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Sacrament

1 May 1420sr

The morning dawned bright with scattered horsetail clouds, and warmed quickly; the Sun seemed to give away her light and warmth joyfully. It was May, in the Shire, free of the shadow of the past.

The night before, Frodo and Lily had considered foregoing their morning ride, but both agreed they could not bear to be apart for so long a time, as they would not see each other until almost noon at the wedding. The ride would need to be kept short, as they were required to present themselves for first breakfast at the homes of their respective charges.

Frodo knocked at Will’s door at twilight, and when the door opened, Lily stood before him, smiling. Without a word they stepped into a warm embrace, each whispering, “I love you.” A heartfelt and lingering kiss followed, punctuated only by their sighs, hushed in the morning stillness.

“Are you ready?” Frodo murmured against her ear, reluctant to release her.

Lily nodded and pulled him closer, softly caressing his lips again with her own; then she whispered in his left ear, “Yes.”

“To -- to go riding...” Frodo clarified, breathlessly, and accepted another kiss from her.

Lily giggled. “That, too. We shan’t have much time alone after today, dear Frodo.”

He had not thought of this, but of course she was right. She offered him another kiss; he returned it eagerly, even though he was still lost in the previous one. But he fought to catch up to her; it felt like swimming against a swift current.

Frodo would have smiled at his own analogy, but they were wholly engaged by feelings too intense to allow for clear thinking, and the smile never came. His only wish was to kiss her again, and again. The fog in his mind was not unlike the patchy mist all about them. She did not understand what she was doing to him. No; she could not possibly understand what she was doing to him.

“Frodo...” She broke the kiss. “My love, my own, you’re trembling so. Are you cold?” She was uncertain of what his response would be. There was the slightest chill in the air, it was true. But she sensed his trembling had nothing to do with it.

“Hold me, Lily... please... Oh, Lily! A month! Thirty days... This may prove to be the longest month of my life. I have no words for what I feel.”

She held him tightly, sensing desperation and love within him in equal measure. Gradually she knew the desperation was actually his fight for some semblance of control. By degrees, as if only half-awake, Lily realized her gift of sight was diminished slightly. Passion for him overwhelmed it, allowing her own feelings full sway; her mind slowed as her heart raced.

“No,” he managed, laying his cheek against her hair and attempting to breathe normally. But her own fragrance here in the morning twilight only heightened his awareness of her.

“No. I’m not cold at all...” He spoke against her ear, running his left hand gently through her long auburn tresses, until she closed her eyes and leaned into him; her head lay easily on his shoulder, and warmth flooded through him. To never awaken alone again! He trembled once more, and gently pulled back, as she lifted her gaze to his.

Lily studied his eyes, and understood, suddenly, what her kisses had done to him. She fought to meet his gaze steadily, but the expression there -- something, some mix of need and passion and intense, abiding love -- undid her, and she needed to close her eyes.

“I see...” she whispered, and swallowed hard. “I understand, my love. I’m sorry. I did not mean to -- to upset you...” She kept her eyes lowered, studying the top button on his velvet coat, her hands resting on his waist.

He lifted her chin gently with his right hand, so their eyes might meet again. With a will grown strong through adversity, he quenched the fire within himself, showing her calm in place of it; the darkness was pushed firmly away as well, unable to interfere. The enforced calm was for her, as much as for himself; it would help them both.

“No, beloved Lily. Never apologize for that. I love everything about you, everything. It’s only that -- this is so strong, my love. It’s so new to me, to us, all of this... if I can simply get through the next month, by the grace of Ilúvatar, I’ll be able to love you as--”

His voice dropped to almost nothing. “My heart aches to return all the love I feel in your kisses... I never dreamed I might need to pray for patience where -- where this is concerned. But I must. If your kisses unravel me, it is not your fault.” He smiled faintly. “I would have it no other way. Yet somehow I must not succumb to all that you are to me. Not yet.”

His eyes asked for her forgiveness.

“Dearest Frodo... I shan’t apologize again, since you ask me not to... But I -- I’ll try to remember to -- to rein in some of my -- may I say it? -- some of my desire for you, so that this will not be as arduous a month for either of us... for both of us. In truth, I’m only making it difficult for myself, as well, but I didn’t realize it. I love you, dearest. We shall get through this next month.”

She smiled and kissed him once, lightly, holding back much of what she would have revealed of her emotions.

Then she searched his eyes. “Was that easier to bear?”

Frodo smiled with one corner of his mouth. “Yes, dearest Lily. I am able to bear that. Only just.” He laughed softly. “You spoke of reining something in. If we don’t go riding now, we shan’t get the chance. The morning is flying, and Sam and Rose are to be wed at noon, and we must get back before first breakfast.”

A pair of soft snorts and stamped hooves from the lane ended another short caress.

“We’re coming,” Frodo assured the ponies with a chuckle, then caressed Lily once more, before helping her out to the lane and onto Bill.

“Thank you, dearest Lily. I shall be forever in your debt.” He smiled up at her.

She returned the teasing in his blue eyes. “I shall surely enjoy collecting on such a debt.”

Frodo laughed quietly, and kissed her hand, then mounted Strider, and they were off.

---------

They were well out of town before either of them spoke again.

“Frodo, do you think I’m up to riding all the way to Deephallow on the morrow?”

“A full day of riding is difficult, even for a seasoned rider.”

“Will and Bell are taking a pony-cart down...”

“You could ride in the back when you grow weary...”

“I’d like that.”

“I’ll tell the stablehands to have Strider and Bill ready bright and early on the morrow.”

They urged their ponies to any easy canter, then turned for home.

---------

Frodo smiled as he made his way briskly up the lane to #3. He looked all round him on his short walk to the Gaffer’s smial, reveling in the spring sunshine and in the sweet smell of the morning air, in the clover and timothy... The young apple trees in the orchard beyond the Row were in bloom. New life was everywhere.

A year ago at this time, the deep cuts on his neck were finally mending, and the bruising on his chest -- markings from the weight of It -- had finally disappeared; his maimed hand was beginning to mend well, too, thanks to the healing afforded them by Aragorn... and by the Creator, Frodo realized with a start. He was only then beginning to ask in earnest about Faramir’s prayer: the one he had seen and heard at the Window on the West.

And he and Sam were still recovering then, too, from the burns and cuts to their feet, acquired on the tortuous journey up the jagged slopes of Mt. Doom...

Frodo shook off the memories, for the darkness was reaching for him even now, as if It sensed Lily was not near him. He knew in his heart this was Its very nature, but accepting the notion was still terribly difficult. He had endeavored so often to dismiss It as his imagination: a horrible, waking dream, unreal, from which he might waken any moment. Anything but the evil It was, bent on breaking him irrevocably.

The darkness sniggered at the gentle whisperings of his heart and his optimism; even more at his love for Rose and Sam -- and most of all at his love for Lily. What had induced him -- seduced him, It insinuated -- to believe they could marry, at all?

Frodo shuddered in disgust, then anger, knowing the voice sowed more doubt than farmers did seeds in spring. He took a deep breath to clear his thoughts, then reminded himself he need only trust: and, deciding thus, he reached deep for the enormous effort to force the darkness away from his heart. He could not push It away as well as Lily could, but it would do, for now.

Remembering then that anger only fed the darkness, Frodo chose what he knew was best to replace the searing pain inside himself: calm. Truth be told, her calm -- Lily’s calm -- was best. His breathing came easier as he remembered to trust to the Creator, as Lily did. He removed his right hand from his breast, unaware until this moment it was clenched there tightly. He paused in the lane and glanced all round him again, and up; up at the sparse, fluffy white clouds.

He wrapped his thoughts around Lily and his memories of their cloud-gazing, just over two months ago now, and joy seeped into him again. He could hardly wait for their wedding. It seemed years had passed since their secret betrothal, and not a mere twenty-six days.

Today would be glorious, he knew. Sam’s wedding would be the first the Shire had seen since the fall of -- Sauron, and Frodo would not allow the darkness to attach itself to him, like the soot on Mt. Doom, not on this day. He would not carry any evil into the Gaffer’s cheerful home.

Begone, Frodo commanded. You shall not have me.

He took a steadying breath, and struggled to release it slowly, then he smiled, realizing it was what he encouraged Lily to do when she seemed faint. Thinking of her brought peace, especially the thought of aiding her, and praying helped even more.

Frodo gathered his thoughts, closed his eyes, and prayed. He heard the sparrows in the young trees behind the Gaffer’s singing with all the happy abandon of May, and his heart was filled to overflowing.

Sam was waiting for him. He raised his hand to the rounded door and knocked.

The door opened quickly; he was expected. He struggled not to tremble when he thought of Lily, who was at this same moment taking first breakfast with the Cottons.

The Gaffer welcomed Frodo, a bit uncomfortable at a visit from one of his betters, but unwilling to say so. As Sam’s fyllan, Frodo was serving in his rightful place. By tradition, all the Gamgee children and their spouses and children were present this morning.

Before entering the smial, Frodo excused himself to the Gaffer and beckoned to Sam to step out onto the porch with him. The Gaffer returned to see that the dining table was suitably ready.

Frodo embraced his friend for a long moment, and when they parted Sam already had the beginnings of tears. Dearest Sam, Frodo mused. This will be a long and tearful and joyous day for him, and then there is all the rest of it still to come. Frodo beamed at his friend and clapped him on the back.

“Good morning, my dear Samwise! Look at this day! Have you ever seen the like?”

Sam looked around him as if seeing -- truly seeing, Frodo thought -- for the first time today. A smile broke out on his face, his skin nearly the familiar deep brown it had been before the Quest began.

“Why, right you are, Master Frodo, it’s a grand morning, and no mistake! Listen to them larks, will you?”

“Sam, this is the happiest day of my life, until Lily deigns to marry me in June. This -- this surpasses anything I felt in Minas Tirith, even Aragorn’s wedding... even his crowning. Do you know how long I’ve waited to see you wed your Rose? It’s long overdue, dear Sam!”

Frodo grinned, then laughed at Sam’s expression. “Out with it! What were you going to say, then?”

“Well, Mr. Frodo...” Sam smiled, and blushed. “I was only goin’ to say that -- well -- you think you’ve waited a long time? I’ve been waitin’ for this since... well, I reckon since the first time I got a proper look at Miss Rosie Cotton, sittin’ in the water at the edge of the Bywater Pool, splashing to her heart’s content, when she weren’t yet but two years old... maybe even afore that, when I was a twinkle in my Gaffer’s eye, beggin’ your pardon, sir!”

Sam laughed at his own joke, and Frodo joined him, until tears started in his own eyes.

“Indeed, Sam; that does seem to be the truth of it.”

Frodo turned suddenly serious. “We shan’t be able to talk much more this morning... I feel I’m losing you, somehow, but I know I’m not... I -- it’s difficult to express how happy I am for you and Rose. Congratulations, dearest Sam!” Frodo smiled as his friend blushed again.

“Thank you, sir.”

“Take a look at the party field, Sam!”

“Yes, Mr. Frodo...”

Sam followed Frodo’s gaze, and gasped.

Frodo laughed. “What do you think, Sam? Does it suit?”

Across the field, Sam saw Will Burrows waving from where he and his crew were finishing up the new gazebo near the Party Tree. It stood bright white in the sunshine, and whiter yet against the silver-grey trunk, green leaves and golden blossoms of the mallorn.

Sam could only open and close his mouth.

Still chuckling, Frodo continued. “With the ruffians destroying the old one, a new one needed to be built. Will approached me after your Reading and offered to do the job. I’m certain he and Bell shall use it one of these days. He and Bongo Boffin did most of the work. In truth, he told me he rescued, in the dead of night, some white birch that had been felled, for this very purpose. Will it do?”

Tears streamed unchecked down Sam’s face. He sniffled, and wiped his nose on his sleeve. “It’s lovelier than the old one ever was, and no mistake, sir, and no disrespect neither. I hope I get to see my Rosie’s face when she sees it.”

Marigold stepped up behind them and laid a hand on Sam’s shoulder. “Brother dear, firsties is ready--” then she gasped. “Oh, it’s splendid! Come, everyone! Come and see! There’s a proper and beautiful new gazebo in the party field! Under the Party Tree -- right where it belongs!” And she burst into tears.

The Gamgee clan gathered on the front porch and cheered.

May grasped her sister Daisy’s arm, smiling broadly. “Well, there’s nothing for it; it must be covered with flowers!”

Instantly, the sisters and sister-in-laws herded everyone inside for firsties, so the unexpected but welcomed final preparations could be attended to all the sooner.

---------

Frodo and Sam remained behind to prepare for the wedding ceremony as the rest of the Gamgee family headed out to the party field.

Sam’s oldest brother Hamson approached Will and shook his hand. “How’d you manage to build it so quick?!”

Will struggled to keep his pride in check, smiling to himself as he remembered Bell’s reproof of the day before. It was all well and good, she had said, for a rooster to crow and strut about, but on a hobbit it didn’t look as good. When he had laughed at her, she reminded him that many a rooster ended up in a stewpot.

Will picked up his hammer and pulled a nail from one of his apron pockets. “We built it in pieces... stairs, floor, walls, roof, so it only needed to be assembled on the proper spot.”

“And such fine work, it is.” Hamson did not hide his appreciation as he ran his hands along the railing of the stairs.

“Stop gawking, dear brother,” May chided. “There’s flowers to be gathered and properly placed.”

---------

Rosie’s mum welcomed Lily warmly with an abundant first breakfast for the family, then shooed off Nick and Nibs to ensure the preparation of the pony-cart and Bill the pony, with Jolly supervising. The flowers and ribbons were already woven throughout the pony-cart, but they still needed to be added to Bill’s harness.

Lily worried she might forget something, then realized her most important job was to keep herself and the Cottons calm. She then found that reminding everyone of whatever they needed to do solved most of the jitter problems. The work was getting done without her having to do anything but be with Rosie, helping her bathe, dress, and adorn her hair.

In the relative quiet of Rosie’s bedroom at the Cottons’, Lily wove small wildflowers into Rosie’s dark golden curls as they checked her appearance in the looking glass. With Rose being a good two inches taller, she was seated and Lily stood behind her, arranging the blossoms so they drew attention to Rose, and not to themselves.

“How did the garland come out, then? Has it been taken to Sam’s home already?” Lily wondered aloud, placing several wild roses as she spoke. The garland needed to be in Frodo’s hands before the ceremony, so he could give it to Sam, who would place it on Rose’s head, as one might a crown, during the ceremony.

Rosie’s voice was nearly expressionless, and her eyes were unfocused. “The garland’s beautiful, Lily... all those lovely flowers the young lasses brought to our door just after first breakfast -- so sweet they were! Mum made it for me, bein’ as I’ve no sisters -- Your sister Daisy’ll make yours, won’t she?”

Lily knew Rose was not sad. She was only daydreaming, thinking of Sam and of the wedding, and no doubt of the niwealdor. Lily sensed no fear in her friend... only a curious mix of calm and eagerness.

For Rose’s sake, Lily kept her voice steady, though her own emotions swirled just below the surface. “Yes, dearest Rosie,” she reassured, picking up the last of the violets from the dressing table and placing them amongst the wild roses and star-flowers; then she inspected her work. She met her friend’s eyes in the mirror; it took several seconds before Rose grasped Lily was finished.

“Oh, Lily...” Rose sighed. “Never has my hair been so beautiful... all those tiny blossoms... and the wild roses...”

“Their fragrance is lovely.”

Rose reached up to touch her hair, then thought better of it, not wishing to disturb the perfection Lily created. “Sam -- he’ll love these flowers also...” She imagined Sam removing them, then blushed, struggling to think of something else.

“You are a beautiful bride.” Lily smiled so she would not cry. “Sam shall not be able to take his eyes away from you, Rose. I’m so happy for you... so happy... and I daresay Sam shall cry more than all of us, in the ceremony.”

“And how I love my Sam for that! I’ve never known anyone like him, Lily. Not since I was a wee lass. I can’t hardly believe this is happening. I’ve waited forever for this day, forever. And when he left, on the Quest... I thought I’d die, Lily, truly I thought I’d die. What if he didn’t come back? I didn’t want anybody else. I’ve only ever wanted him. I acted all clever and calm last autumn when he showed up at the door, but I nearly swooned, just to see him... If I’d known about prayer then, sure and certain as anything, I’d’ve gone right to my knees and thanked Ilúvatar for my Samwise, back safe and sound! I love him more than I love my own life. Oh, Lily! You know what I’m sayin’, don’t you?”

“Of course, Rose, of course I do...” Lily soothed, primping Rose’s dark golden curls as she spoke. Her heart was pounding at the thought that in thirty days she would be preparing in just this way for her wedding to Frodo: the ritual morning bath, dressing in her finest to meet him at the appointed place... the garland, the flowers... the vows -- Gandalf! -- Frodo would be healed! Please Ilúvatar, please, forgive me for asking that I not suffer too greatly; it’s only for Frodo’s sake I request it...

“Lily?”

Rose smiled as she stood and turned to face her friend. “I lost you there, didn’t I, love? Frodo’ll be yours before you know it, or the Sun don’t come up every day.”

Lily snapped out of the dream. Rose was standing there, strong and wise, and for the moment in control of her emotions once more.

Rosie’s smile broadened. “Come on, love. Let’s go. It’s time for me to say farewell to this old room of mine forever. Tonight I’ll sleep in Garden Hill with my Sam...”

She burst into tears. “I can’t believe it! I can’t believe it’s truly happening! And Frodo’s given us a smial and land and a garden for our very own...”

They embraced and Lily fought back her own tears. “He’s like that, Rose. Frodo would do anything for Sam, and he adores you... He’s pleased beyond measure to see you settling into your own home. Come, now, come...! Your eyes’ll get puffy and red, and we’re off to the ceremony any moment. Hush, it’s all right.”

---------

Lily rode to Hobbiton in the back of the pony-cart with Mrs. Cotton, while Rosie rode in the front with Farmer Cotton. Nick and Nibs ran ahead to catch up with Jolly.

It was one quarter-hour before noon when they reached the bridge across the Water. Farmer Cotton stopped and helped Mrs. Cotton and Lily down, so they could continue on to their places, and the crowd would be alerted that the bride was on her way.

Mrs. Cotton and Lily stopped for a moment at the sight of the gazebo. They glanced back, but the cart could no longer be seen for the bridge, and they were glad the Party Tree was so close; they would all be able to see Rosie’s reaction when she saw the flower-bedecked gazebo.

Then Lily saw Frodo. Her heart fluttered, and her breath caught. Rosie had asked her to do the final fittings for Sam, while she did the final fittings for Frodo... Rose admitted she wanted to be as surprised as Sam would be, and wanted Lily and Frodo to share in it.

His shirt was a finely woven cotton faille, in a shade of blue that matched his eyes. His waistcoat was a richly patterned brocade dominated by a midnight blue and the same shade of blue as his shirt. Over this he wore a dress coat and breeches made of finely woven deep blue wool. Lily coughed a little, her body reminding her to breathe.

She delighted in looking upon her beloved even on his worst days; even when he was tired; even when ill, he was breathtaking. But... his hair seemed darker today, and his skin seemed all the fairer... She was suddenly more grateful than ever to be taking part in this wedding. Otherwise, she would not have been as prepared for what lay ahead, only a month from now. This was not like Daisy’s wedding. Frodo was not at Daisy’s wedding...

Mrs. Cotton hid a smile and unobtrusively held Lily’s arm, making it look like Lily was helping her, instead of the other way round. She escorted Lily to the foot of the gazebo, then remained behind as Lily ascended the three short steps.

Lily felt Frodo’s eyes upon her when she stopped in her place to the left side of Will Whitfoot, as they faced the crowd of happy and rather restless hobbits.

Whitfoot had been requested by Frodo to officiate at the ceremony; he assured the older hobbit the mayorship would be placed in his hands again as soon as he was ready. Frodo had added with a smile he hoped it would be soon.

Lily met Frodo’s steady gaze, and blushed at his open admiration... in front of this crowd! His eyes held hers for several moments, finally releasing her as he noticed her wedding finery. She knew she looked her best, and only hoped she could look more lovely for him at their own wedding.

Her chemise was a creamy cotton chambray. She wore a vest and skirt of well woven golden-green wool twill. Tiny deep-yellow star- and bell-shaped flowers were embroidered along the hem, interspersed with delicate deep green leaves and vines; the same pattern was repeated along the edges of the vest. The buttons of the vest were made of fine wood, cunningly carved into star-shaped flowers that echoed the flowers embroidered on her hem.

Merry and Pippin and Fatty Bolger stood at the front of the crowd, along with the Cottons and the Gamgees, and Will and Bell. They recalled their talks with Sam and Rose, and Frodo and Lily, all the previous week, both at the festivities and also at Garden Hill and Bag End.

“Merry,” Pippin whispered.

“Yes, what is it?”

“Look at how Frodo’s looking at Lily!”

Merry smiled. “Aye, and see how she’s looking at him. They’ve set a date. I’d swear to it.” He declared it softly enough that only Pippin heard.

Pippin mulled the idea over. “I’m thinking you’re right... Merry? Why do I feel like this? I’ve been to weddings before... I can’t even tell how I feel. It’s like nothing I’ve ever felt.”

Merry smiled more broadly, and continued to keep his voice low. “When was the last time you went to a Shire wedding, Pip? We can’t really count the King’s wedding. That’s a wedding all to itself.”

Pippin blinked. “Well, before the Quest, o’course.”

“There’s your answer, Pippin. We’re neither of us the same. We never will be.”

Pippin eyed his cousin. “It is different, now. It’s entirely different...”

When Frodo’s eyes returned to Lily’s face again, she quickly winked, and smiled. He blushed red and was glad all attention turned at the cheer from the crowd as the decorated pony-cart came over the bridge.

The delighted surprise on Rosie’s face could be seen by all. The celebrants cheered again at her show of emotion; they expected it and would have been disappointed if the wedding lacked in it.

Frodo, garland in hand, was beginning to worry about where Sam had got to, as he was supposed to be at the foot of the steps, waiting to help Rose ascend when she reached his side.

Lily spied Sam first, making his way through the crowd toward the pony-cart. Merry, Pippin and Fatty saw him next. His Gaffer clucked his disapproval at his son’s late appearance, tears standing in his eyes nonetheless. Frodo had glanced back toward #3 for a glimpse of Samwise, but the sound from the Gaffer drew Frodo’s gaze. He raised his eyes from the Gaffer to where the old hobbit was looking; there was Sam.

The crowd murmured with some slight disapproval for Sam’s lateness and his not being where he ought; but the disapproval was, in hobbit fashion, mixed with delight in the drama of the scene before them. This wasn’t the way it was usually done, but then again none of these Travelers did anything the same way as other folks... It would be something to share over an ale for quite some time to come.

Farmer Cotton brought the pony-cart to a halt, as Sam stopped a few yards away, suddenly aware he was not where he should be. For a few moments those closest saw him stare in silence, seemingly mesmerized by his beautiful Rose. He blushed and stammered incoherently, then stared fixedly at his feet, waiting.

Lily and Frodo exchanged a private smile as they looked on. She felt his intense excitement, even from a few feet away, even with Will Whitfoot between them. Frodo was keeping his face as impassive as he could, she knew, but his heart was telling her something quite the opposite.

Farmer Cotton helped his only daughter down from the pony-cart, then allowed Sam to take her other arm. Bill nickered softly and shook his head once, looking as if he wanted to follow them. Sam glanced back once and ch-ch-ed at Bill. The pony quieted, seemingly content that Sam would return.

They led Rose part of the way to the gazebo, until Sam stopped and turned toward her and kissed her hand. His Gaffer had not taught him about kissing a lady’s hand. He had learned it watching Frodo with Lily. Rose gasped softly and blushed, as Sam gently laid her hand atop her father’s, smiling at her, and whispering something to her which no one else could hear. She smiled and laughed, and the crowd was set to buzzing by it.

Rosie’s breathing stopped as she watched Sam make his way back to where he belonged, at the foot of the gazebo, and bide there for her. If I have to wait one more minute to be his--! Rose thought, somewhere between laughter and tears. She had never felt her heart beating so hard, or so fast; swift like a hummingbird in flight, Rosie, she mused to herself. Calm down now, or you’ll faint dead away in front of him and the whole lot of them...

In the next moment Mrs. Cotton joined them, taking Rose’s arm where Sam had been. Her parents walked her slowly to the gazebo, next to where Sam stood. They kissed her cheeks, and the Gaffer shook his son’s hand firmly in his own roughened one.

Farmer Cotton spoke clearly so all in the crowd could hear. “Samwise, son of Hamfast, I freely give you Rose, daughter of Lily, and she comes freely to you.”

The parents then backed away to the front edge of the crowd where both families stood smiling with pride.

Sam was almost as nervous as he’d ever been. He’d waited for what seemed like an age for this day. I’ll be lucky not to go and faint dead away in front of the whole crowd! Well, my master’d pick me up and dust me off, but... Rose! -- she’s taken every bit of breath I had... just seeing her... Stolen it clean away, she has. I best be stoppin’ those other thoughts, for now, or I’ll lose every bit of sense in my head, and then where’ll you be, Samwise Gamgee? I’ll think about it later... But, just for now, Sir, Ilúvatar, please, if You couldn’t see fit to get me through this wedding? Please... and then see me through part of the luncheon, and then...

In growing desperation Sam took Rosie’s hand again and kissed it, just once more. He did not hear the murmurs rustling in the crowd, but he did see his love nearly swoon. He steadied her, and she came back to herself pretty quick... that was his Rosie.

The crowd was still humming about the first kiss on the hand... and now not one, but two kisses! It wasn’t that it wasn’t done in the Shire, but it wasn’t done by someone of Sam Gamgee’s station, it was whispered. He was just a gardener. The landed gentry kissed a lass’s hand in public, not a common labourer!

Rosie paused at the foot of the steps and gazed at the flower-covered structure in wonder. The scent of hundreds of wildflowers filled the air all around them. Then tears began to cascade down her cheeks, and she whispered to her love.

“It’s so beautiful.”

Sam kept his voice low. “Like you, Rosie-love, but you’re the most -- the mostest beautiful lass in the whole Shire... anywhere, and no mistake,” Sam smiled. His voice would desert him, if he kept going at this rate.

He sighed, meeting her grey-blue eyes with his deep hazel-brown ones, and then he braved his chances, taking in the sight of all of her, and he felt humbled, all of a sudden. She’s going to marry me! I ain’t deserving her, but there you are...

Rosie blushed and glanced down at her finery, still pleased with how well everything turned out. Her chemise was a pale periwinkle blue, made of fine cotton, woven loosely so as to stay cool. Tiny bands of ribbons, of pale yellow and green and white, were sewn around the sleeves just at the wrist, drawing the wide sleeves in to fit closely at the cuff. The tiny bands of ribbons were repeated at the collar of the chemise; there the ribbons were left long and braided and used to tie the garment closed in front with a bow. Over this she wore a vest that fitted her closely, and a wide skirt that was gathered at the waist and swung wide when she turned. Both were made of the same fine wool velvet, in a medium shade of grey-blue that complemented her eyes and her chemise. Wider deep grey ribbons were sewn along the hem of her skirt and the deep round yoke of the vest, and the buttons of the vest were covered with the same ribbon fabric.

She eyed Sam appreciatively, in his plain shirt of sturdy cream-coloured cotton broadcloth, with the small collar. Over this he wore his best waistcoat of wide-wale corduroy, in a warm golden-brown, and deep brown braces. His dress coat was a medium dark brown wool tweed with a round notched collar, and his breeches were dark brown wool. His sandy hair and his deep tan and his eyes, a colour she’d never seen in another, were all brought out by this suit... Rose was pleased with her own and Lily’s work. She remembered with a start she was in a wedding -- hers -- Get a hold of yourself, lass!

Sam finally led Rosie up the three short steps. They were together, where they belonged. A hush settled over the crowd, and all that could be heard were the finches and larks and robins, in the tops of the party field trees.

And so the wedding began.

---------

The final ritual was ending, and Frodo thought he might burst his buttons from pride, and happiness, standing there, as Sam’s fingers laced with Rosie’s, palm against palm, shoulder level. They had managed to keep their eyes open and focused on one another, though Sam had wept steadily, albeit quietly, from the moment their vows were spoken. And his tears, as ever, were contagious. Frodo heard Pippin weeping, not far off; when he gave a sidelong glance in that direction, Merry met his eyes and smiled. Merry was not weeping, but he had one arm about Pippin’s shoulders.

Fatty stood as one in a trance. Frodo smiled. Fatty’s time was coming, no doubt sooner than he knew. Bell seemed to know who was interested in whom in every corner of the Westfarthing, as well as much of the rest of the Shire, and she happily shared the news with her closest friends at every given opportunity; thus Frodo knew of a lass in Crickhollow who’d had her eye on Fatty for months...

But Frodo now saw Bell in tears, too, leaning into Will’s shoulder. Will was whispering in her ear, his arm around her waist.

Frodo wondered how well he would do when his and Lily’s time came. He swallowed again at the shock of it. Marriage. Maybe, perhaps, children... Those things he knew he would never have. He felt the darkness creep into his thoughts, determined to unnerve him again. He closed his eyes for only a moment, not wishing to be away from this wedding for even an instant, and prayed.

When he opened his eyes again, he felt better, and Sam and Rosie were beginning the ritual kiss. Really only a moment had passed, he was sure. When his own time came, he hoped he could look into Lily’s eyes for as long as the ritual required; in truth, a remarkably long time, before the kiss. With a start Frodo realized his Lily was actually the one who might not last for this part of the ritual. She had a propensity for fainting if their eyes met and locked for a long while... sometimes when not even a long while. He still was not sure just why. She assured him it was not the darkness, or lack of food... She was wonderfully sensitive; mayhap it was simply her gift of sight. He loved her so deeply; mayhap it overwhelmed her at times... Yes, that had to be it. They would be all right. Ilúvatar would guide and protect them, as He would guide and protect Sam and Rose. At this thought, Frodo breathed easier.

Sam and Rose were still locked in their kiss. By tradition it was usually a relatively short kiss, though longer kisses were acceptable; the crowd hummed in appreciation, for this was a long kiss, indeed.

Frodo needed to glance away for a moment. He sensed Sam and Rose had forgotten where they were, and nearly laughed through the tears filling his eyes. Then he captured Lily’s gaze once more. He hesitated, then winked at her.

She blushed and smiled. Then suddenly the ritual was over, and the two of them were embracing Rosie and Sam.

As the gazebo became more and more crowded with family, friends, and well wishers, Frodo gently guided Lily away from the crowd, under the guise of checking on the luncheon to be served when the newly wedded couple was ready.

---------

After Sam and Rosie disappeared without a word toward the end of luncheon, as was customary, Frodo and Lily properly turned over the hosting responsibilities to the Gaffer and Farmer Cotton. Then Will and Bell became their companions for the rest of the day.

Lily slipped into Bag End between tea and dinner, when many of the children were put down for naps and the celebrating lagged, as folks relaxed and milled about. She made certain she was present for both dinner and supper, then rested again at Bag End, but found she could not sleep, and gave it up after a half hour.

For the whole of the day, propriety dictated they maintain an appropriate distance, unable even to hold hands. When Frodo needed Lily’s touch he could only draw her arm through his to walk with her. Even this elicited whispers. The first time, Frodo attempted to release Lily, but she tightened her hold on his arm and leaned against him, lightly, then gazed up into his eyes. He capitulated and briefly laid his hand atop hers on his arm. When dancing together, they were allowed more contact, so they spent more time together dancing than they had all week.

Around the ten o’clock hour, Frodo and Lily, accompanied by Will and Bell, decided to call it an evening. The celebration would continue for some time, but they would be traveling in the morning; they needed their rest, especially Lily.

They saw Bell home, then continued on to Bywater.

Will entered his home and glanced back at the couple standing on his front porch. “Don’t be too long, Lil. Morning comes early, and it’ll be a long day on the morrow. Good night.” He smiled, warmly, and closed the door.

Lily gazed into Frodo’s eyes. “We’re alone.”

Frodo’s breath caught in his throat. He did not miss the request in Lily’s voice, or her eyes, which shone green even in the faint lamplight.

“You’re -- you’re not too weary?”

She continued in a whisper. “Hardly at all -- but dearest, we can’t tarry, not for too long...” She thought of her promise to him made on this same spot, much earlier in the day: To try not to... awaken his passion, and hers. She blinked up at him, her eyes suddenly wide, her breathing coming a little faster. She consciously made herself take even breaths.

“Will’s right, morning does come early, and it’ll be a long ride...”

“Then we shouldn’t waste a moment...” Frodo breathed softly against her lips, drawing her into his arms.

He tightened their embrace, and Lily accepted the warmth of his mouth on hers, his tenderness, his gentleness. She knew he was doing his best to keep it to a simple caress.

She smiled, basking in another warm kiss. This time, she would need to be the one to pull away; but not just yet.