A muffled ‘coming’ was barely heard from the parlour. Rose couldn’t even be sure which one said it; mayhap it was both.

They emerged from the parlour hand in hand, eyes still damp with tears; despite this, their faces shone with contentment and peace. Rose took care not to notice their tears, and wondered at the rocky road they seemed to travel. Still, they chose to travel it together; surely this would bring them comfort, she decided, for their sorrow did not seem to stem from misunderstandings or disputes, but from a shared grief.

Rose spent the meal telling Frodo of the aside comments and glances she and Lily earned at the market that day, clearly enjoying the attention. Many folk there eyed them, and Rose could see the questions in their eyes. She admitted enjoying far too much simply answering with a sweet smile, and then turning her attention back to her conversation with Lily.

By the end of the meal the mood had lightened considerably, but Rose could not dismiss the feeling the storm was far from over.

They cleaned up and headed to Bag End for luncheon. Rosie planned to use some of what was left of the roast from the day before in a shepherd’s pie, assuring her charges with a grin that hers was better than what was served at the Bird and Babe. They laughed and compared meals between various inns all the way to Hobbiton, Rosie walking beside them, instead of behind. It seemed to ease some tension between Frodo and Lily. They held each other’s hand firmly as they walked, occasionally offering a gentle squeeze for reassurance.

As they approached Bag End once more Rosie turned to them. “You two take your time; it’ll take me a bit to get everything together. No arguments.” She smiled warmly and hurried inside.

Frodo and Lily settled on the bench by the front door, much the same as they had the previous day, his right arm about her shoulders and his left hand clasped between both of hers. He drew her closer when she pressed her head against his shoulder, then kissed her temple, lightly.

Lily sighed. “Frodo, I brought all your letters with me, and read them again yesternight, before I went to sleep.”

She raised her head to face him. His beautiful blue eyes were calm. “Thank you for telling me more about what happened in October. I’m certain it was not easy for you, to remember and write of what happened...”

Frodo’s eyes clouded. “You couldn’t begin to understand, knowing so little... you need to know... There is so much more I should tell you...” His voice caught.

“When you are ready...”

“Luncheon is ready!” Rose called from the greatroom window.

Frodo got up and offered his hand to Lily, smiling. She accepted it, and they stepped inside Bag End to take luncheon with Rose.

---------

Rose eyed them both as they took their first bites of the shepherd’s pie. She waited for some sort of response, but both hobbits simply took another bite, and then another, while she grew more agitated. Finally, she could bear it no longer. “So, is it better?”

Frodo and Lily glanced at her and then each other, nodding noncommittally, then laughed.

“Yes, Rose, yours is much better,” Frodo assured her. He lowered his voice. “It’s better than Sam’s, as well, but if you tell him I told you that, I’ll deny it, for he may take offense; and I remember what happened the last time I was critical of his cooking.”

Lily and Rose both turned to him, curious. Rose asked their shared question. “When was that?”

Frodo blushed at the memory.

“Please do tell, Frodo dear,” Lily encouraged. “Surely Sam forgave you... unless that’s the real reason he’s gone now.” Her eyes sparkled, mischievously.

“No,” Frodo laughed. “It was just after I moved to Bag End. With sisters on either side of him, he found himself included in their lessons from time to time, including cooking lessons. He brought the first pie he made here, for me. Come to think of it, I don’t think I’d moved here yet; I was only visiting. Be that as it may, he offered it to me, and I accepted. He did not tell me it was his first attempt. I had a thing or two to learn then about being a proper gentlehobbit...”

Two pairs of eyes widened. Rose swallowed a little and Lily braved the question. “You weren’t too terribly awful, were you?”

Frodo smiled. “With Sam, one does not need to be terribly awful, or even awful, to hurt him. Unwisely, I explained the crust was like leather and the filling -- what was it? Oh yes, apple; too tart, and too watery. I thought he wanted... no, I didn’t know what he wanted. I thought I should be honest about what I thought of the pie itself. He taught me several lessons that day.”

Rose broke into a smile. “I remember Sam telling me about that pie...”

Frodo turned to her. “I honestly did not intend to hurt him, but I did not appreciate the tenderness of the eight-year-old heart. Especially Sam’s.”

“He was none the worse for wear, Frodo, and he did learn a thing or two. In truth, once he stopped feeling hurt, he decided to stop dabbling at the cooking lessons and learn in earnest.”

“Did he now?” Frodo’s eyes widened in wonder at this news.

Lily could not forget Frodo’s declaration. “But, Frodo, what lessons did you learn, may I ask?”

Frodo smiled. “You may ask. I’m still mastering some of those lessons. Just because you think something, doesn’t mean you must say it. And just because some things are true, it doesn’t mean they’re the only things that are true.”

Lily’s eyes filled with questions.

Frodo drank the last of his second cup of tea. “The crust was a delicious-looking golden brown, and the apple slices were remarkably even, and yet for some reason I’d not seen fit to tell him what he’d done right, only what was wrong... I don’t know how much time he must have spent preparing it, but it’s longer than I’ve ever bothered.”

“When did he make you another one?” Lily asked.

Frodo smiled. “He waited several months before he made anything for me again, and then only with his mum’s help. He didn’t try another apple pie until the following summer. It was quite good, and I made sure I told him so.”

Rose sighed. “He loves to cook for you. You do know that, don’t you?”

Frodo stared at nothing. “He’s done so much for me... I miss him.” He suddenly wished Sam would be with him on the thirteenth. Surely he would not be harmed. Not as Lily would be. Tears stung Frodo’s eyes.

Rose’s eyes widened in surprise, and she sought a way to create a lighter tone again. “We’d best be on our way, or we’ll be late for tea.”

The three of them cleaned up quickly and headed back to Bywater.

---------

After they passed Hobbiton proper, Rose dropped behind the couple to give them time alone, while she daydreamed about her Sam.

Lily took her courage in both hands and asked Frodo tentatively, “What is this illness you’ll be facing? You told me it was the anniversary of another wounding, different from the -- the knife... May I ask?”

Frodo tightened his hold on her hand, and she stepped a little closer to his side as they walked. She heard him endeavor to speak in a measured tone.

“Sam and I were being -- being led through a tunnel, into Mordor...”

Lily felt him tremble and falter a step. She stopped with him, and gazed up at him. He stared straight ahead.

“It was so dark... and then we felt...” Frodo shuddered. “Though I held the Phial of Galadriel aloft, Shelob did not fear it...”

Lily’s voice quavered. “Shelob?”

“The spider who stung me, and left this scar.” He showed her the white mark on his neck, his smile ironic as he continued, “She intended to have me for dinner, but for Sam...”

Lily shivered. “I remember Sam mentioning the giant monster... but what is the Phial of Galadriel?”

Frodo’s eyes softened as he gazed at her, and he began their walk again, her hand still clasped in his own. “A gift from the Lady Galadriel. Remember we spoke of the gifts she gave?”

“Yes. Sam was given the box of dirt with the acorn and a bit of rope.”

“To me, she gave a Phial. Within the glass rests a bit of the light of Eärendil, the star I showed you in February by the Shirebourn.”

At this Lily stopped, and looked at him as if he were not serious. “No one could put a piece of a star into a phial of glass.”

Frodo looked away, and instantly Lily knew she had hurt him.

“Frodo,” she begged, “Please, forgive me. I -- I know nothing at all of the world outside the Shire, the world you saved... I did not mean to doubt...” She blushed, ashamed of her arrogance.

He turned back to her immediately, his eyes full of love; a love they still could not speak of openly. Alongside the love there was also melancholy. Only a few souls in all of Middle-earth understood what he had done, and where he had gone. She wanted him to share everything with her -- asked him to share with her -- and yet she had doubted his word.

“Of course I forgive you, Lily,” he smiled gently. “Truly, there is nothing to forgive. I cannot expect you to believe in something you’ve only heard of in tales, if at all. I will show the Phial to you, soon.”

He released her hand and opened his arms to hold her. Lily went to him, and he gave her comfort; she knew she was forgiven.

“Enough of that,” Will teased, as he and Bell caught up to them.

As unobtrusively as possible, Lily dried her eyes on Frodo’s coat before looking up and smiling at her brother.

“Will Burrows!” Rosie came up behind them. “I’m the chaperone around here, and I’d be much obliged if you’d remember that little fact. Now, see? This is exactly why brothers should not be chaperones for their sisters. They’re far too strict with their sisters, and not nearly strict enough with themselves.”

She turned a severe eye to Will. “Just for that, I’ll put a nix on your next stolen kiss, and don’t be thinking I shan’t notice. What do you take me for? Some grammer what can’t see beyond her own nose? Now, off with ya!”

Rosie waved the chastised but laughing couple on up the road. She’d noted the glistening in Lily’s eyes and didn’t know what it was about, but it was not the time to ask. Rosie smiled fondly at the couple, now standing an arm’s length apart.

“Oh, go on, hold her a little longer, Frodo. It’s broad daylight, and I’m here. I’ll start on our way again, just mind you don’t take too long to catch up.” She winked at the pair and strolled leisurely up the road.

Lily found it difficult to meet Frodo’s gaze.

Frodo gently cupped her chin and tipped her face until their eyes met and held. “I--” he stammered, then began again. “Are you quite all right, dearest?”

Lily knew what he almost said, and wished desperately to say it to him. When would he allow it? Until then, she would continue to find other ways. “I -- I miss -- our walks alone...”

“I miss them as well.” He gathered her into his arms again.

Lily released a shuddering breath, and nestled her head against his shoulder.

Frodo gently laid his head atop hers and rubbed his cheek softly against her hair.

They sighed at the same moment and laughed, drawing apart. Then they laced their fingers together, and continued their walk, finally catching up to Rosie.

---------

Just as tea ended, an urgent knock came on the front door. Will answered it and returned with Pogo Boffin.

“Miss Cotton?” The lad was out of breath, and he panted between words. “Mrs. Chubb’s been sent for but she’s in Pincup and her apprentice is with her and Mum’s babe wasn’t expected just yet, and... Will you come?” His face and voice reflected unmistakable fear.

“Yes, I’m coming. Don’t you worry, now. Your mum is just fine. She’s a little early because she’s having two instead of one, and there comes a time when they just don’t fit any more. I’ll be there in a few moments.” She gave the lad a reassuring smile and a nod of her head.

She turned to the other four hobbits. “I’m so sorry. I must go.”

Will and Bell glanced at each other. Bell smiled, warmly. “You’ve important work to do, Rosie. We’ll go to my folks place. We’ve been invited to dinner anyway.”

Lily carefully focused her eyes on the table in front of her. Frodo could see her weariness now; it had finally begun to show. They both knew she needed her rest.

Frodo spoke for them. “It would probably be best if I returned to Bag End now.” He just managed to speak past the lump in his throat.

Rose gave them both sympathetic smiles. “I truly am very sorry. I should be free at least by tea tomorrow. It’s Mrs. Boffin’s seventh and eighth, and her second set of twins. I’ll probably be up most of the night, as she usually delivers in the early morning hours. It’s always the same with her, but she still likes to make a fuss about it. I’m certain Mrs. Chubb will be here before she’s needed, so I’ll really not be needed at all but for show, though an extra pair of hands is always helpful...”

They were listening so intently that Rose stopped, unaccustomed to such attention. Lily had helped at Pearl’s delivery; Bell had been present at two births, not including farm animals, but had not yet assisted.

Frodo’s expression was one of open admiration. “Rose, please don’t apologize for having to go. What you’ll be doing there is more important by far than anything going on here... Sam must be so proud...”

She blushed. “Well, her deliveries are so easy, Mr. Boffin could be the midwife’s apprentice, but Mrs. Chubb doesn’t take to having the husband in the room, or any male, for that matter. I’m afraid I’ll need to catch up on some sleep after that.”

Lily listened carefully and turned to Frodo, glancing at Rosie first, for her approval. “Would you come to tea and supper tomorrow, Frodo?”

Will smiled. “Don’t you mean tea and dinner?”

Bell gave a tug on Will’s arm, and explained, “Of course, she does; tea, dinner and supper. It’s just easier saying ‘tea and supper.’” She smiled at Will sweetly.

Frodo nodded his agreement and searched Lily’s eyes, both of them fighting tears. She knew, beyond simply missing him, that he would be assailed by the darkness from the moment he left her.

Rose escorted Bell and Will out the door, promising to see them the next day at tea. She then glanced back over her shoulder to see Frodo take Lily in his arms as she stood on tiptoe and slipped her arms about his neck. Rose did not mean to stare, but noticed again how well the two suited. They pulled back and gazed into each other’s eyes. Frodo lowered his head to Lily’s, and Rose looked away.