The day after the battle dawned cold and bright, and hundreds of folk of Bywater and Hobbiton, as well as hobbits from Tuckborough, gathered at the grave site in the Bywater Gardens. It was 10 o'clock in the morning; the time set for the burial by Pippin the day before.
There was a brisk chill wind blowing, despite the sun, and folk coming to the burial were bundled against it. The Gardens had before this been a place for the locals to walk, to picnic, and to enjoy the best garden the Westfarthing had to offer. Each year, skilled gardeners and dabblers alike were invited to take part in a contest to see which hobbit could grow the most beautiful flowering plants. A prominent Bywater family, the Chubbs, had started the contest nearly a hundred years before. But the flowering plants had been pulled up by the ruffians, and every tree cut down but for one huge old sycamore. The hobbits had wondered what to make of this tree, which had been spared, but no one seemed to know the real story; although some foolish folk had spun a yarn about the sycamore talking and frightening the Men off. All the other trees were gone: the garden had been full of elm, oak, maple and beech before the coming of the Men.
Now the Gardens would also be a cemetery. Most hobbits buried their dead in tiny family plots, but all recognized that these dead should be buried together, so the battle would not be forgotten. Frodo had directed the graves to be placed under the sycamore's spreading branches. The great tree was giving up her own dead, and a deep covering of fragrant leaves, colourful in the sunshine, lay everywhere about them.
Frodo's feet sank into the soft blanket of leaves as he joined the Thain, Merry, and Pippin to stand in front of the crowd. He felt that perhaps the leaves were lovelier dead than alive. He tried to shake off the gloom he felt, and looked for Sam. All four of the returning Travelers were expected to preside at this burial along with the Thain, Paladin Took. Frodo finally located Sam, hanging back in the crowd with Rose by his side. Sam was not at all comfortable with the idea of public speaking, never having done so before, and Frodo had told him to stay with Rose. Sam didn't hesitate to accept the offer, and he thanked his master; Frodo had smiled and waved away his thanks. It was the very least he could do for Sam.
Frodo thought it ironic that the Travelers were not supposed to go off 'adventuring', and yet now were suddenly expected to organize battles and oversee mass burials. He looked at Merry and Pippin in their resplendent gear; they still wore their swords, as well. This must be why we were asked to do all of it, thought Frodo. Those two really do look rather imposing, and no one in the Shire has seen anything like them.
Frodo was happy he hadn't had to wear any such thing on the Quest...
The filthy orc-armor came immediately into his mind, and he was plunged into a deep place, taken unawares, vulnerable to the darkness at this sad burial scene. He had to close his eyes, and then lower his head for a moment. He wanted to rest his hands on his knees, to regain his equilibrium somehow; but he was in front of a crowd. This will pass, he thought, keeping his eyes shut as he fought for balance... after what had happened to him last night in the back garden of the Cottons', he knew he could fight this. He prayed for strength. For some reason he thought of Lily, and of her offer to help him with the darkness. But she had made that offer the night before the battle, the night before her father met his death, and before he had learned of her desire for another... he wondered why she had not breathed a word of it to him. But then, why should she? He should not have placed so much import on all her glances, all her concern, and all her words. That was his fault, and no one else's. But why then had Ilúvatar said -- not once, but twice -- that Lily had saved his life?
He raised his head. Pippin had spoken to him, but he'd missed the words.
"Pippin. Were you speaking to me?" he asked softly.
"Yes, Frodo. Are you all right? I think we're ready to start... Frodo, you're white as a sheet," Pippin whispered.
"I'm all right. I'm just very tired. I'll be fine. Let's get this done."
A typical hobbit burial consisted of one hobbit being interred, with family and friends present. They would stand in silence for a while, then depart. No actual ceremony or ritual took place.
There is so much weeping -- so much! thought Frodo. Hundreds of hobbits were present, and the lasses were not the only ones weeping openly. Frodo knew the violent nature of the deaths compounded the grief; everyone here today had previously only seen hobbits die of old age or the occasional illness; a very few of the lasses died in childbirth...
Without any ceremony or ritual to guide them, the Thain asked for silence. This was achieved quickly enough, although some soft weeping was still evident. The Thain read aloud a list of the names of the hobbits who died in battle, then told the crowd of the plans for a memorial stone; he told them it would take several weeks to complete the fine stonework. At that time they would be welcome to attend the raising of the name-stone.
The Thain also spoke of those who had been wounded, and exhorted all present to take care of them, and of each other. Many families had lost the head of the family, the only breadwinner. There was much work to be done. The Shire would be rebuilt, trees would be replanted, the shirriff groups would be restored to their previous small numbers. There was now a King in Gondor. He was the King of all the Free Peoples of Middle-earth, and was already taking steps to restore order throughout his kingdom.
There was much murmuring at this. Some of the hobbits were asking, 'Where is Gondor, and why do we need a King?'
When Paladin Took asked his son to explain, Pippin did his best. It was a little difficult, since so many of the hobbits were skeptical about anything they hadn't seen; but then again, Merry and Pippin had obviously been to some faraway and exotic place and had returned again as fierce warriors. When they heard the King would restore all the roads and clear the land of any remaining highway robbers and brigands, they listened with rapt interest. Here was something which would improve their lives immediately and directly. Pippin was satisfied he had made his case, and turned back to his father.
The Thain then asked Merry to tell the gathered hobbits the news of all the prisoners -- both the hobbits who were still locked up at Michel Delving, and the Men who were now in their own Lockholes.
Merry, never shy, spoke very clearly to the crowd.
"As soon as we are finished here, we're riding to the museum at Michel Delving -- that is, to the museum they made into a prison. We'll be freeing the hobbits there when we arrive. It would've been done already but for yesterday's battle and for this. Being a fair distance from here, if we're lucky we'll all be back midday tomorrow. The ruffians have been locked up in their old Lockhole at Frogmorton. After a week they can decide whether they want to go free or stay in prison."
A hobbit spoke up angrily. "What is this about going free, and letting them decide? What sort of strange idea is that? And whose?"
"It was my idea," said Frodo calmly.
Lily was in the crowd with Will, Daisy, and Hal. She had been watching Frodo from the moment she caught sight of him, never taking her eyes off him. She had seen him lower his head earlier, had wanted to go to him... but not now. Not in front of the crowd, like this. Now her heart leapt simply at the sound of his voice. She wondered how long she could go on this way, hiding her true feelings for him. The angry hobbit interrupted her thoughts.
"And why would you give them freedom? How can you trust them?"
Frodo remained calm. "They have not had any trust placed in them for a long while, and have forgotten they actually have a choice between good and evil. They made evil choices in the past, but now they can choose wisely, and they will. They can start over. They are aware the choice is theirs, and I trust their word will be good when they are released. They will leave here and will not return."
His voice rang with such authority; for a few moments there was complete silence from the crowd. The angry hobbit spoke again, not quite as vehemently as before.
"Baggins, how do you know this?"
"I felt it when I spoke to them yesterday. If they break their word upon being released, they will be hunted down. But they will not break their word."
Frodo was done speaking; the angry hobbit was silent now, and confused. Frodo thought of Lily again and looked for her. There she was, off to the far right in the crowd, Will at her side, and another couple was with them. It must be Daisy, her sister; she was very obviously near her time to deliver, as Lily had told him. And that must be Hal, Daisy's husband. Frodo hoped that Daisy, in her condition, had not been harmed by the quick journey here from Deephallow.
His mind was unsettled, and he was tired and weary. Troubled and at the same time comforted by the dream of the night before, Frodo tried to recall all that had been conveyed to him. He was frightened to think Ilúvatar would speak to him so clearly. Who was he, after all, that the Creator should speak to him? Or perhaps this happened to anyone who believed in Him? He would have to ask Gandalf. It was comforting to think that Gandalf at least would be a constant for the rest of whatever time he had left in Middle-earth. Gandalf would not die, not again. And I have so many questions, Frodo thought wearily.
His eyes met Lily's, even far away as she was. In that same moment, he had to look away. What he felt for her was too strong, and could never be acknowledged. He was confused yet again by her expression. It was consistent, unwavering, the same expression he had seen the night they talked; it was longing. How could she possibly be longing for him? After what her father had told him? Maybe Sam was right. Maybe Lily had changed her mind about that other hobbit she cared for, and had never told her father. He wondered if he could dredge up the courage to ask her.
"Frodo?" That was Pippin, whispering. "Can you speak to them about Ilúvatar -- about what we've learned? I'm sure it would bring them comfort."
"Yes," replied Frodo.
He was vaguely aware of the Thain telling the crowd the burial was over; they could all go home. But most stayed, and the wives and daughters and sisters in particular were weeping openly once more, though fathers, brothers, and sons could also be seen wiping away a stray tear. It was something he had not seen in the Shire. There had never been any loss such as this in any of their lives. He thought of what he and Sam had beheld in Galadriel's Mirror. This was the emotional toll of what the Mirror revealed.
The grieving hobbits had drawn much closer. Most were sitting near the burial plot of their loved one, touching the earth. It would be easy to speak to them in this setting, thought Frodo. He scanned the gathering. Where had Lily gone? There... She wasn't far away now, as she had been earlier, when the Thain spoke. He looked away; he could not think about her.
"Gentlehobbits, and ladies of the Shire," he said, and they turned. "I have news from afar which I hope will bring you comfort. All is not lost. There is another life after death. It is a gift given only to mortals. It comes from our Creator. We have only to believe it and to accept it. You can be with these loved ones again in the second life. You need never be parted again, ever."
The entire crowd was listening. Their faces reflected every conceivable reaction to such a bold statement: confusion, disbelief, fear, derision, thoughtful doubt, guarded belief. One or two looked as though they already believed it. Frodo marveled at those ones. Surely they were already close to the Creator.
Toby Bolger, his helper in the battle, asked, "Where'd you learn this, Mr. Baggins, if I can ask you, sir? And what's -- the Creator?"
"I learned it on my travels, mostly in Gondor and Ithilien... those are places many, many days south of here. Some I learned from the new King, Elessar. And from others..." He would not mention the Elves or Gandalf unless asked a direct question about them.
"The Creator made us, and everything we see around us -- even things we cannot see." At this he smiled, for a moment. "His name is Ilúvatar, or Eru. He loves us and wants only happiness for us. When we pass from this life we can join Him in a new life. It is called the Second Gift."
Sam and Rose were listening intently. This was not news to Sam, but Frodo doubted Sam had been able to tell Rose of it yet... Fear of Lily's reaction could not keep him from seeking her again with his eyes. There she was... His heart went to his throat. She was not laughing at him. If anything, the longing in her eyes increased. He looked away, dazed.
Lily recognized the name Ilúvatar, which Frodo called into the frozen air on the road two nights back. This was the one he was crying out to, she thought.
Torold Hornblower spoke up. "How do you know this for sure, Baggins?"
"I don't know for sure... I believe it. I have faith. Knowledge and faith are not the same thing. As far as what we know... well, we know almost nothing. I know almost nothing."
He spoke so calmly that the hobbit lasses had stopped their weeping. They were listening intently.
"What do you mean, none of us knows anything?" the angry hobbit said again. It was Bill Boffin; Frodo put a name to the face. "We know how to grow crops, we know how to build homes; we know how to mill, and work a lathe, and the lasses know how to cook and make meals and run the smial."
"...And raise the children," Frodo added, with a tired smile. "That is indeed one kind of knowledge. It's valuable knowledge as well, Bill, but still, mostly we know nothing at all."
Bill was becoming even more upset. "Explain yourself, Baggins. You're making no sense."
The other hobbits were still following the exchange with great interest.
"Do you know the sun will rise tomorrow, Bill?"
"Well, of course I know the sun will rise tomorrow!"
"No, actually you don't know that at all. You only assume it will rise. You take it for granted. But you don't genuinely know it will rise tomorrow. You have no proof. You are actually taking it on faith; that is, you believe it will rise in the morning, only because it has happened every day of your life. You use faith on a daily basis for nearly every activity -- even something simple, like breathing -- and don't realize you are again using faith... for we don't know how it is that we breathe, we didn't create the sun, and we don't know how she is kept in her course. None of us knows these things."
He stood quietly for a moment, letting them take in this very startling information. He knew it was hard, because he had been on this very road himself. He knew he was still on it.
The chill air was not that much warmer, even though the bright sun had raised a little higher in her daily course around the earth... or so it appeared, Frodo reminded himself. The Elves told him the sun stood still; it was the earth which moved. It had taken him a long, long few days to believe that one.
When Frodo spoke again, his voice was softer. He saw Merry and Pippin out of the corner of his eye and was glad they were here with him. He didn't feel quite so alone. He had nothing to lose here in the Shire. It did not matter if they thought him a fool. They already thought him mad. Now they could call him a mad fool.
"I know this is hard. But in truth, none of us really knows much of anything. We are living daily with what we observe, assume, and take for granted. It is not the same as knowing something with absolute certainty. We are using faith, and have been, for thousands of years, without knowing Who or What created and sustains all. We know none of the secrets of creation. We do not know what makes a tree grow." He looked up at the sycamore's broad branches, then back to the crowd. "We don't know how we were made, how children are conceived and grow -- we don't even know how or even why our hearts are beating. We know nothing at all with certainty. We are living purely on belief."
Bill Boffin would not give it up. "But we do know the sun will come up tomorrow! You're talking in riddles!"
The crowd became more mesmerized yet. Frodo was not aware of them. He only knew he was trying to explain something he barely understood himself; something he had faith in. The faith was all he had. He prayed for guidance; Gandalf had taught him how important that was.
"Please listen to me, Bill. We don't really know about the sun coming up tomorrow. Here: three days ago, you woke up and 'knew' your loved ones would be alive all that day. You did not even have to think once about it. You also 'knew' that in the next three days, they'd still be very much alive. No one thought about it either way.
"Today, when you -- when we all -- awoke, it was as if the sun hadn't risen, because these same loved ones, the ones we 'knew' would be alive for many years yet, were gone. They were here yesterday morning when we all awoke, but by noon yesterday, these nineteen were gone. None of us 'knew' the future. I didn't know it either. We are all ignorant about the things that really matter. I am sorry to seem harsh; that is not my intent. But sadly, it's a clear illustration of what I'm trying to share with you."
No one spoke at all. They were so quiet, in fact, they could hear the wind blowing all about them. The sycamore was still giving up her beautiful dead leaves to be an ever-deepening, soft carpet for them to walk on. Frodo spoke more gently yet.
"And if we don't really know much at all, then how do we 'know' there is not a Creator who made us and loves us, He who has given us the Second Gift?"
Will Burrows spoke next. "We don't know there isn't one... you are right, Frodo."
Some of the hobbits began to speak amongst themselves, though not loudly.
Frodo said, "That is the only reason I spoke to you of this today. We are in terrible grief over these losses, nineteen all at once, and dead as a result of violence... none of it was foreseen at all. I hope you may find comfort in this message."
Rose spoke up. Sam seemed surprised; he'd had no warning she was going to ask a question.
"Frodo, how can we know more about Ilú - Ilúvatar? -- how can we learn more?"
He smiled. "We can only keep our hearts and minds open, and ask for belief. It can be received freely, as a gift, from Him. In fact, I was taught that it is hard to believe without His aid. But He wants to help us to believe."
Lily spoke, and his heart began to race.
"How do we ask Him for this gift? How may we speak to Him?"
Frodo had almost hoped she wouldn't speak... it might have been easier for him. She was only a few steps away. Now he would have to force himself more than ever to think and speak clearly.
He thought about not looking at her. No, I must. He looked at the eyes he had come to know well two nights before.
"We can speak out loud, as we do with each other," -- he swallowed hard. He hadn't the courage to speak to her aloud about all the things he wished to tell her, and here he was trying to tell others to have the courage to speak to Ilúvatar, whom they knew not at all. He swallowed hard again, and forged ahead.
"-- or, we may speak to Him in our thoughts, privately. There is a word for this: prayer."
"Prayer," Lily repeated. The look in her eyes was unmistakable, now that she was so much closer to him. Right in the middle of her grief, longing. Perhaps she longed for her mother and father. But no... it would not look like this.
"Yes, prayer," Frodo said, as if in a trance. He realized the entire crowd of hobbits could see his every expression. How clearly, he wondered, did his emotions show on his face? It was too late for that now; but he did look away from her. He looked to Will, and smiled. Will wore a curious expression, too. Perhaps I won't look at Will after all. Sam...
Sam was there, his rock. Sam, ask me a question, please... anything.
Sam spoke next. "How can we tell when He's talking to us? What'll his voice sound like, if you take my meaning?"
Frodo was so relieved by Sam's quick rescue he almost laughed, but stopped himself. They would surely call him mad Baggins if he laughed in the middle of this very serious discussion.
"The voice is the same voice within you that knows right from wrong. It's the voice that tells you when something is fair or unfair. Listen to it. It will grow stronger, and you'll begin to recognize it." Thank you, Sam, he said silently.
Bill had more protests. "But our parents taught us right from wrong, not this -- Ilúvatar!"
"Who taught your parents right from wrong?" Frodo kept his voice even.
"Their folks, of course," said Bill, puzzled.
"And who taught them? Who taught your grandparents?"
Bill got angry again. "You're talking in circles, Baggins! That'll just go back and back, forever!"
"Yes," Frodo said earnestly, still keeping every trace of impatience out of his answer, "it does go back and back, till the beginning of everything, to when everything was created. The Creator instilled in the first mortals right from wrong, and the idea of fairness and unfairness -- from the very beginning. And that is the only reason it came down to your parents at all, so that they were able to teach it to you... so you can teach it to your own little ones."
Merry and Pippin were sitting on the ground near Frodo. He couldn't remember them sitting down. He looked around for a moment. Everyone was sitting except Bill Boffin and himself.
Will asked, "What about our loved ones who are already gone? Do they get the Second Gift?" He sounded worried.
"I believe -- I was taught the Creator loves us so much He would do almost anything to have us with Him after this life -- indeed, He wants our love and our thanks in this life as well -- but the choice is ours to be with Him or no. He will not force us to love Him. Again I have no proof, Will, but from what we have learned on our travels, those who have died before us will still be given the choice to be with Him. The only other choice is not to be with Him. It would feel completely empty, it would be -- I cannot describe it -- terribly lonely? Forever? But it would be our choice. He gives us free choice. Really He has given us everything. Nothing has been left to chance. He cares for us. We hobbits have wanted to know Who it was that made the Shire, for as long as we can remember. For myself, this is the answer. So I say again, take comfort."
Frodo was so exhausted by this exchange he could continue no longer. He turned and began to walk away in a straight line, somewhere, anywhere -- it did not matter where he ended up -- in order to be alone, to gather his thoughts, to weep by himself for Lily's father, for the others who died, for his beloved Shire that had been hurt so; for his own parents. For Boromir and for all those who had died fighting Sauron and Saruman.
Sam followed him. "Master!"
Frodo did not hear him, and continued to walk. Sam had to run in order to place himself in front of Frodo and then grasped him by the arms to stop him.
Frodo looked at him wearily, and sat down in the grass as soon as Sam released his hold. Sam sat next to him.
"Sam! I'm so tired."
"I'd be tired too, Mr. Frodo. Especially seeing as how you haven't hardly had any sleep now for days. Merry and Pip are getting ready to go off to Michel Delving now. They want to know if you feel up to coming along? I'll be coming along, too."
"I -- can they wait for half an hour? Yes, I do want to go, Sam, but I feel I can't even walk at the moment. I feel weak. I must rest. If they can't wait, tell them I understand. I just realized I'll need a fresh pony. I let Will Burrows borrow Strider yesterday, all the way to Deephallow and back. Strider needs a rest, too."
"You stay here, Mr. Frodo. I'll see about Merry and Pippin." Sam left.
Frodo buried his face in his hands. He felt almost faint with exhaustion. More travel sounded like a nightmare.
He felt rather than saw someone sit down near to him. Lily. She was not too close! -- that was just as well -- when will my darkness harm her again?
"Frodo?" She saw the deep wells of confusion, fear, and exhaustion in his eyes.
"Lily. I never was able to tell you how sorry I was yesterday about your father..."
"Yes, you did, Frodo," she said softly. "I heard you say it."
"I said I was sorry, but I didn't have the chance to tell you -- that I'm sorry I could not save him. Lily, I tried, I tried so hard..."
Why was it that with her, he could be himself, without worry or any fear of reproach? He did not try to stop the tears that started in his eyes.
"I know you did... thank you, Frodo. Many saw it. Many have told us of it. Daisy and Hal thank you as well. We cannot thank you enough. You also made it so Will was able to bring Daisy and Hal back in time for the burial. Again I thank you, and so do they. Frodo, you need food."
Lily showed him the small basket she carried. A memory sparked within Frodo. Her face, and a basket. When? He could not place it. Nothing surprised him anymore. He could not have remembered something now if his very life depended on it. Lily was bringing food out of the basket and putting it into his hand: a round of cheese, some bread; an apple.
"Please eat, Frodo. You are so hungry."
He took a small bite of the bread, then another, and had to stop. She was right. He was faint with hunger. How did she know? He had not eaten at all since yesterday, since the midday meal before seeing Bag End. They had all begged him to eat, but he could not. The thought of food made him feel ill at the time. Now he was ravenous.
"Daisy!" called Lily. "Daisy brought her travel flask. It's cider. Here."
Lily took the flask from her sister, who stood quietly by, watching and listening.
"But this is for Daisy! She is expecting!" He was not aware Daisy stood only a few feet away, and behind him.
"Frodo," Lily laughed, but only a little. "We can refill this in town in just a few minutes. It's nothing. You're not able to think clearly now. Please drink."
He took the flask and drank from it, too thirsty to resist. He felt better almost immediately, his thoughts becoming clearer. He drank again.
"Good. That is better," Lily said. "Now eat some more. Please."
He started in on the bread again, finished it, then started in on the cheese; then the apple.
"I was famished. I hadn't realized how long it had been... thank you..."
"Samwise said you've eaten nothing since midday yesterday, and even then you picked at your food. And it's not just that. You've not slept, you've seen Bag End -- I am sorry, Frodo --" She lowered her eyes for a moment. "I meant to tell you how bad it looked, but I did not have the courage. I am sorry."
Frodo lowered his head. "It's all right... it's much more -- there's more to it than just the damage one can see. I can't explain now; I am sorry. I -- it's so hard to explain. Please forgive me; I'm having trouble thinking clearly." He raised his head again to look at her. He had tried so not to meet her eyes, but he was drawn inexorably to them. They were more blue today -- more blue than green. They were as lovely as ever. Perhaps lovelier.
He looked down and touched the dead leaves on the ground, more aware than before of their bright colors. "Perhaps you can ask Sam about that as well. It is related to the hand story. All of it relates to the hand story."
He laughed a little, his energy returning. Was it her nearness, her proximity? "Perhaps I am the one lacking courage now, since I cannot tell you of these things... please, Lily, tell me you are all right? I don't mean today -- of course you are mourning. What I mean is -- are you all right, after what happened night before last, at Will's?"
Lily glanced up at Daisy, still standing off and away a little, behind Frodo. She saw Sam approaching. "I am very fine, indeed, Frodo. Here comes Samwise. Do you feel better?"
"Yes." He picked himself up off the ground and handed the flask to Lily, then brushed himself off. "May I help you up?" He smiled, but guardedly. He could not afford to allow himself to become any closer to her. It made his heart ache.
Lily took his hand and allowed him to help her up. Suddenly his heart felt lighter, and less weary; but now Lily looked more tired than she had just moments ago. He saw it and let go of her hand. Lily smiled at him softly, as if holding a secret, then looked down. It seemed to Frodo she was unable to meet the question held in his eyes.
"Lily -- " he began, but he heard footsteps quietly rustle the covering of leaves, and turned to see Sam's approach. He also noticed Daisy for the first time; he was sure it was Lily's sister only because she'd been standing with Lily and Will earlier at the burial. Frodo felt ignorant about such matters, but -- surely she was very near her time...
For a moment, Frodo was not sure to whom he should speak first. Sam stopped a respectful distance away, having taken in the situation. He knew Frodo had never met Daisy.
Lily glanced at Frodo and a shy smile appeared on her face; she sensed Frodo's faint discomfort at being so near a lady in Daisy's present condition. And yet Lily also saw great curiosity in his eyes.
"Daisy, this is Frodo Baggins, the one who -- he was with Da... Frodo, this is my dear sister, Daisy Banks." Lily let her eyes rest on Frodo again, trying to relax. It was hard. She did not feel completely well, but looking at him gave her comfort.
Frodo was thinking just clearly enough now to remember his manners. He took Daisy's proffered hand and kissed it.
"Lily has spoken of you, but never mentioned how lovely you are. I should have expected that, of course! It is my sincere pleasure to meet you, Daisy -- or Mistress Banks? Which do you prefer?" It took all his will to maintain a semblance of energy for her. He could not have Lily's sister's first impression of him being one of an exhausted hobbit. He couldn't recall the last time he had wanted so to make a good impression. Perhaps... it would have been at Rivendell. But that had not worked out. They had carried him in half-dead...
Frodo realized his mind was wandering; but thankfully he was still smiling at Daisy, and the smile was genuine, for all that. He wondered how long he'd been standing there smiling like an idiot. He despaired of making a good impression. I'm too tired, he thought. Happy, but tired...
Daisy laughed a little. What a charmer he was! -- and yet he was in earnest. She could see Lily fancied him; it was written all over her face. Now, closer to him, she could understand why her sister felt this way. She had never seen eyes such as his on anyone, ever, hobbit nor Man.
"'Daisy' is fine, Mr. Baggins, and thank you; you are too kind. I am very pleased to make your acquaintance." Her tone became serious. "Thank you for the loan of your pony to Will. And thank you most of all for trying to save our father's life."
Frodo dragged himself back to the present; their father... it seemed long ago, but it had only been yesterday. He purposely took a deep breath, in an effort to think and speak clearly.
"I am sorry I could not save him. He was very brave in death. I was given a message for you. He told me to say -- he loves you very much."
Frodo had discharged his promise now to each of the Burrows children. He sighed.
Daisy could not stop her tears. She had shed many, but there were more now. Lily held her, and they cried together, but only for a moment. There would be other times and other places for grief. Sam was waiting.
Lily nodded to Sam to let him know their time with Frodo was done, for the moment, and Sam stepped forward.
"Master Frodo, you look to be feeling an awful lot better, sir. I knew if I sent the food over with them, you'd eat. It worked. Thank you kindly, ladies," he addressed this last to the sisters, who wore smiles, despite their tears. Frodo said nothing for the moment, too surprised at Sam's subterfuge to speak; the food had indeed helped. It may have been the only thing keeping him on his feet at this very moment. He gave Sam a weak smile.
Daisy put a hand to her swollen belly, and made a curious face. She wiped the tears from her eyes as she spoke, laughing a little.
"This child doesn't want to be cooped up much longer. He keeps moving. He's trying to get comfortable."
She looked up at Sam and Frodo, both of whom stood in awed silence, nearly open-mouthed. Sam recovered much more quickly, having been around a few expectant cousins while growing up, not to mention his older sisters, Frodo now... his eyes were still wide open.
"You're not -- " Frodo looked from Daisy, to Lily. "She's not --?"
"-- going to have the babe right now?" Lily said, laughing.
Frodo nodded. His eyes were fixed on Lily, for fear of looking at Daisy.
"No, I'm not. It's all right, really." Daisy laughed, as she saw Frodo start to breathe again. He really has the most amazing eyes, she thought to herself. Lily never had wanted to settle for an average hobbit, someone like her dear Hal. Perhaps Lily had found the one, after all this time. He could never be called average...
"I trust the journey here was not too difficult for you? I know you had to make haste."
Frodo's curiosity won out over his intense fatigue. "Are you -- Lily says you are -- due soon? Is that the word?" He looked to Lily for some sort of confirmation.
Lily smiled, but suppressed her laughter. Frodo was being himself, the most curious hobbit she had ever met. She was about to answer when Daisy spoke up.
"I have only about one week to go; but even the midwife does not know for sure. It could be any time now."
Frodo looked even more alarmed than before; he noted the amused expressions on the sisters' faces. How could they be so calm? Perhaps Sam could get him out of this. He took another deep breath, endeavoring to speak clearly.
"Dear Sam; I should have known you were behind a plot to get me to eat; but as usual, you were far more wise than I. Thank you. Was there something else? You look almost impatient..."
"Yes, well, begging your pardon, Mr. Frodo, but Merry and Pippin are waiting. They want to know if you still want to go to Michel Delving with us. They got you a fresh pony."
"I'm coming now. Daisy? I must go. I'm sorry to be leaving so soon after meeting you. Please forgive me." He turned to look at Lily, and paused.
He was at a complete loss for words now. He had told her two nights ago he should avoid her, but that was before the battle and her father's death. Everything had changed. And Lily did not know what her father had told him about her secret love. Finally some words came, but they were inadequate, and he wanted to say much more.
"Thank you for bringing food and drink to a famished hobbit." His tone changed completely as he saw their mourning shawls for the first time. "I hope, dearest ladies, that we can meet again soon under far happier circumstances."
Frodo kissed Daisy's hand again, the polite form for saying goodbye after a first meeting. He then took Lily's, as if to kiss it. His gaze rested on her and was so intense in its expression that Daisy almost gasped. She covered it with a cough. She exchanged a knowing look with Sam; it was easy enough to do, for Lily's eyes were with Frodo's now. For the moment, they were far away.
Frodo looked closely at Lily; she seemed all right now, as if she had recovered from what happened when he helped her up before. He was afraid to kiss her hand, however, as he had kissed Daisy's. If she were to be harmed by it, somehow -- ? He did not wish to find out. As with everything else he felt and thought, Lily seemed to understand this too; it showed in her eyes. In the clear late morning sunlight he saw the hazel color, blue edged with green, more clearly than ever before. But her eyes were sad, as if she did not wish to go. Frodo was puzzled; there was someone else! -- and yet she did not wish to go.
She broke the spell; it was time.
"Goodbye, Frodo," she smiled gently. "Thank you for telling us of the Creator. I have -- much to think about."
"And I," Daisy said.
Their farewells were completed. He turned and went with Sam, on their way to free the prisoners at Michel Delving.
Lily and Daisy linked arms to walk back together to where Will and Hal stood waiting for them. Lily could not resist glancing back over her shoulder to see Frodo and Sam departing, obviously lost in conversation. Tears suddenly sprang to her eyes. She fought them down at first, but then allowed the tears to fall. She had many reasons to cry today -- no one would ever know these tears were for Frodo. Daisy put an arm around her.
As the four of them walked to Will's home, Lily saw Rosie Cotton just ahead, where the Bywater Pool ended at the main road. She caught up to Rosie and invited her to join them for their midday meal. When Rosie hesitated, Lily added, "I know Samwise has gone off with Frodo to join Merry and Pippin on their trip to Michel Delving. They won't be back until tomorrow. Eating with us will at least help you pass a little time."
Rosie returned Lily's warm smile and accepted the invitation.
Lily set the table for six; Daisy quietly removed one of the plates. Tears welled in both their eyes; they were grateful when Rosie offered to finish the task.
The meal started in silence, each of them alone with their thoughts. Will broke the silence first.
"I was puzzled, I tell you, when Frodo took no part in the battle. Well, at first I was even a little angry until I saw him there with... his fancy velvet jacket all ruined, and he cared not a bit. I felt so grateful to him... bein' there as he was, so that Da wasn't alone. But still I was puzzled, until I heard him speak today. He's not like other hobbits... I reckon I'll have to stop calling him Mad Baggins, won't I?"
"That you will," Hal replied.
Lily stared at her plate, where she pushed what was left of her food around with her fork.
Hal continued, "It says a lot for a body that sees to the concerns of others, offering comfort when met with scorn. We can never thank him enough for letting you borrow his pony to come and get us, though I'm glad Daisy here seems to have taken the trip well enough."
Daisy smiled. "I'll be all right, Hal. We needed to be here. We owe him our deepest thanks for making it possible. We'll need to take Lily home with us." She turned a kindly eye towards Lily, who had yet to look up from her plate.
Lily could hold her tears no longer. She rose and hurried into the kitchen.
Hal watched her go. "It's going to be hard on her."
Will nodded. "Aye, it is, all 'round. She'll be in the house by herself."
Daisy got up to follow Lily as quickly as her condition would allow - although she could no longer really do anything quickly. She found her sister weeping in the kitchen, holding her hands to her face. Daisy gently slid an arm around her. She could only embrace her from the side, in these last few days before the babe was due.
"Lily, it's clear you care very much for him."
Lily turned a tear-stained face to her sister. "Oh, Daisy! Is it so obvious?"
Daisy's smile was warm. "Yes, sweet, anyone with eyes can see it! And it's also clear, to me at least, that he cares for you very much indeed!"
Lily's tears stopped abruptly and her mouth dropped open; she was quick to close it again.
Daisy's eyes twinkled. "Didn't you see it in his eyes? And especially those ones! He couldn't be any clearer!"
Lily was again on the verge of tears but managed to speak. "Oh, Daisy. I wanted to believe that's what I saw, but I did not dare hope... I cannot feel certain until he tells me himself..."
Daisy gave her a conspiratorial look. "Then we will have to arrange..."
Lily straightened. "No, Daisy! I will not, will not, chase him." Her shoulders sagged. "I could not bear it if I were wrong; if he really did not want me. It must be his choice."
Daisy gently touched her sister's cheek. "You mark my words. You won't have to chase him; he'll be coming after you. I know it." Daisy let her sister take this in for a moment. "By the way, Lily, how did you know about Bag End -- about it being ruined?"
Lily blushed. "I saw it when Da -- when Da and I visited Will last month. I asked him to take me to see the Party-Tree -- remember when we went to Bilbo's birthday party? -- or, I should say, to see what had happened to the Party-Tree. I saw Bag End then." Lily decided her sister did not need to know she had really only wanted to look at Bag End itself for a while. She had not told her father the real reason, either.
Rosie peeked into the kitchen. "Will and Hal are talking about the battle..."
Lily saw her immediately. "Rosie, come in, please. We're just getting ready to slice up a bit of seed cake with some honey."
She went on, "Daisy, Rosie stayed with me last night and brought me meals."
"Thank you, Rosie, for taking care of our Lily."
"She was no trouble at all." Rosie smiled at the sisters. How alike they are, and yet not, she thought to herself.
Daisy handed Lily two plates with seed cake and honey. "Lily, take these to Will and Hal. I'll have Rosie help me for a bit here."
Lily nodded and took the plates.
Daisy watched her sister go and turned to Rosie. "Frodo Baggins seems a good sort; is he?"
Rosie looked to where Lily had disappeared into the other room, and then back again at Daisy. "Yes, yes; he is a good sort, indeed... My Sam thinks the world of him, but I've also known him for a while, though not very well. He keeps to himself, for the most part, but he's always been good to my Sam. Sam's done for him for years, but I often feel they're more like friends... no, brothers, the closest of brothers. So, you saw it too?"
"I wonder if anyone didn't?"
They nodded their heads together and smiled. They started to join the others when Rosie stopped and turned to Daisy, lowering her voice. "Daisy, I'll keep an eye on her whenever she visits Bywater, just as if she were my own sister. You're going to have your hands very full soon, I dare say!"
Daisy took her hand and squeezed it, mouthing the words, "Thank you."