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Sacrament

by CRB and Ladyhawk Baggins

12 May 1420sr

The Sun was just peeking over the horizon as Frodo strode to Lily’s. He had pounded on Merry, Pippin, and Fatty’s doors as he left the Eagle and Child, chuckling to himself as he heard the groans from within. He knew they indulged in their fair share of ales while sharing stories and songs the previous night with the crowd at the inn. They had politely declined Daisy’s invitation to firsties in the hopes of sleeping in.

Most of Buckland was now in Deephallow. Primula’s son was having his Reading of the Promisings. What’s more, it was to a lass living close enough to almost be a Bucklander herself.

The three friends had appeared in Deephallow the same day the posting of the upcoming Reading was made, to ensure they got rooms at the Eagle and Child. Lily took turns with Daisy and Hal hosting the guests for one meal after another.

Will had settled in his old room at Lily’s home, while Bell stayed in the guestroom at Hal and Daisy’s. Frodo found his room from his last visit available at the Eagle and Child, and quickly made himself at home, for as much as he was there.

Frodo reflected on the past ten days. Was it only ten? Somehow it seemed more, and yet less, at the same time...

On the second of May, he had met up with Will and Bell in Hobbiton well before first breakfast. Will picked up Bell and her baggage in the pony-cart, while Frodo rode Strider and ponied Bill; an arrangement both ponies were now well accustomed to after the last month. Bell chattered animatedly about the previous days’ festivities and what a lovely bride Rosie had been, and what a handsome groom Sam had been, and had they seen that kiss?...

Frodo smiled to himself as he realized he could easily relive the entire wedding simply by listening to the details Bell supplied in her descriptions. He stifled a chuckle as he realized he had missed most of the goings-on, too captivated by Lily’s company to be much aware of anything else.

Then Bill had whinnied loudly at him. Frodo glanced back and noted the baleful look in the pony’s eyes, as if to ask where the pretty lady was. She fed him pieces of carrot after their daily rides. “Soon enough, Bill,” Frodo soothed, under his breath, and he turned back in time to see the first smials of Bywater coming into view.

When they arrived in Bywater, they left the ponies and pony-cart at the livery, and headed to Will’s for first breakfast; Lily was waiting for them on the porch.

Then as Bell and Lily cleaned up after the meal and finished packing the food they would take -- cleaning out Will’s pantry of anything that might spoil while they were gone -- Frodo and Will gathered the ponies and pony-cart from the livery again, and they were on their way to Deephallow.

Frodo’s heart warmed with pride as he remembered how Lily rode almost all the way to Stock. She had struggled to hide her fatigue, but he had been watching her carefully. At his insistence, she agreed to ride the rest of the way in the back of the pony-cart. Her disappointment faded when he agreed to sit with her. After a time, she had curled up with her head in his lap.

A tremor whispered through him as he remembered the warmth of her hair under his hand, the delicate sweep of her ear, her dark lashes brushing her pink cheeks, her complete trust in him...

His heart tightened and he paused then, as he had that day, to thank Ilúvatar for granting one who failed such a rare and exquisite gift. His thoughts flowed briefly back to the day Gimli had admired the rarity of his mithril coat. “Gimli,” he whispered to himself, “my coat is as dross next to my dear Lily.”

He remembered her again in the pony-cart, asleep. She was as lovely as anything he had seen; lovely as a spring morning in the Shire, lovely as the flowers of Ithilien... he thought, for an instant, of Boromir, and a sad smile touched his lips. She was lovely like the shining beauty of the White City. Lovelier. He sighed and wished Aragorn could meet his Lily, and that somehow Gandalf could come to the wedding... they had prayed for Gandalf, at least, to come, but mayhap it was asking too much that anyone else from the Company might... Perhaps one day they could travel to Minas Tirith. But it was such a long, long way.

When Lily stirred, Frodo gently soothed her back to sleep with murmured endearments. The whole of the way, Bell had chattered nonstop, offering Frodo and Lily an odd privacy.

Lily had awakened when they turned down the lane to her home, but rather than rising immediately, she nestled against him. He still remembered the soft smile that touched her lips then, and the way her eyes sparkled when finally she opened them and gazed into his; and the thrill he felt at the thought that she loved him.

Frodo helped put Will’s and Lily’s bags just inside the door of the Burrows home. He and Lily then continued on to Hal and Daisy’s, not far behind Will and Bell.

While Bell settled into her room, Frodo, Will, and Hal discussed what space was available in the barn and decided it would be best to stable the ponies and pony-cart at the Eagle and Child. At the same time, Daisy had whisked Lily off to see the fabric she had found for her in Bree, where a huge fair had been held on April 10th. Vendors from as far away as Minas Tirith and Ithilien had been there, and Daisy had never seen so much beauty in tapestries and fabric, in laces and brocades, and in all manner of finery. She saved for last a flowing and light silk, in a peach colour that she knew Lily would love. Lily fingered the silk, amazed at the colour and feel of it--

A wail echoed through the smial.

Lily had gathered her niece in her arms, fat tears still rolling down her chubby cheeks as they entered the kitchen. Frodo thought his heart might beat out of his chest at the sight of the babe in his beloved’s arms. He held his breath, struggling not to dream of their future together, not to imagine her holding their own child. It was too much to hope for... Lily herself was more than enough...

She smiled and cooed. “Look, Pearl! Frodo has come just to see you, my sweet.”

Pearl first buried her face in Lily’s neck, then peeked out at Frodo, a grin growing on her face. A squeal escaped her, and she lunged for him. He deftly caught her and held her close, kissing her forehead. Then he began his familiar dialogue with her, telling her everything about the day and asking her about her own day, and replying as though her gurgles and grunts made perfect sense.

Bell had entered the kitchen and stared, open-mouth, in wonder. She deliberately closed her mouth and announced, “No, don’t tell me now. Wait until the night before the posting. Will and I are visiting friends on the morrow, and I want to be able to honestly tell them I don’t know.”

The family was chuckling at Bell, but when Pearl chortled gleefully, it turned to laughter.

“Just like she understands,” Will declared.

“It wouldn’t surprise me one little bit if she did,” Daisy stated proudly. “She’s a smart lass, this one.”

To please Bell, all conversation during supper revolved around any and all news that did not involve Frodo and Lily.

Frodo and Lily said their goodbyes in the kitchen with all present, after making plans for sharing secondies and elevensies with Will and Bell in Lily’s home. The four of them would then go for a walk and picnic for luncheon. After that, Will and Bell were expected for tea at a friend’s home, and Frodo and Lily were invited to Hal and Daisy’s for tea. Just as in February, Frodo had smiled.

---------

When Frodo and Lily arrived the following day for tea, Pearl was sobbing and shrieking from her nursery. They glanced at Daisy as they entered the kitchen.

Daisy rolled her eyes and smiled. “No, she’s not being tortured, though from the sound of it you’d never know it. Truth be told, she wanted the whole of my breakfast this morning and managed to dump it on the floor -- quick as a wink, she grabbed my plate! I hadn’t realized the wiggle worm had freed one hand from her blanket; it’s something she’s recently mastered, and quite proud of herself, she is! I put her to bed, and left her there for awhile, so I could clean up the mess. I haven’t given her another chance to repeat the game, and she hasn’t been happy since.”

The look on Frodo’s face caused Daisy to nudge her sister. “Lily, I’m not sure if he’s just trying to believe me, or that he does believe me and he’s horrified... What do you think?”

Frodo blushed and dropped his gaze to the floor.

Lily gently cuffed her sister, and proceeded to escort her out of the kitchen into the hall. “Daisy, you’ve embarrassed him. It seems to me my niece may only be reflecting her mum’s mood. Off with you; take care of the bairn. I’ll mind Frodo.”

Daisy laughed and then muttered all the way down the hall.

Lily returned to the kitchen. “I’m sorry, Frodo. She gets this way when Pearl tests her. She worries about doing everything wrong, and sometimes she finds it difficult to accept that one can do everything right, and things can still go wrong. It bothers her more so with Pearl than anything else. The midwife says it’s to be expected with the first child, and gets easier as the family grows.”

Relief eased through her as Frodo’s blush faded, and his usual interest was piqued.

“I wondered if -- if she resented Pearl.”

“I can understand why you might think that, but there’s no need to concern yourself over it. She still adores the little dear; just not always what she does. We’ll get tea all ready, and that should help a bit... one less thing for her to do.”

They set to finishing the meal preparations, though there was little left to do. The tea only needed steeping.

As Daisy returned with Pearl on her hip, Hal came in from his garden work and joined them, smiling broadly at his wife and daughter. His tanned face was smudged with dirt, and his hands were in need of washing.

“How are my favourite lasses?”

“The ragamuffin refuses to eat or nap...” Daisy’s voice clearly reflected her frustration.

Hal nodded in sympathy, kissed his wife on the cheek and looked squarely at his daughter. “Still unhappy about missing out on your mum’s cooking, are you?”

He feigned offense when she turned away from him and reached for Lily instead, who quickly took her.

“Fickle female,” Hal laughed. “Let that be a lesson to you, Frodo. Never get between a Burrows lass and her breakfast, or you’ll pay for it the rest of the day.”

Frodo endeavored to suppress his smile for Lily’s sake, but was unsuccessful, blushing.

“Careful, Hal Banks, you’re surrounded,” Daisy warned mockingly. “And you must go to sleep sometime... Besides, the truth is, she doesn’t want to get as black as the garden dirt you’re wearing. She wants you to take a bath!” Daisy then giggled and made a playful swing at him, which he easily avoided; he then kissed her briefly on the lips, and she blushed down to her toes.

“Have I got time for a quick bath before tea? I could use one,” Hal commented, spreading his arms and surveying the grime.

Daisy frowned, deciding. “A cat bath is all... run quick, or the tea’ll go cold.”

Hal’s smile shone white in contrast to his tan and the dirt. “Quick as a coney I’ll be.” He retreated down the long hallway, humming a tune to himself.

Lily stepped close to Frodo, laughing at Hal, with Pearl securely in her arms.

Without thinking, Frodo held out his hands for the babe. He blinked in surprise when she turned away.

Daisy’s arms were crossed in front of her apron as she took in the scene. She smiled to reassure him. “It’s all right, Frodo. She gets like this sometimes, and there’s no rhyme or reason to it.”

Pearl turned toward her mother again and started to cry. Daisy reached for her and the tears ceased as she cradled the babe in her arms. “See? She’s just fussy some days, and this is one of them.” Daisy sighed.

The greatroom clock struck two when Hal came back, a spring in his step. “How was that, Mrs. Banks? Fast enough for you?”

“The coney would be for supper, Halfred,” Daisy teased.

“I wasn’t as slow as all that, was I?” Hal feigned a hurt expression.

Daisy kissed his cheek, Pearl still in her arms. “Never mind. At least you no longer look like a coney.”

Hal laughed at Pearl’s faintly lost expression. “Not leaving you out, now. Here,” he chuckled, and kissed Pearl’s nose; she gave out a happy high-pitched shriek.

Hal beamed. “Works every time. I’m hungry. Are we all set for tea?”

Partway through the meal, Frodo gave Lily a sidelong glance, then the couple surreptitiously eyed Hal. He smiled ruefully as they noticed Daisy; try as she might, she could not enjoy even one mouthful without Pearl’s interference. Hal finished most of his meal, and relieved his wife of the squirming bundle.

“She needs a chair of her own. Like we saw in Bree! I’ll make one,” Hal decided simply. He drew his brows together in thought; then his face cleared. “Better, I’ll get your brother to make us one. Give him something to keep him busy once he asks Bell to marry him. Like Frodo helping him build his house!” He laughed. “He might even make a fair trade of it! Now wouldn’t that be somethin’?”

“It’s an intriguing idea,” Lily agreed, searching her mind for a way to change the conversation. Despite the grin on his face, she sensed Frodo’s increasing embarrassment at Hal’s comments.

As the babe continued to fuss in Hal’s arms, Lily offered, “We’ll take her for a bit while you finish things up in the barn -- the pair of you...”

Daisy looked straight at Frodo. “Would you mind, terribly?”

Frodo was loathe even to contemplate what her reaction might be if he said ‘yes.’ “No, I don’t mind in the least,” he smiled, and Lily noted the twinkle in his eyes, and loved him all over again.

She and Frodo both chuckled as Daisy and Hal dashed out the door.

They wandered around the smial, endeavoring to comfort Pearl with the movement and finally ended up in the greatroom. It was not long before Pearl began to cry, inconsolably.

Frodo reached for the babe. “Mayhap she needs a change of scenery.”

They raised their brows in surprise as Pearl settled quietly in Frodo’s arms.

Lily shrugged and whispered to her niece, “I’d quiet too, in your place, sweet.” She lifted her gaze to Frodo’s eyes. “I can hardly wait to be where this babe is, beloved. To be there, and never leave...”

Frodo had smiled at her comment to Pearl, but now his face held a seriousness which nearly undid Lily. It’s the love in his eyes, she thought, drifting. How shall I ever manage to live with him each day?

For a moment she glanced down, breaking their contact. She needed to do so, just for a moment...

Within Frodo’s arms, Pearl looked down as well, wondering what it was Lily saw on the floor.

Frodo had seen Lily unable to hold his gaze, looking away, more times than he could count. He was beginning to understand, and to believe -- impossible as it seemed -- that something in his glance affected her this much...

“Lily, I feel the same way for you. I love you... look at me, dearest.”

She glanced up, and Pearl imitated her. Lily searched his eyes. “I love you,” she murmured. With a steadying breath, she decided to hold his gaze. The worst that could possibly happen was a faint, and he would help her, she knew...

“I love you, dearest Lily,” he repeated, and Pearl cooed. “It feels so good to say the words...”

“Yes, beloved Frodo.” She kept her eyes on his, the hazel tinged with blue as she strove for calm. “I -- I must practice for our wedding vows,” she smiled. “I must practice, or I shan’t be able to complete the open-eyes ritual. Not at all...”

Pearl was held firmly in the crook of Frodo’s left arm. He removed his right hand from where it lay on Pearl’s middle, and reached to touch Lily’s cheek.

She nearly closed her eyes. “Not fair,” she smiled; her eyes were shining and bright. “You touched me, and we won’t be able to in the ritual... well, at least, not that way. Our hands will be touching...”

“Like this?” Frodo raised his right hand, palm toward her, holding it at the level of his shoulder, heedless of his missing finger.

He was not smiling anymore, but again wore the serious expression she almost could not bear. She accepted his invitation, praying the love she saw would not break her gaze, as she placed her left palm firmly against his right.

Warmth entered her from his hand. He blinked, and she came close to doing so, but managed to keep her eyes open and gazing into his despite the tremor she felt; the tremor which passed through her body until it reached her soul.

Frodo’s expression did not change. “You see, I must practice as well, my love -- for I blinked.”

Lily could not help but smile, and he returned it.

His voice broke a little. “I -- I think we’ve had enough practice for today...” He did not want to take his hand away, but he did, for fear of passion carrying him away. They had agreed not to kiss unchaperoned, as the old traditions dictated, and at this moment he was more grateful than ever for the strictness of the customs. Kissing her would carry them both away, and when Lily succumbed to her feelings, he would, too, unless he succumbed first, and then she would follow; and their senses would be brought far too close to a breaking point which could not be satisfied until they were wed. Indeed he was grateful...

“Oh, Frodo--”

He had taken his hand away, but then took hers once more, and raised it to his lips, kissing her palm gently. He watched her eyes close, and saw her catch her breath.

“I fear even this is too much for us, at least for the moment. Dear Lily, I’m sorry. I asked you not to -- to awaken my desire -- for you, and now look what I’ve done to you. I’m sorry, Lily. Please forgive me.”

Tears of joy filled Lily’s eyes. “You are forgiven, dear heart. I--” She laughed softly, and gathered both of Pearl’s chubby feet into her hands as a diversion, kissing the babe’s toes until she giggled.

Lily met his eyes again. “I simply don’t have any idea how I’ll manage to make it through that part of the ceremony. I’ll be praying the entire time, I’m certain.”

“As will I,” Frodo murmured. He tore his eyes away from the deep rose colour of her mouth, and shook himself slightly. He must change the subject, or he would kiss her.

He turned to Pearl, who was settling more quietly in his arms. “She’s lovely... You’re lovely, dear Pearl, just like your Auntie Lily,” he grinned, and laughed out loud as she grinned back at him, placing one chubby hand squarely on his mouth. He laughed again and kissed her hand until she giggled once more, Lily joining her.

Frodo’s eyes shone, as Pearl laid her head on his shoulder, blinking heavily. “She’s a delight. I can’t think about -- about children. Oh, Lily...” He could not finish his thought.

“Nor can I, dearest Frodo,” Lily smiled. “At least, I cannot think of it for long, for the feeling becomes... Have you ever seen a field of butterflies?”

Frodo eyed her with a quizzical smile. “I seem to remember seeing them in spring with my mother a few times.”

“Did you run out into the field?” Lily searched his eyes, her own sparkling with remembered excitement.

“Yes...”

“Do you remember how they scattered, not swiftly, but here and there in unexpected directions, as if they’d all the time in the world?”

Lily smiled as she watched understanding dawn in Frodo’s eyes.

He nodded. “Yes. I remember. It was a feeling of pure happiness, and I was wholly unable to contain the feeling. It was impossible...”

His smile reached his eyes, but then Lily saw them darken for just a moment, and his smile died. She felt the darkness for only a moment, and then watched Frodo push it away.

“Happiness,” he repeated slowly. “No... I cannot believe -- I shall not believe this is some cruel joke being handed us by the Creator.”

Lily could no longer hold back her tears. “Indeed it is not. He cares for us, Frodo; you taught me that, and I choose to believe it. Too much has happened to bring us together. It was meant to be. We shall get through the ceremony, and we shall be fine.”

They heard the front door open, and in a moment Hal and Daisy had joined them.

Daisy’s fairly glowing, mused Lily, but she kept her smile to herself.

“Sit down, you two!” Daisy chided, teasing. “You’re making me tired just looking at you!”

She lifted Pearl, nearly asleep, from Frodo’s arms, and Pearl whimpered. “Shush, little lamb. We’ll get you fed and changed and down for a nap. I’ll be back, you two. Take your ease and put your feet up. Honestly. Something tells me you’ve been standing here the whole time we were gone.” She threw a grin at Hal and left the room with Pearl.

“I think I’ll join you,” Hal announced incongruously; Lily and Frodo had not yet seated themselves. But as Hal flopped into the greatroom rocking chair, the couple joined him, taking the settee. Lily settled herself against Frodo and fell asleep at once.

Frodo hid a broad smile in the guise of a soft cough, as he realized their time spent with Pearl would be the only time they would ever come close to being alone again before they wed -- especially once the Reading announcement was posted, a few days from now. He shook off the thought and spoke to Hal about crops and farming until dinner, as his Lily slept against him, his arm about her.

---------

As requested, the night before the posting, at supper, Frodo and Lily told Bell of their wedding plans. She squealed with delight and embraced Lily, then hesitated, and swiftly embraced Frodo as well. After eyeing the pair critically, she declared they were a fine match, and well suited.

The day of the posting, Frodo received a letter addressed to him at the Eagle and Child and carried by Pippin from the Thain. In the letter, Pippin’s father declared that, as Thain, he would do the honours on Reading day.

That same morning, at elevensies, Will, Daisy, and Lily discussed the family home. It was decided Daisy and Hal would move into it, and let out their smial to the new farmhand Hal wanted to hire. Then Lily could sort through her things in a leisurely fashion, and leave in her childhood home what she could not bear to part with forever, but for the time being did not want to bring to Bag End. When she and Frodo visited, they would simply use her old room. Pearl would be put in the nursery for a little longer, and then be given what had been Daisy’s old room. Each day, Lily spent a little time at the house, poring over her things and collecting what she wished to take to Bag End. It was, for the most part, and enjoyable task; so many of her memories of growing up were happy ones.

On the evening of the 11th, Sam and Rosie arrived in Deephallow with a wagon for taking everything Lily planned to bring to her new home with Frodo. They happily embraced their best friends, and wanted all the news of the past ten days. Neither Lily nor Frodo dared asked about their niwealdor, but Merry did, unabashedly.

The couple grinned, blushed, and gazed into each others’ eyes. Then Sam looked Merry in the eye. “How’s Estella?”

Merry turned several shades of red, then laughed out loud and clapped Sam on the back.

Before he could utter a word, Fatty cut in with mock severity, “She spends far too much time cooking for the ungrateful lout.”

“I’m grateful! I just want to be sure I’ve considered all the possibilities!”

They heard a sharp rap on the front door: Will and Bell, along with Hal, Daisy and Pearl had come for supper, arriving just in time to cut the conversation short, much to Merry’s relief.

It was decided that Sam and Rosie would stay with Lily and Will at the Burrows home. Lily gave them their parents’ room, assuring them it was quite all right. It had given her a reason to clean and air it out.

Daisy, with Lily and Bell’s help, had supper placed on the dining room table at Lily’s for everyone as soon as Sam and Rosie were settled. It was the only place at which they could all sit comfortably.

Now that Bell knew of the betrothal as well, Frodo and Lily were more openly affectionate toward one another, holding hands and losing track of the conversation when they gazed into each others’ eyes, much to the amusement of their family and friends, including Pearl, who giggled and crowed whenever the adults laughed.

---------

Frodo pulled himself back to the present, blinking in the sunlight. He was standing in front of Lily’s home, and could not remember having arrived. This morning was their Reading! It had finally come -- their Promisings, which he had always been sure were meant for others, and not for himself.

He gazed up at the Burrows home. This is where his beloved was born and raised, and soon she would be leaving it to marry him... and share her life with him...

Tears sprang to his eyes, and he whispered a prayer of gratitude.

It’s a dream, an illusion. She’ll not marry you in the end. Something will happen...

Frodo gasped in spite of himself at the intensity of the attack.

“Go away,” he choked.

You’ll never be rid of me. I am you.

He leaned heavily against the gate. “No.”

“Frodo?” a gentle, familiar voice beckoned him from the porch.

His heart leapt in his throat. He glanced up to see Lily standing on the top step, her face revealing her concern.

She hesitated only a moment, then hurried to him.

“It knows,” she whispered, and wrapped her arms around him, drawing him close, and pushing the darkness away.

“How can I ask you to live with this--”

Lily gently laid her hand across his mouth. “I am yours, Frodo Baggins, in all but name, as of this morning... and you are mine... I’ll not give you up to It. Not now; not ever...”

Frodo startled slightly at the flash of defiance he saw in her eyes.

A smile slowly crept across his lips, and he kissed her fingers. “I fear I’ve underestimated you, Lily Burrows. Your sweetness and gentleness... your very appearance lulls one into believing you are soft -- and you are -- but there is a side to you...”

Lily pressed her fingers to his lips again, then trembled when he kissed first her fingers, then her palm. She struggled to catch her breath, and smiled. “Shhh. Do not reveal my secret.”

Frodo chuckled at the sparkle in her eyes. “I thought our adventure together would be quiet and sedate. I can see now I was much mistaken...”

“Shhh,” Lily murmured. She gazed in his eyes, then at his lips, then echoed the tremor she felt course through him.

She offered a loving kiss he accepted gratefully, returning her tenderness in full measure, and endeavoring to stay as calm as he could, for them both.

Frodo felt the darkness vanish. He battled It nightly, still. There was no point in telling her; she would worry... And something whispered to him she knew of it anyway. It was better not to speak of It, as they had decided.

All these thoughts he put aside, and concentrated on his beloved, and on her kiss.

---------

Sam, Rosie, Will, Lily and Frodo made their way to Hal and Daisy’s for first breakfast.

After the meal, they all gathered on Hal and Daisy’s front porch. Daisy handed Pearl to Hal and gently took her sister’s shoulders, then gazed steadily into her eyes, making sure she had Lily’s attention, smiling.

“Now, wait here until we turn the corner at the end of the lane, and then make your way slowly to the Bird and Babe. You don’t want to be looking overly eager. It’s proper for you to hold hands... What else...?”

Lily smiled at her sister’s concern, but could not manage to stop thinking of Frodo. She was sure she had heard all the instructions... “I think that’s it, Daisy.”

“Oh! One more thing, don’t be late... I know how you two can get distracted, but you simply can’t be, this morning. All right?”

Lily and Frodo blushed. “We’ll be there, on time,” Lily assured.

With Pearl staring over his shoulder, Hal, Daisy, Will, Bell, Sam, and Rosie headed for the Eagle and Child. Pearl waved and shrieked, and her retinue laughed.

“I love you, Frodo Baggins,” Lily sighed, and gazed up at him.

He returned her steady gaze. “I love you, Lily Burrows. I do not know for how long or short--”

“Please don’t say it, my love.” She searched his eyes, pleading with him.

“Lily,” Frodo’s breath caught in his throat. “Do you know I would do anything for you?” One tear escaped down his cheek.

She smiled and gently brushed away the tear. “Frodo, my beloved, I know. But still it means so much to me to hear you say it... May I ask something of you?”

He breathed deeply, and released it. “Yes, beloved Lily, whatever you ask...”

“I’ll not ask you not to doubt, for I know there is that within you which works mercilessly against such a request, but I ask you not to question our decision to marry... Am I asking too much?”

His eyes widened, and he swallowed hard. “No, beloved, you do not ask too much. In truth, you’ve never asked for more than I’ve been able to give, so I must be able to give this. As my gift to you this day, I shall do as you ask.”

She smiled serenely. “And what gift may I give you, beloved?”

“I want for nothing.”

“There is something, my dearest love. I can feel it tugging at your heart.”

“Lily, tell me--”

She nodded for him to continue.

“Tell me” -- Frodo’s voice disappeared into a whisper -- “we’ll be happy.”

Lily’s heart tightened. She knew the depth of the request. A sigh escaped her as she cupped his face in her hands, and she held his eyes with her own. “Every day, beloved. Every day, I’ll tell you we shall be happy, Frodo. Happier than either of us has ever imagined.” She searched his eyes a moment longer, then reached up and caressed his lips with her own.

He wrapped his arms tightly about her, holding her close, at first tenderly returning her kiss, then more hungrily; she accepted with a passion equaling his own.

They broke the kiss together, breathing unevenly. She buried her face in his shoulder.

Breathlessly, Frodo realized, “We’ll be late if we don’t leave now, my love.”

Lily nodded her head, struggling to catch her breath.

They tightened their embrace a moment longer, then stepped apart.

Frodo offered his left hand to her.

Lily reached for his right hand and intertwined their fingers, laying her finger carefully over the space between his middle and little finger.

They trembled and tightened their hold, then began their easy walk to the Eagle and Child.

The inn stood at the end of the main road. Frodo and Lily saw the crowd as soon as they turned off her lane. She stepped a little closer to Frodo. They were not halfway there when a cheer went up.

Merry, Pippin and Fatty had deliberately spaced themselves throughout the crowd. They would never tell Frodo of the disparaging remarks made by a few of the hobbits at the inn. The three friends had determined to nip any trouble in the bud; they had a quiet talk with the malcontents.

At length, Merry decided to make their presence known to the whole pub, speaking up in his best Bucklander voice. He addressed his comments on the ‘proper behavior at public Readings’ to Pippin and Fatty, who caught on at once to Merry’s idea, asking him leading questions.

“Aye, and they’re gettin’ it, too, Merry,” Pippin chuckled quietly, near the end of Merry’s performance. “They never used to listen to us before, we were so young; but now we’ve been in a war and come back to tell the tale, and suddenly they listen to us! And we’re not even soldiers anymore!”

“Obstinate is what they are,” Fatty chimed under his breath. “And anyway, they still see you two as soldiers, especially as you keep wearing your mail-shirts and shields... I’m thinkin’ they’re so much a part of you now, you don’t even realize how bright and shiny they are and how much they attract attention...”

Merry and Pippin exchanged a look, and Merry spoke first.

“Let’s get the word out on the street, too -- quick, before any of the Burrows family gets here,” Merry commanded.

A cheer went up when the Thain made his appearance, and again when Will and Bell, the Banks, and the Gamgees arrived. Pearl delighted in being able to shriek and squeal to her heart’s content along with everyone else.

As Frodo led Lily to the front of the crowd, she tightened her hold on his hand. He glanced down at her and captured her gaze, then smiled reassuringly, nodding his encouragement as her breathing became more relaxed and even. He remembered she did not do well in crowds.

“Are you faring better?” Frodo whispered to her, waving once to please the children who were still cheering happily; most of them did not know what they were cheering for, but there was no harm in that.

“Yes, I am, thank you, dear Frodo...” she smiled.

Hand in hand, they stepped up next to the Thain and turned to face the crowd. Frodo was startled to realize how many of the folk he recognized; folk from his childhood at Brandy Hall; folk from Deephallow, whom he had met on walks taken with Lily. He felt her inch closer, and he tightened his hold on her hand.

As the Thain read the announcement in a voice loud enough to carry to the back of the crowd, Frodo and Lily gazed into each others’ eyes.

Lily felt as though her heart beat with every word being read. She sighed in relief as the final words were spoken.

“Let no one now gainsay them.”

The Thain basked in the cheering. The Promisings, and the weddings following, were all going to help make the Shire whole again. And mayhap Peregrin would finally start to notice Diamond.

As the hobbits went on cheering, Frodo smiled and whispered in her ear. “Now you’re stuck with me.”

Lily murmured under her breath, eyes sparkling. “Good. And certainly not soon enough...”

They laughed softly and accepted the Thain’s congratulations, then were swarmed by friends, family and well wishers.

Frodo shook hand after hand; then he felt the darkness edge closer, and realized somehow he and Lily had been separated. He struggled not to panic in his effort to find her. He needed her, but more than that, he knew she needed him. This was one of the few things he could give back to her: a measure of protection from the emotional storm of a crowd, which weighed so heavily upon her...

His eyes darted about, searching the crowd for her, then he felt a soft, warm hand slip into his, and glanced down into hazel eyes, more blue than green. His fingers wrapped around hers tightly, and he released a silent shuddering breath.

Suddenly he glimpsed the strain in her eyes, before she glanced away to accept more salutations. Retaining his grip on her hand, he began to unobtrusively place himself between her and whomever was speaking to her, keeping the rest of their conversations to a minimum. When someone addressed Frodo directly, distracting him, he drew Lily into the conversation. He began to steer the talk toward the most general topics possible -- their plans for the next month -- never lingering with any one person for very long.

Then there was no one. The crowd continued mingling, catching up with family and friends, but for the moment no one wished to speak with the newly Promised couple.

Frodo felt her lean against him. He whispered, “Are you all right, dear heart?”

Lily nodded against his shoulder, and sighed. “Thank you, my love.”

They startled, and stepped apart, as they felt someone behind them.

“We’re thinking the two of you’re ready for a bit of quiet?” Sam smiled. Rosie was held close to his side, with his arm wrapped around her shoulders and her arm about his waist.

Frodo and Lily sighed with relief. “Yes. Lily needs rest.”

“Come on, then.” Sam started them walking. “Folks are finding second breakfast.”

“I heard Daisy inviting folks to the smial,” Rosie added. “She’s told them the Naming luncheon will be at the house, right and proper, but since she’d been doing most of the cooking, what with your mum being gone, she told everyone it was easier to serve second breakfast and elevensies from her own home.

“On the way here, we went over again the plans for the day,” Rosie continued. “We wanted to be sure the two of you would have time together, and still make certain Lily would get the rest she’ll need.”

They were away from the crowd now, and Lily turned abruptly to Frodo, burying her face in his coat. He wrapped his arms around her, and Sam and Rosie stood side by side, mostly shielding them from prying eyes.

“Shhh, Lily dear, it’s all right.”

She raised her tear-stained face to Frodo and offered a trembling smile. “I just don’t know what to say. You and Sam and Rosie” -- she glanced at their friends, then back at Frodo -- “and my sister... you’re all taking such good care of me. Thank you...” Her voice caught.

Frodo smiled and gently brushed her tears away. “We all love you, and you have done the same for us.”

“Let’s get you home, love.” Rosie’s smile broadened. “Then he can kiss you properly the way he’s achin’ to now.”

The friends laughed and continued their way home, Lily drying her tears as they went.

---------

Merry and Pippin, and Fatty, Will and Bell, all showed up together shortly after elevensies. Not long after, Hal and Daisy and Pearl, along with Hal’s parents, who had eagerly asked to care for Pearl -- outside feedings and naps -- arrived together with the Thain and his wife Eglantine, as well as Saradoc and Esmeralda Took, for the Naming luncheon. Other family members and friends appeared at the door closer to meal time. Frodo carefully kept Lily at his side, usually with his arm about her waist.

When it was time to eat, the Thain was given the place at the head of the table; the rest filled in the remaining empty places. The meal was noisy and pleasant.

After Frodo and Lily shared a silent prayer over the meal, he sought her eyes from time to time for reassurance she was holding her own. She would nod slightly and smile.

Then it came time for the Naming.

An uproarious cheer of approval went round the table when Frodo and Lily stood behind Sam and Rosie, naming them their fyllans. When Sam and Rosie stood to accept, Lily and Rose quickly embraced as tears trickled down their cheeks. Frodo and Sam shook hands, then swiftly embraced, holding back their own tears.

Lily and Frodo shared a long glance. She returned his warm smile and felt it all through her body; she saw the old light shining from within him, and wondered if it might be her imagination. No, she decided. I can feel it there. Thank you, Ilúvatar.

---------

At supper, a visiting cousin was overheard asking Daisy if she were hurt by Lily’s choice of fyllan, since it was, after all, Daisy’s rightful place. Daisy laughed and assured her she had more than enough to do keeping an eye on her little daughter, and besides, Lily would be leaving for Hobbiton in two days, as she would be married from there. When the guest raised her eyebrows in question, Daisy explained that Lily’s things would be loaded into the wagon Sam and Rosie brought for this very purpose, on the morrow. The Gamgees would then drive as far as Frogmorton, spend the night there, and continue on to Bag End, arriving in the middle of the day on the 14th. Frodo and Lily, and Will and Bell, would return to Bag End on the same day and arrive that evening.

Daisy further explained that Sam and Rosie hoped to have Lily’s things completely unloaded by the time Lily arrived. Frodo had already given her a room of her very own in Bag End, and her belongings would be kept there. Lily could then sort through it at her leisure, with a chaperone present prior to the wedding, of course...

The cousin gave Daisy a dubious look.

Daisy went on to assure their cousin it was all being done right and proper, and wasn’t it something that Frodo was so generous, giving Lily a room of her own to do with completely as she pleased? Lily would actually be staying at Sam and Rosie’s. Daisy continued that Will would be working on his new house, which Frodo and Sam had agreed to help with. She finished by declaring it was all decidedly above reproach in every possible way, and could not possibly have worked out better.

What was more, the Gamgees had kindly invited themselves and Will to stay with them the night before the wedding.

When asked if she felt left out of the wedding preparations, Daisy shook her head vigorously, explaining she was sewing several things and then would be fully involved when she arrived in Bywater with Hal and Pearl.

The cousin seemed satisfied by all the answers and finally left with the last of the guests. Only the closest friends and family remained in the greatroom: Sam and Rosie, Will and Bell, Merry, Pippin, and Fatty, and Hal and Daisy. Hal’s parents were at his and Daisy’s smial, putting Pearl to bed.

Frodo and Lily sat together on the cushioned settee. The couple whispered of the day’s events for a time, but were now quietly resting. Their hands were clasped together in Lily’s lap, and her head drooped against Frodo’s shoulder.

Daisy winked broadly at Frodo and her sister. “Let that be a lesson to you, Lil. Don’t bother trying to repeat the story over and over--” She paused and glanced at Bell.

Bell was feeling more comfortable now the party had dwindled considerably in number. She giggled, and finished the thought for Daisy.

“Just tell it to the biggest gossip in the crowd, and let them tell everyone else.”

Frodo smiled at Bell and Daisy; he could feel Lily’s deep, even breathing against him. He kept his voice low. “She’s asleep... I promise to share your advice with her, when she wakes... It’s quite sound, I must say... your advice, and her sleep.”

Daisy smiled softly. “I forget from time to time how much crowds wear on her because of her gift of sight. It’s been a long time...” Her voice caught; then she cleared it. “It’s been a long time since last Mum and Da reminded Will and me to watch out for her. I wish they were here to see this. Do you know they feared she might never marry?

“It wasn’t for lack of suitors, of course. But she seemed to prefer being alone; it was easier for her... Will tried to include her with his friends, since she’s closer to his age, but the lads...” She glanced at Will.

He nodded and continued. “My friends always wanted to show her off. They never actually talked to her, just at her, if you follow me. Then she’d get overwhelmed by everyone... She ended up in tears only once. From then on, our outings were just her and me, and Daisy, too, sometimes. She did spend a lot of time with you and your friends, Daisy.”

“Yes, and she had friends of her own growing up, until they became more and more interested in the lads and wanting to be around them. She and Violet remained friends until Violet married a few years back and moved to Northway after meeting a lad at the Bywater Fair. Violet never learned to read or write, so they lost touch.”

Daisy glanced at Rosie and smiled. “I think the two of you have known each other for most of your lives, with Violet visiting you all the time. Your mum and Violet’s are friends, as I recall. I still remember how excited Lily would get when she was allowed to go visit you with Violet. You weren’t interested in flirting with all the lads, either, so Lily didn’t feel like she was peculiar when she was with you.”

Rosie giggled. “My heart already belonged to only one lad... but then, so did Lily’s...”

Sam tightened his arm around Rosie. “I didn’t know...”

“That it was only ever you? Isn’t that odd, now! Frodo did.” Rosie smiled.

“I tried to tell you, Sam,” Frodo grinned.

Sam allowed a smile to lift one corner of his mouth. “That you did, Mr. Frodo,” he replied softly, and turned all his attention to Rose once more.

Daisy shook her head. “Isn’t it funny how life turns out? And I’m thinking it wasn’t until after Will moved to Bywater that Lily’s friendship with you really began to grow.” Daisy gave Rosie an appraising look and smiled. “Did you know Will bought his house there partly because he knew then Lily could visit you more easily?”

Rosie’s eyes grew wide. “She’s never said anything.”

Will smiled. “No, and I didn’t tell her, either.”

Daisy turned again to Frodo. “I watched you, today. Thank you, Frodo, for taking care of her. Of all the lads who’ve tried to court her, you’re the only one I’ve seen protect her.”

Frodo gazed down at Lily, then dropped a soft kiss on her hair. She nestled once more against his shoulder, then settled. They could not stay the night this way, he knew, but for now he would not disturb her.

“Sleep well, dearest,” he breathed, and he thanked Ilúvatar again in his heart.