Back next

Sacrament

by CRB and Ladyhawk Baggins

5 April 1420sr

The posted announcements had been arranged since March 25th, the day Frodo decided Garden Hill would be built; the same day Sam told his Rosie they could set a wedding date. On March 30th, riders posted the news on pub doors throughout the Shire of ‘the Reading of the Promisings of Samwise Gamgee and Rose Cotton, 5 April 1420, 8 o’clock in the morning, the Green Dragon, Hobbiton, Westfarthing.’

It was customary to post as widely as possible the news of the Promisings five days before the event, to allow anyone with a protest their rightful say in the matter. Once the Promisings were read aloud, the couple was officially betrothed, and none could protest it.

---------

A large mix of folk, at least as many as appeared at the fairs in both Hobbiton and Bywater, gathered in front of the Green Dragon just after first breakfast. Hobbits were fond of their food, drink, leaf, and gardens; weddings combined them all. And rumour was going about that the Gamgee-Cotton wedding festivities would be celebrated for a whole week, two days more than expected, considering Sam’s station.

The crowd, already excited, hummed with gossip at the arrival of Frodo Baggins, the Master of Bag End, with Lily Burrows on his arm. She was the one from Deephallow... she seemed respectable enough. But what did she see in him, other than his vast fortune? Besides, wasn’t he just an old bachelor, like that mad Bilbo, who disappeared without a trace? It wasn’t like Master Frodo was going to marry her, so what was he leading the poor thing on for?

Frodo and Lily moved through the crowd, too wrapped up in each other to notice the prattling around them. They stopped close to the Cottons and the Gamgees, with Will and Bell nearby. The objects of gossip were deep in conversation, and some of the crowd was disappointed at not being able to get a better glimpse of Mad Baggins and the lass who seemed smitten with him. None would admit they made sure they got an eyeful the first week in March, when the pair was seen together. Weren’t they standing awfully close to each other, for a couple who weren’t promised...?

Some whispered Master Meriadoc Brandybuck and Master Peregrin Took would be making an appearance, but as it turned out, the two tall heroes from the Wars could not come today. This tidbit had already traveled quickly through the crowd. Some declared knowingly the pair was off on a hunting trip. Others asserted they were off to Bree to see the Big People, and to have a ‘real’ pint. Wasn’t there supposed to be a fair there in several days? Still others suggested they were off in faraway lands talking to trees, but this elicited mostly laughter within the crowd.

And anyway, Master Samwise Gamgee was on his way any minute now. He and Rosie Cotton had been together since childhood. What had possessed him to wait so long to marry her? And why had she waited for him? Especially as plenty o’lads went calling...

The gossip turned to talk of the smial being built on the New Row. Mad Baggins was having it built for Sam and Rosie... or so everyone heard, anyway, but Baggins would keep the ownership for himself. Any other possibilities were quickly squelched. It couldn’t be a gift. Who gave a new home away? Especially a master to a servant? It wasn’t done...

A sudden cheer went up, and all attention turned to the arrival of Samwise and Rose. The crowd quieted and quickly became solemn as Sam led Rosie by the hand to where Frodo stood, outside the front door of the Green Dragon, where all the Promisings of Hobbiton and Bywater were read. The Promisings were a custom, and customs demanded respect. Parents shushed their children.

At the stroke of eight o’clock, the Promisings were read aloud in a strong, clear voice by Deputy Mayor Frodo Baggins, announcing the couple’s ‘decision and promise’ to wed on the first day of May, 1420. As dictated by tradition, he addressed the crowd and did not look at Sam and Rose, who blushed deeply, squinting a little in the bright morning sunshine.

“Let no one now gainsay them,” Frodo finished, and the Reading was done.

Frodo smiled and let the scrolled paper roll back in on itself, then handed it to Sam. As deputy mayor, he shook Sam’s hand and kissed Rose on the cheek; as friends, he and Lily were the first to embrace the couple and wish them well, not caring if anyone saw their tears. A shocked whisper raced through the crowd at Lily’s prominent place in the first greeting, but was quickly forgotten as family and friends and well wishers crowded around, surrounding the Promised couple.

Frodo relieved Lily of the satchel containing their food, and they quietly slipped away. When they were well out of sight of anyone, he reached for her hand, and their fingers intertwined. For a time they strolled together in companionable silence, content to share each other’s company and listen to the sounds of spring in the Shire. It was warm, and pleasant, for early April.

Their path led them to a little bluff. Frodo unerringly stepped onto a dim trail winding through the thriving elderberry bushes. Saruman destroyed the trees and most of the shrubs in this area of the Shire, but they were hardy, like their hobbit caretakers, and were already reclaiming the land.

Lily felt excitement stirring within Frodo, and it seemed to be building with every step. He was endeavoring to conceal it -- she sensed this as well -- but his happiness, like the light within him, shone brightly on this morning. She noted it when he came for her at Will’s earlier, for the Reading. A part of her wished to ask him what it was about, but she was afraid to hear. She feared letting herself become excited, as he was, and so she deliberately focused on each moment with him, careful not to anticipate anything.

He reminded her yesternight, as they parted, of the walk alone they would take today after the Reading, and she had laughed and assured him she needed no reminder, but he had not laughed; he had only smiled, and his goodnight kiss after their prayers held something more... her heart raced again as she recalled it. She needed to sit down and collect herself after he left. Sleep had not come easily last night.

Then this morning, after stepping briskly inside Will’s front door, and a quick ‘good morning,’ Frodo had swept her into his arms, murmuring against her ear that the darkness had hardly been able to hurt him at all in the night. He kissed her joyfully, knowing he would not be inflicting very much pain...

Lily’s heart ached then, as he stopped and pulled back. She knew he was in anguish again before he spoke.

“How can I think of inflicting any pain at all on you? Even only a little? How can I think it acceptable? To harm even slightly the one I--? Lily, can the darkness do even this to me? Make me think it is all right to hurt you?”

It had taken the better part of a quarter-hour of her struggling to convince him, remind him, cajole him: she was fine, and would be fine, always, with a bit of rest. Finally, he had calmed, barely in time for the Reading ceremony.

Now he seemed happy again, but more thoughtful, somehow, than earlier this morning. She would not say more subdued; he was more controlled. Controlled, suppressed excitement was what she sensed. Lily would not dare to think ahead. She forced herself to listen to his voice, wondering if mayhap she missed anything he had said.

They had reached his old reading glade, as he called it.

“The new trees aren’t very tall yet,” Frodo observed, pointing out a stand of young maples. “And were it not for Galadriel’s gift to Sam, no trees would be here at all... It’s not truly a glade again yet, but it’s becoming one! Sam’s planted an oak where my reading tree stood... see, just there. The tree stump is still there. It was hundreds of years old...”

Frodo led her forward to a very wide tree stump, cut low to the ground. It was an oak, as well. “See how many rings...”

He stopped for a moment, and Lily held her breath. He squeezed her hand and smiled for her, then cleared his throat. “See,” he repeated, “the rings here are very easy to count. I believe I counted 439 here one day... while I was out walking...”

Frodo stopped again, this time to gaze at Lily. He set the satchel down on the tree stump and faced her, taking her hands in his.

Lily allowed her eyes to close. She was past the point of trying to hide how she felt whenever he gazed at her, whenever he touched her. It required too much energy to hide...

He watched her eyes close, and knew what it was she felt. She was here with him, eager to help him and to love him no matter what the future held. Frodo had never been more torn. He corrected himself. Only once had he been more torn. He shook off the thought; he was weary of the darkness reaching in to ruin all his moments of joy. But how could he subject her to this?

Lily recognized the pull of the darkness. She opened her eyes, meeting his worried ones, and she tightened her hold on his hands.

“But I was walking alone that day,” he reflected softly, his gaze intent upon her. “I’m weary of walking alone, Lily...”

She blinked, and stopped breathing. Then she took a quick breath and nodded once in understanding.

“Lily, I want you with me, always. I need you, and not for your healing, although I suppose I need that too...”

He looked disconsolate. “Frodo--”

“Lily, I’ll never be well again. I’m changing... I’m disappearing somehow; it started to happen again in the ten days you were away. It’s difficult to describe. It’s like a hearth fire, gradually dying down. Sparks of life are leaving me as each day passes -- the days without you near. Do you believe me, Lily?”

Lily fought down the fear growing within her heart. If they did not marry in time, or at least stay close, Frodo might well die, and she would be helpless to stop it. She met his eyes steadily.

“I believe you, Frodo. You’ve never lied to me; and my gift of sight also tells me you’re not exaggerating...”

“Thank you...”

She felt his worry ease with a tinge of relief.

“Lily, besides Gandalf and Elrond, only Sam may lay claim to any knowledge of this, and I’ve told him nothing outright. I know he struggles to understand, but he cannot put his finger on what’s happening. He only knows I’m -- I’m not well when you’re away...”

Frodo released her and began examining his right hand. “Lily, my hand was -- I could see through it, I don’t know how... And I don’t know even if it was really happening, or I imagined it. And whom can I tell? Who’ll believe me? Sam would, I’m certain, but he would worry terribly, and so I shan’t tell him. But now I’ve told you, and you’ll worry -- Lily, I’m sorry...”

He gazed into her eyes again, grateful for her calm. “And yet, I must tell you these things if we are to make -- a decision -- about our future... It isn’t fair to hide the truth from you -- how bad it truly is. I don’t know how to stop it -- other than to continue to ask the Creator for help... and hope He may grant aid...” His voice trailed off, and he glanced down again, missing the light that leapt into Lily’s eyes.

She swallowed, trying to breathe, and trying with all her might to quell her excitement. Frodo was on the verge of a decision about her -- about them; she saw it clearly there, in his eyes, and felt it within him. She wanted to weep for joy. How to help him? Oh, Ilúvatar, guide me--!

Lily held onto hope, and let Frodo hear it in her voice. “But it’s better when I’m near... it doesn’t happen...”

He raised his hand to touch her face, then stopped. “It’s happening more slowly since I’ve been given you--” Then he caressed her cheek once, and saw her tremble. “My gift from Ilúvatar,” he smiled sadly, “dear Lily... but it is happening, nonetheless.”

Lily slowly took his right hand into her left. “Dearest Frodo, I have no care for how long or short our time together on earth might be!” She cast about in her mind for the words that might assure him of her sincerity.

“Do you remember the story of Arwen and Aragorn?” She wondered how much longer she would be able to control the tremor in her voice.

His brow furrowed, and it was all she could do not to kiss him. He was puzzled by the question.

“Of course. I told it you myself -- I think... or did Sam tell you?”

“You did, Frodo; you told it at the Yule party.” Lily smiled, and hoped she did not look as giddy as she felt. They both knew what was really being discussed. She held his eyes with hers, speaking slowly and deliberately.

“Queen Arwen gave away her very immortality to be with her dearest Aragorn, knowing their time together shall be, for her, as the blink of an eye. And yet Aragorn accepts her love, knowing her sacrifice, and knowing how grieved she’ll be when mortality claims him.”

Lily took a deep breath, and released it, measuring her tone carefully. “How are we different from them, dear Frodo?” She withdrew her right hand from his left, and touched his cheek.

Frodo removed her hand gently from his face, turned it over, and tenderly kissed her palm.

She trembled again, and again her eyes closed. All about them was utter stillness; even the birds stopped singing. Where they stood, there was silence, but for his voice and their breathing, which was no longer even.

“My dearest, dearest Lily...”

She opened her eyes again. He was wearing a crooked smile.

“My dear Lily, I never cease to be amazed by your determination.” His smile reached his eyes, and some of the sadness was gone. “You are indeed a gift from the Creator, for no one else could be as patient as you have been, without His aid.”

He paused, and grew serious. She thought her heart might stop.

“Tell me what to do, Lily. I want so much to be with you... I -- I still think this course is somehow unwise. I could not bear to hurt you...”

He ached to say he loved her. He reminded himself that he had been the one who asked, in February, that neither of them say ‘I love you’ until some such time as they were ready to act on those words.

Lily was losing the battle to keep her voice even, but she no longer cared. “Frodo, there is only one way this can ever be. Since we cannot see the future clearly -- we cannot see all ends, Gandalf says -- then we can only put all our hopes on Ilúvatar. We can only pray each day He shall protect us both. We can pray for a miracle...

“I realize this is easier for me than for you, dearest. I’ve no darkness to struggle with, day in and day out, as you do. But there is no other way for you, for us, to be able to live with this dilemma, Frodo, than to give it up to Him. Have faith! We must give it to Him, and let it go.”

She looked directly into his eyes, willing him to understand. The familiar sense of falling into those eyes came upon her, and her knees went weak.

Frodo saw her begin to lose her balance, and held his arms out to steady her.

“Lily--!”

“Yes...” She could not keep her eyes open, and leaned heavily against him.

“Is it the darkness...” Frodo’s throat closed on the words.

“No, dear Frodo, no...”

“Then -- you need to eat?” He released the breath he had been holding.

Lily giggled, feeling slightly giddy. “Perhaps a little something would help... I’m sorry...”

He helped her sit on the tree stump. The warm feeling in her breast swelled as she watched Frodo dig quickly through the satchel and produce bread, cheese, and dried apples, then made sure she ate the food he offered her. She drank cider from the small flask they had brought.

The caring in his eyes was so disconcerting! Lily glanced away for only a moment, then smiled. “I’m better now. Thank you, dearest.” She realized sitting was too difficult, as she wanted to fidget. “I can stand, now.”

They both stood, and he steadied her again, Lily taking a deep breath as she endeavored to regain some bit of composure. She gazed up into his blue eyes with a fresh start.

“Where were we?” she smiled, allowing her hope to shine in her eyes, wanting him to see it.

He matched her smile, then her whole expression, the hope included. She almost stopped breathing again.

“We -- we were speaking of prayer,” he murmured softly. “And faith, and trust. And hope...”

She had filled so much of the hollow place inside him. All that remained was the intense desire to be with her, always. He did not want to be parted from her. He was torn again, torn between giving himself over to this love, and denying it, denying her. It was impossible. He should never have let it come to this.

In answer to his fear, she laid her hand on his cheek, and at her touch the darkness diminished.

He loved her so much, and yearned to kiss her. He wanted to show her how much he loved her, but did not dare, not yet, or all their life together might be built on one kiss, for he felt he might not be able to stop himself at a kiss. It was dangerous to think such thoughts before marriage. He forced himself to think about Rosie and chaperones; and he struggled to settle his breathing.

“I have another question, Lily.”

She wondered why it was so difficult to read his expression, which was always so open, and endeavored not to let it worry her. The birds had begun to sing once more, or did she only just notice them again?

Frodo knew speaking of children would draw them closer together. They had never spoken of this, for speaking of children was speaking of marriage... of a lifetime spent together. His breath caught in his throat, for it was unfair to raise her hopes further, if he was not going to ask for her hand and thus complete the picture they were creating for themselves, this picture of utter joy. But it was wrong not to discuss this first.

He gathered her hands in his, and kissed the back of each one, then held them against his breast.

“Lily--” He struggled to find the words.

“If we were to be blessed with a child--” His voice faltered a little. The thought of children was a faraway dream he cherished, one he had always known would never come true; not for him.

“Lily, you would surely have to raise the child alone. I am sure I’ll not be here for most of those long years.”

He was so serious now, her dear serious Frodo, Lily reflected. She kept any amusement hidden, for he would misconstrue it, and be hurt.

Then suddenly his words went deep into her heart, and all her doubts vanished. A great weight -- she had not realized how heavy it was, until now -- fell away from her soul. Frodo was asking about children. It was done, now. She knew it, but he did not. Not yet. She breathed a silent prayer of unending thanks, then released her right hand from his grasp and reached up to smooth his furrowed brow. Frodo closed his eyes at her touch. She tried not to shout, as happiness began to burn away all her sorrow.

“Oh, my dearest...” she murmured gently. “After your parents passed, you were raised for a time by an aunt and uncle who loved you, and then by Uncle Bilbo, who also loved you, the best he knew how -- a confirmed bachelor! You know how much I miss my parents, and I know you miss yours. Were you not still happy? Did you not still grow up well, and loving the Shire so much, you were even willing to give your life to save it?”

His lips parted in surprise, and he struggled to speak, but nothing came out.

Lily could see only a little doubt in his eyes. She gently raised Frodo’s right hand to her lips, and lovingly kissed where the missing finger had been.

He breathed in sharply, and almost pulled away, but then she touched his face with her other hand. He became still, waiting, hoping... For what? he wondered. A miracle. Gandalf had told him once they happened every day. He gazed into Lily’s eyes. She believes it is possible, he realized. Would Ilúvatar indeed grant them one?

She spoke again, before he could.

“Would you pray with me, dearest Frodo? For all of your questions and all of your fears lead back to trust... I know it is more difficult for you than anything, to trust... but would you trust me, and pray with me?” She slipped her hand within his grasp once more, against his breast, and could feel his heart pounding under their clasped hands.

“I -- I trust you with my life, dearest Lily. Yes.”

She did not close her eyes, but gazed steadily into his, as she prayed for them both.

“Dearest kind Creator -- please give Frodo the faith he needs to trust to Your kindness. Help him to know that any child we might be blessed with--”

Lily swallowed hard, and bit her trembling lower lip, but did not take her eyes from Frodo’s. She would not last much longer, not with the love and hope she saw shining there. He was opening his heart to the possibility of so much grief, and pain...

“--that any child we might be blessed with shall be raised with love, surrounded by family and friends, and embraced by Your love. Help him to see that if either of us dies...” -- she hated to say those words -- “if either or both of us dies, for any reason -- that the child shall still be loved and protected, in Your great mercy. Please grant us a miracle, and give me the strength to do whatever I can to help heal Frodo, and give him the strength he needs to fight despair and help me. Grant him hope. Help Frodo to remember that when he and Sam saved Middle-earth, when he saved the Shire, that he saved me, as well... I was here, waiting for him, and I loved him even then, and I love him now...”

His eyes widened, and she continued before he could speak. “I must say it now, and I shall say it. I love you! Even if you left me today, never to return, I would love you. And I shall always love you, no matter what happens.”

Frodo stared at her, speechless, heartened by her devotion. How he ached for the love of a help-mate, a love that so many others knew and took for granted! And she did love him. He knew it, but she had said it out loud. She loves me! I cannot have this, he thought wildly. I cannot have such happiness --

Lily felt immediately the efforts of the darkness, stabbing at his heart. “Frodo! Come back to me, dearest! Do not let the darkness have its way with you. Come back to the Light!”

His eyes, which moments before had taken on a strange aspect, came back to her. He saw the tears streaming down his love’s face, and did not realize his own tears fell. He searched her eyes and found strength there. He started to breathe again, taking in the warm April air, being here with Lily, now.

“No, It may not have me,” Frodo murmured.

Lily tightened her hold on his hands.

Then he saw his prayers -- though so many were half-hearted attempts -- had been answered. The answer was standing before him. She was beautiful, loving, kind -- he need only accept this gift, and be grateful...

Lily’s father was right. To be grateful is to know; this was all he needed to know... He needed only to allow her into his heart, and to keep her there. Once before, he had been given a gift, freely; it was evil, poison. But Lily was none of those things. She loved him...

Frodo released her hands and wrapped his arms about her, holding her tightly, as if to assure himself she was real and not a dream. She returned his embrace, with all her strength. He kissed her hair, then her cheek.

“Forgive me, Lily. I’ve been so blind. You offer me happiness and more devotion than I could ever deserve. I’m sorry it has taken me so long to trust...”

Lily felt the change within him and wanted to dance and sing, but held herself still, wishing to hear his words even more.

He pulled back from her, gently holding her shoulders, still unaware of his own tears. He read all of the love she offered him, there in her eyes, and gave all his worry to the One who had created them both. He no longer wanted to worry. He no longer wanted to despair, and he firmly pushed the darkness away. He wanted his Lily, as she wanted him, and he threw all caution to the winds.

“Oh, Lily!” he sighed, and smiled. “Have you any idea what you’ve done for me?”

He shook his head in wonder at her knowing smile. “Yes, you do... Because of your steadfast love for me, my heart is at peace, and now I may say it as well; I love you, Lily, more than anyone or anything.”

Frodo laughed as tears started in his eyes again, but he held them in check.

“I love you, Lily.”

His knees bent, and he slowly knelt to her. He cradled her hands in his, and kissed the back of each one reverently, then lifted his eyes to hers.

“Please marry me, dearest Lily, and be my wife. I cannot live without you...”

He kissed her hands again. “I -- accept your willingness to face the risks together, no matter what may come. Please, say yes, before I allow any fear of darkness or sorrow to change my mind. I entrust myself to Ilúvatar’s love, and to yours... I wish only to be with you, and to care for you, always. I love you.”

His eyes were beseeching, filled with hope as he gazed up at her. Lily saw his tears again turn the bright blue depths she loved to blue-green.

She removed one hand from his and stroked his cheek, her head bent to look down on him. “Yes. I love you. Always.”

Uncomfortable with standing above him, she did as Frodo had done; she knelt down in the grass and searched his eyes. She touched her lips to his and gave him a lingering kiss, the sweet kiss of betrothal.

Frodo longed to share his new-found joy with her in words; reluctantly, he broke their kiss. “We’ll be all right. Lily, we’ll be all right...”

“Yes,” she assured him, smiling. Gandalf’s words echoed in her mind, of the gift of healing given her from Ilúvatar for Frodo. “Everything -- all shall be well, dearest.”

“Yes...” He did not deny the desire of his heart, and kissed her, then pulled back slowly to gaze into her eyes once more.

Frodo offered Lily his hands, and they stood together.

He gently brushed a stray curl from her forehead, studying all of her face. She watched his eyes as he continued to touch her. His caress felt different somehow, as delicate as the morning dew on rose petals... She felt his fingers tracing her brow, gradually, then the line of her left cheekbone; her left ear...

A warm shudder coursed through her, and she needed to close her eyes for a moment, then opened them when he began to trace her left cheek again, down to the left side of her mouth. She felt her heartbeat slow, and wondered if she might faint... no, Ilúvatar, let me stay with him now...

He was studying her mouth, and her heart felt slower yet, the way it felt in dreams, and her breathing was coming in shallow, uneven patterns, as she recalled their kiss on Strider. She pressed her right hand against his breast, as she had that day, and could feel the wild heartbeat there, and his breath caught in his throat.

As if reading her thoughts, his eyes stopped their slow course of study, resting at her soft lips once again, his thumb stroking small paths of affection there. She kissed his thumb gently, and something within him seemed to give way. He met her eyes again with his, asking silently, and she assented with a tiny smile. She was not frightened by the desire she saw in the beautiful blue pools; instead she welcomed it.

Still he said nothing, but returned the tiny smile.

Then his face grew thoughtful again, and he took his right hand away from her lips, slowly, all slowly; and Lily realized she was glad, for she wanted this moment to last forever. Perhaps they could stay here in this magical glade and never leave. Her heart felt complete calm and complete excitement at once, and if he did not kiss her soon, she would be unable to bear it...

She allowed her eyes to roam over his face, taking in his long dark lashes, his eyebrows, so expressive, even now... the perfection of his nose, his fair skin and dark curls; the graceful sweep of his ear... and finally his lips... all this she could touch, all this she could love, forever, to her heart’s content, and she nearly wept at the thought of it. Then her lips parted slightly as she felt his right hand settle at her waist, warm, warmer than the early spring all about them...

Where was his left hand? Lily wondered in a dreamlike haze. Ah, there it was... in her hair. She could feel his right hand on the small of her back, now, pressing her close. She trembled as she slipped her left hand behind his head and found the softness of his curls there.

So close, so close... now she felt him trembling as well. She wanted to -- oh, the scent of him! She had shut out so much, for so long. No longer.

Her eyes remained open just long enough to see his close, and the last thing she saw, before closing her own, was him tipping his head slightly as he lowered his mouth to hers.

Oh, it felt wonderful, this tender offering; his slow and confident caress... she began to return it just as slowly, and with almost the same confidence. It was different than in February; then, he was afraid of losing her, and she was striving to show him how much she loved him. Now, they were promised -- promised!

Suddenly she yearned for him, letting desire take her, and she endeavored, with her kiss, to convey all she felt. His heartbeat suddenly raced against the palm of her hand.

Then he seemed to take possession of her mouth, searching, adoring. Lily smiled inwardly; Frodo would not like the idea of possessing her, but she did not mind it at all. His love felt limitless. She shuddered within his arms.

She felt faint and broke the kiss, forcing back sadness at needing to end it. She did not want to faint, not now...

They were breathless, and stunned. She gazed up into the serenity and wonder of his face once more, smiling. How could she be happier than this? And yet she knew much more joy would be theirs. She thanked Ilúvatar in her heart, pleased she had not fainted yet, and offered thanks again.

Frodo gave her several more light kisses, his lips barely touching hers, still breathless; he nearly kissed her neck, then stopped abruptly. He could not kiss her there, he knew, much as he wished to. Not yet.

He held her close. “Oh, Lily...” He sighed deeply.

She began to weep, laying her head on his breast, clutching the back of his velvet coat in her left hand. She savored the sweet resonance of his voice against her cheek...

“Dearest Lily, don’t cry... I love you.”

“And I you, Frodo... I love you.”

He tightened his embrace, and she wept harder, then calmed, taking air in short gasps, until she started to laugh, and he laughed with her.

“Lily dear,” he eased back enough to gaze into her eyes, “how many children would you like to have?”

“As many as we can.” She smiled radiantly for him through her tears. “As many as Ilúvatar gives us.”

Frodo nodded, reeling again at the very notion of having children... It was never going to happen; not for him, not any of this... Now, because of Lily... he felt her tighten her hold on him, and he realized she was waiting for his reply.

“Yes, that’s what I want, too.” He smiled down at the light in her eyes. “Kiss me, dearest Lily.”

She bestowed his request, and they savored another brief foretaste of what was to come when they married.

“When?” Lily asked, still breathless.

Frodo could not think.

“When what?” He laughed, a silly laugh which she had only heard at the Yule party. It made her giggle.

“What date, my darling? I need time to sew!”

“I certainly can’t give you too much time, my love!” He kissed her temple. “I cannot stand the wait!”

“My love,” Lily whispered. “You called me ‘my love.’”

“That is what you are, Lily. You are my love; my dearest love.” Frodo searched her eyes, then kissed away the tear sliding down her cheek. He rested his forehead against hers, their noses touching.

“Frodo, my love,” she smiled. “It feels good to say it aloud.”

“Yes.” He briefly caressed her lips with his own, then held her tightly again.

“We’ll sort out the date later,” Lily sighed happily. “I love you, Frodo, with all my heart. Kiss me again, please...”

He did, but broke it quickly. “Dear Lily, you’re beautiful. Have I ever told you?”

“Yes, a few times.” Her eyes sparkled. “I don’t mind hearing it, again and again.” She wanted to tell him he was beautiful, but it was too soon. It was far too bold a thing for her to say to him, just yet; he would not understand. Mayhap after they were married for a while, she could tell him then... A little shiver coursed through her at the thought of a future together, with Frodo.

“I shall remember to tell you often,” he smiled. “It shall be an easy enough thing to remember, with you so close, every day, and every...”

He blinked, blushing, then spoke once more.

“You don’t believe this is all simply because of Sam and Rosie’s Reading of the Promisings, today?” He was smiling.

Lily returned Frodo’s smile. “No. I know you better than that. You’ve struggled too hard, too long to be swayed by a simple Reading.” She gave him a mischievous grin. “But I may tease you about it, a little, all the same.”

A serious expression touched her face. “Sam did carry your hope for you.”

“He did. Shall you carry it for me now? Or would you rather I carry it?”

“I’ll happily carry it, as long as we both have life, and beyond death, until such time we may carry it together.”

She touched his mouth with her fingers, then allowed herself the luxury of slipping both hands into his curls, standing on tiptoe so her face was nearer his. She felt him wrap his arms more tightly about her, holding her there. He was so warm.

Then she surprised both of them with the ardor in her fervent kiss.

She ended it and whispered brokenly against his ear, “I think -- mayhap -- we had best get back to somewhere -- near Rosie again...”

He shuddered. “Yes. One more kiss, and then -- I think you’re right. I know you’re right...”

They held each other for a very long time on that bright April day, and heard a meadowlark, high in the sky, singing a song for its mate. Frodo thought his heart would beat out of his chest, and that he might die then and there, for joy.

---------

As Lily and Frodo made their way back to Bywater, they passed Bag End, keeping a respectable distance between them as they walked. They were now visible to any gossipers keeping an eye out...

Lily gasped, and stopped abruptly. “Frodo...” she breathed.

Frodo stopped with her and followed her gaze, worried at first.

“The tree, dear Frodo, above Bag End, it’s budding!” Lily murmured in awe.

“Yes, it is...” He wanted to add, ‘like our love,’ but his voice caught, and he realized no words were needed.

They stepped close. Frodo started to put the satchel down, then realized they could not embrace out on the Row with no chaperone. Each endeavored to convey their joy and desire with their eyes alone.

They paused a moment longer, then decided to share elevensies in the Party Field, where they could gaze on Bag End during their simple meal. Time passed quickly for them, spent contentedly with shared laughter. But they did not speak of any plans, not yet.

They continued on to Bywater, arriving well before luncheon. The Cottons’ door was open wide for any and all invited to luncheon to enter freely. From the lane, they could hear laughter in the parlour, filled to overflowing with family from both sides.

Rosie eyed the couple as they slipped in, wreathed in smiles and sharing furtive glances. She deftly wove through the crowd until she stood beside them, and whispered. “You’re back early...”

They both blushed. Rosie surveyed them carefully, then her eyes widened. Frodo and Lily both shook their heads slowly, endeavoring not to draw attention to themselves. Lily leaned over and whispered in her friend’s ear, “Not here.”

“Sam,” Rosie called. “Sam love, would you give me a hand in the kitchen?”

Chortling and knowing laughs rippled over the din of the chatter in the room.

“And so it begins, Samwise Gamgee!”

Sam grinned in the general direction of the speaker. “Aye, there’s none luckier than me, and no mistake!”

He ducked into the hall, leaving the room in an uproar. His Gaffer couldn’t decide if he should call his son to task for his saucy reply, or hide his pleased chuckle at showing up a relative who habitually put on airs.

Instead of leading them to the kitchen, Rosie turned down the hall to the spare bedroom Frodo used when he stayed there. It was already filled with the fabrics for the wedding clothes and would be used as her sewing room. She glanced back down the hall to be sure no one noticed, then silently closed the door.

She turned to the couple, ignoring Sam’s confused expression. “Do tell!” she whispered loudly.

Frodo and Lily were surprised by Rosie’s abruptness, and glanced at each other before replying.

“Hurry,” Rosie hissed. “They’ll be wondering where we are ‘fore long.” She sighed. “You can explain here, among the four of us, or you can tell the whole family. It’s plain as day something’s happened. Out with it.”

She eyed first Frodo and then Lily. “Oh, my... Those smiles and blushes sure and certain tell the tale...”

“What tale, Rosie love?” Sam matched her whisper.

He stifled a startled yelp as Rosie elbowed him lightly.

Frodo wrapped his arm around Lily’s shoulders, drawing her close. His voice, when he found it again, was low and rough. “My dearest Lily has consented to become my wife.”

Rose first covered her mouth to muffle her squeal, and then threw her arms around the couple. Sam gasped and laughed, throwing his arms around all three of them.

The friends broke apart, then Rosie and Lily embraced, as did Frodo and Sam.

Rosie giggled. “Everyone will be so excited to hear--”

“No!” Lily and Frodo chorused in loud whispers. They smiled for their confused friends.

Frodo glanced at Lily, taking her hand. He then turned to Sam and Rose.

“Now is your Promising,” Frodo stated quietly. “It’s all that anyone should be thinking about between now and your wedding day, which is after all less than a month away...”

Frodo and Lily smiled as the couple blinked. “Yes, it’s coming up very soon, indeed! So if it’s all the same to the two of you, Lily and I would like to keep our news just between the four of us, for the time being; we’ll speak to Will, then send a post to Hal and Daisy...”

Frodo looked to Lily and raised his eyebrows. “What about Bell?”

“Bell...” sighed Lily. This would not be easy.

“Oh, lass--” Sam began, even before Rose could get a word out, beside him. “I know you love her like a sister already, and I count her a true friend -- Rosie and me are right fond of her, ourselves, but... but if you really want it to be a secret for a while...” He turned to Frodo. “Beggin’ your pardon, sir.”

“Not at all, Sam. He’s right, I think, dear Lily. We’ll have to wait to tell them, but they can still be told before anything’s posted. I think the same goes for Merry and Pippin, and Fatty -- I hate keeping news from them, but...” Frodo sighed. “Before the Quest, Pippin wouldn’t have been able to keep such a secret to save his life. I believe now Pip could keep the news to himself, but Merry... Merry’s seeing Estella Bolger...”

“And she loves gossip, just as much as she loves Merry, dear Frodo...” chimed Rose.

“You’re right,” Lily reflected. “Thank you both... And besides, once we post our own Reading--”

She blushed as the realization of what happened today became clear all over again. She felt Frodo’s smile upon her without needing to see it, and smiled along with him, still addressing their best friends. “Once we post our own Reading date, we shan’t be able to go anywhere or do anything without the whole of the Shire being reported to...”

Rosie smiled. “It’s only just now dawning on you that you’re promised to the most eligible bachelor in the Shire.”

Frodo blushed and looked first to Sam, who was beaming; but Frodo could not hide the tinge of worry he felt as he glanced at his betrothed.

Betrothed! He needed to swallow hard before he could get out a single word, smiling softly. “You don’t mind too horribly much if we keep our betrothal to ourselves for now, do you, dear Lily?”

Lily was still blushing brightly at hearing her beloved say ‘betrothal.’ She returned his smile and slipped her arm in his, then kissed his cheek. “Not in the least, dear Frodo.”

Rosie giggled. “We don’t have much more time before folk’ll wonder where we’re keeping, but there’s one more thing Sam and I need to ask. Sam’s thinking he’s getting above himself, but I told him it’s nonsense...

“At luncheon, they’ll be asking for our fyllans... I’ve not got any sisters, and though I should be asking someone who lives in Bywater, you’ll be here, sort of...” She met Lily’s eyes.

Lily smiled broadly. “I’d be delighted, dearest Rose!”

The two lasses quickly embraced; Rosie needed to brush away one tear before continuing. “I’m beholden... Now, Sam was thinking he ought to ask one of his brothers to serve, but I know it’s not truly what he’s hoped for...”

“I’m thinkin’ I should speak for myself, Rose,” Sam smiled at her. “Thanks for clearing the way, a bit. Mr. Frodo, if you’re willing -- I know it’s above my place to be asking such a thing o’you, but if you could see your way to being a fyllan, for me--?” He studied his feet, his hands behind his back, waiting for the response.

“Why, Sam!” Frodo grinned, “I’d be honoured! But truth be told, I haven’t the faintest idea what a fyllan does. I’ve heard about it, but not having any brothers or sisters of my own, I never gave the talk much heed.”

Rosie smiled encouragingly. “It’ll not be hard at all for you. The fyllan, or fyllans -- there can be one or two -- well, they’re much like a chaperone, but more... The fyllans take care of the need for propriety. They see to it the couple’s never alone, and stand with ‘em on their wedding day. Usually it’s given to family members...”

She finished in a conspiratorial whisper. “Besides, it’ll be easier all round, since we’ll all be together anyway, most o’ the time.”

Suddenly her face clouded. “If you’re waiting until after our wedding for your Reading of the Promisings... you’ll wait until after our niwealdor, after the wedding? It’s ten days; I know you know... you’ll wait for us?”

“Yes,” Frodo assured her. He gazed at Lily, endeavoring not to fall into the dreamlike mood they were both in before. With some effort, he brought himself back to the matters at hand. “Dearest, we’ll talk to Will and Hal and Daisy toward the end of the month. We could then post on May 6th, and our Reading would be on the 12th, after their niwealdor. This way Sam and Rose’ll have time enough to get to Deephallow for the Reading--?”

Frodo glanced at the couple for their approval; Rose nodded her assent, blushing slightly. Sam had fallen into a sort of daydream at the mention of the niwealdor, and Frodo smiled to himself, feeling the warmth in his own face. He dared not think about spending ten days alone with Lily after their own wedding, and was glad when Rose changed the subject.

Rosie’s face cleared. “You’ll not want to wait much longer after that. June 1st would be a lovely day to get married...”

She blushed scarlet. “Pardon me, I’m dreadful sorry. I shouldn’t go on like that...”

Lily smiled and laid her hand on Rosie’s arm. “Dear Rose, there’s no need to apologize.” Lily gazed into Frodo’s eyes. “I like the sound of June 1st...”

Frodo’s breathing quickened. “June 1st it is,” he repeated, dazed. Then he went on, as near to awake and alert as he could manage in this giddy mood. “As long as you’re happy, dearest, the date itself doesn’t matter to me, provided it isn’t longer than necessary after we -- after our Promisings. I really don’t think I’ll be able to stand it, otherwise...”

Suddenly he realized what he was saying, and blushed crimson.

They all started at the light knock on the door.

Mrs. Cotton popped her head in. “It’ll soon be time for luncheon. Best get yourselves to the table before I tell the others.” She smiled, winked, and closed the door.

The couples quickly embraced again, then hurried down the hall to the dining room.

---------

The guests chatted noisily through luncheon. Afters was served and mostly finished when Farmer Cotton stood at the head of the table.

“It’s time for the naming of the fyllans.”

The room fell silent, and he continued. “This is a responsibility not to be taken lightly. The fyllans will be with the Promised couple whenever they’re together, wherever they go.”

He turned to Sam and Rosie. “Have the choices been made?”

“They have,” Sam and Rosie declared together.

“And do they accept?”

“They do.”

“Present them.”

Sam and Rosie stood and stepped behind Frodo and Lily.

Frodo glanced uncertainly at Lily. She smiled reassuringly and gave him a slight nod, then made to rise, waiting just long enough for him to realize he needed to stand with her.

Gasps raced around the table.

Farmer Cotton nodded his acceptance. He allowed his approval to show clearly as Frodo and Sam seated Lily and Rosie, respectively, then themselves.

---------

After tea, Rosie encouraged Lily to nap, settling her in the makeshift sewing room. She cleared the material from the bed onto the bureau and chairs. To keep things proper and avoid questions, Rosie decided to sort through the material; no one need know Lily was sleeping.

Frodo and Sam decided to check the progress on Garden Hill; Sam was beside himself with happiness, and Frodo understood.

---------

That evening, the foursome took part in the noisiest, most crowded dinner and supper Frodo had taken in years. It was a joyful occasion for both families, the Promising of Sam Gamgee and Rosie Cotton.

Neither Frodo nor Sam remembered the next day was Sam’s fortieth birthday, but Rose and the Gaffer remembered, and all present were invited to tea at the Gaffer’s smial on the New Row.

The incredible bustle at the meals reminded Frodo of his youth, in that other lifetime, at Brandy Hall.

He and Lily left the Cottons’ hand in hand for the cool of the evening. They were quickly followed by Sam and Rose.

For a few blessed moments they stood together in the middle of the lane, drinking in long refreshing breaths of night air. It was dark, and the sky was bright with stars. As they watched in wonder, more stars appeared.

“Samwise?” Rose murmured, afraid to break the stillness. “Please show me that star you always talk about. What’s its name, again?”

“Eärendil...” He smiled at Rose. “Mr. Frodo, I’m almost positive that’s the one. Isn’t it that one over there, above them three shiny ones what look like a boat?”

“Yes, indeed, Sam, that’s the one.” As Sam turned back to Rose, Frodo grinned and whispered something in Lily’s ear. She smiled back at him, recalling that night in February when Frodo had first shown her Eärendil and they shared their first prayer together.

The four of them studied the night sky in silence for a time.

“Mr. Frodo, I think I’m happier than I’ve ever been, and that’s saying something.” Sam squeezed Rosie’s hand as they continued watching the sky.

A cloud scuttled across the sky, covering Eärendil and making his light hazy.

“I’m happy too, Sam. I can’t even voice how happy... I haven’t the words.” Frodo softly kissed Lily’s cheek.

Lily giggled. She and Rose were surely the happiest they had ever been, as well; but for just a moment, she glimpsed Frodo and Sam as they had been for so many years, the two of them. Rosie smiled at her as they shared a look.

“Sam, you promised me you’d tell me some day about Eärendil...”

“That I did, Rosie m’dear. The story’s a mite long, for all that... I’m thinking we should start it at tea-time, one day, and I’ll be done tellin’ you by midnight. How’s that? Would you like it tomorrow?”

“Sounds to be a long story, indeed,” Rose replied softly. “But Sam-love, Lily can’t be up so late as all that. If it’s all the same to you, could we hear it over the next few evenings? I’m thinking it might be just the thing to help us all settle, with the building of Garden Hill and the sewing and everything.”

“Right you are, Rose-love! Good thing you remember all the important things. Glad I’m smart enough to marry you.” He winked broadly at her. “Tomorrow, then, we’ll start the story, and get ready to cry then, love. It’d make a troll cry. Even a stone troll.”

The couples laughed.

“Frodo dear, you promised to tell me the story as well...”

At this Frodo laughed heartily, and raised Lily’s hand to his lips, kissing the back of it. “I’d like to save my version of the story for sometime in the future. It shall take considerably longer...” He hesitated and lowered his voice. “And I don’t want to worry about getting you home to somewhere else, some evening, should part of the story run long...”

Lily giggled, happy and tired and only feeling the slightest trace of darkness. “But that shan’t be until...” She stopped abruptly.

“Oh, yes... Yes, in that case, I can wait.” Lily’s heart beat so hard she wondered if it might burst. “Why -- why is your story so much longer than Sam’s? May I ask?”

Sam replied, “That’s an easy one, Miss Lily. Frodo knows a lot more of the story, and knows some of it in Elvish... ain’t that right, Mr. Frodo?”

“True enough... Sam, let’s get these beautiful ladies of ours out of the night air, shall we? We don’t want them catching cold.”

They walked the few steps to Will’s house, just next to the Cottons’ smial. Sam and Rose stepped away, but stayed close enough to be seen as chaperones by any observers.

Frodo drew Lily into his arms, and whispered against her ear. “Good night, my dearest love. You’re sure you’re not overtired?”

“I am sure, Frodo. The little nap I snatched today helped.”

“Sleep well, then, darling Lily. I love you,” he murmured, and he held her closer. “We thank You for this day, Creator. I thank You for my Lily...”

He struggled not to weep, but the tears came anyway. “Help us on our journey together. Please protect us from the darkness. We give thanks...

“Oh, Lily, I thought we could never marry. Surely my heart cannot hold so much joy.”

He kissed her tenderly, then held her tightly again, smiling against her hair, her fragrance affecting him in ways he could not voice. In one corner of his mind he was very happy indeed for the presence of Sam and Rose nearby. He wanted Lily more than ever. “I love you. I don’t want to let you go,” he breathed, pulling back so he could see her eyes.

“Frodo, my dearest love, I don’t want to be released, ever. Soon we shall not have to part like this. I love you... I cannot say it enough; I love you, Frodo.” She reached up and kissed his mouth, once only. She was aware of all the tension within him, wound up like a spring in a pocket watch.

“Sleep well, my love.” Lily’s voice was breaking. “You’ve brought me more happiness than I can ever express.”

Again they held each other; they knew it was time to go. Sam and Rose were waiting, and could not be left alone together now, not until the wedding day. Frodo opened the door and watched as Lily entered the house. She turned back to face him, and with a smile she slowly closed the door, until they both heard the click of the latch. Frodo laid one hand on the door.

“Lily,” he whispered. “Sleep well, my love.”

He turned back to join Rose and Sam, and stood away from them as they said their own goodnights. Frodo saw them kiss, then watched his feet, until Sam joined him again in the middle of the lane.

They made their way together back to the New Row, wrapped up in their own thoughts, and were almost home before either of them uttered a word.

“You know, Master, we’d not have these lovely lasses, nor even each other, if you hadn’t saved us all.”

Frodo sighed. It was a sigh of contentment, not of sorrow. He smiled wistfully. “Frodo wouldn’t have got far without Sam...”

“Yes, sir.” Sam knew better than to argue this point with his best friend.

“I hope we can love them enough, Sam.”

“I think we can, Mr. Frodo. I’m thinking they’ll be as happy as us.”

They reached the front door of Bag End.

“Are you staying here, Sam, or joining the Gaffer?” Frodo smiled. He renewed his vow to himself today, to strive against the darkness for as long as... until he got well. He would have a sleepless night, but he would pray. He caught Sam’s expression.

“I’ll be all right, Sam. I think the Gaffer misses you already. In twenty-five days you’ll be living with your Rose, forever...”

“You’re right about that, Frodo.” Sam caught his master staring at nothing. “Are you sure you’re all right, sir? I worry...”

Frodo seemed to wake from a dream. “I know you do, Sam. You’re the dearest friend I could ever have. And yes, I’m all right... I just realized my whole life changed today. I may not sleep a wink, I’m so content. Surely Ilúvatar loves us dearly... Good night, Sam.”

“Good night, Mr. Frodo. I’ll see you in the morning, sir. I’ll make you first breakfast, then go visit Rose.”

“It sounds wonderful. Just remember I’ve got to be with you, myself, or myself along with Lily, every time you visit her, until the wedding ceremony.” Frodo smiled with one corner of his mouth.

“Oh! You’re right, Mr. Frodo! How could’ve I already forgotten? A ninnyhammer, that’s what I am!” But Sam was chuckling.

“Don’t feel badly, Sam. I nearly forgot it myself. Pray that the weeks fly by.”

“They will, Mr. Frodo. I’m so happy for you, sir. So happy...”

“Thank you, Sam... Now, Samwise, don’t make me cry!” Frodo smiled. “Off with you! Good night.”

“Good night, sir.” Sam was smiling again, and turned toward #3.

When Sam was out of sight, Frodo entered Bag End, and offered a prayer on his way to the bedroom; then he lay face down on the bed, away from the painted leaves on the ceiling, and slept deeply until the four o’clock hour.