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Sacrament

by CRB and Ladyhawk Baggins

30 June 1420sr

Lily and Frodo received visitors daily, usually for tea. Folk claiming to be family, both close and distant, and neighbors from Hobbiton, Bywater, and Overhill wanted to sample the hospitality of the couple. Many left agreeing it was high time a mistress ran Bag End; though wasn’t it odd how she allowed Rosie Gamgee to be present. As a servant, yes -- that would have been all well and good, but Mistress Lily treated her more like an equal. Very odd it all was, but then she was a Baggins, after all, now they were wed... Mayhap it would turn out well enough. The fare was splendid and plentiful and worth the trip despite the little oddities.

After a particularly frenetic three days spent entertaining well-wishers who stayed on, visiting far too long, Lily sat down tiredly to supper of an evening with her husband and best friends. She turned weary eyes to Sam and Rose.

“Did the two of you have all these guests?” she asked, her surprise clear in her voice.

Rosie exclaimed, “Oh, no! No one came to see us! No one at all!”

Lily’s eyes grew wide, and Sam shook his head.

“Rosie-love,” he murmured softly, his hazel-brown eyes twinkling with affection, “best you remind her we weren’t here at all just after our niwealdor -- we were in Deephallow, for their Reading of the Promisings...”

Lily blushed, and Rosie giggled. “But the Gaffer made sure and certain to tell us all about the guests we missed, as soon as we set foot in the door!”

“Only ‘cause they ended up calling on him!” Sam chortled. “He was wishing he’d come to Deephallow with us!”

They shared a good laugh at this, Sam most of all.

“Don’t you go worritin’ now, Miss--” Sam blushed “--Mistress Lily. It’ll settle for sure before you know it. You’ll have a bit of peace again, at tea-time...”

Rosie nodded and grinned. “...once they’ve all had a good eyeful. And I have it on good authority -- the local gossips, that is -- you passed the test.”

The two lasses laughed, and Sam joined them.

The corners of Frodo’s mouth lifted slightly.

Lily felt the change in him and turned to search his eyes, darkened now with -- pain? She murmured softly, “What is it, dearest?”

Frodo shook his head. “A memory only.” He smiled brightly. “Is it time yet for strawberries and cream?”

He realized it was the only reference anyone made to the Quest since the wedding, and remembered the first dinner they shared as married couples at Garden Hill, two days after the completion of his and Lily’s niwealdor.

Sam and Rosie had shared fresh-picked strawberries from their garden and cream from their new cow, a gift from Mrs. Longburrow, given on condition they share the milk and cream with her. The healer told them the animal had been given in payment for her services, but she wanted neither the responsibility nor the work of caring for the creature. The Gamgees readily agreed, as the Gaffer’s old cow now gave only enough for himself and Bag End, at least when it came to cream.

As the strawberries and cream were served, Frodo’s eyes filled with tears, even as he attempted a smile. Lily sought to understand the source of his pain, but he was unable to utter even a single word to his wife. He glanced at Sam, and nodded once.

Sam’s eyes met Frodo’s across the trestle table as he took a deep breath, sighed, and finally spoke, taking Rose’s right hand in his left, as if to garner strength from her.

“Cruel hard it was, Rose, and Mistress Lily--”

He halted, unable to meet their eyes. Instead he held Frodo’s silent gaze.

“It -- the Ring--” Sam grimaced, and he saw Frodo flinch slightly at hearing Its name spoken aloud; they had not spoken of It since his healing, on the day he wed Lily.

Sam started again. “It made it so as Mr. Frodo couldn’t remember a single thing about the Shire, near -- near the end...”

Sam grew agitated, his breath hitching in his throat.

“He couldn’t -- remember -- one bit of it -- not the flowers in spring, nor the -- the barley in the fields, nor the birds, nor strawberries, nor cream... no taste, no feel of grass under his feet, nor any sound -- any sound of water--”

Sam’s tears fell, and he hung his head, struggling to suppress them with all his might. He spoke between swallowed sobs. “There was nowt I could do! I can’t -- I’ll have to leave it... I’m -- I’m sorry--”

Lily and Rose glanced at each other and sensed the last was spoken not to them, but to Frodo.

Rose tightened her hold on Sam’s hand. She looked at Lily helplessly, and could not catch Frodo’s attention at all.

Lily saw a strange lost expression in her husband’s eyes, a desolation she had not yet seen. It was not like his illness in March, when he was so unaware of all around him, completely lost in the pain of the past and overwhelmed by the darkness. This -- this was aching memory...

She gently clasped his right hand in her own, then she felt the waves of misery, a grief beyond all her experience... uncluttered by the darkness, and deeper than she ever imagined. There was no darkness of any kind, only memory; his memories...

“Frodo” she whispered, shocked, and he turned slowly to her; she saw his deep love for her, shining amid tears. One trickled down his cheek and fell on her hand, and he kissed it away, then rose and joined Sam on the other side of the table, sitting next to him on the bench and taking his free hand.

“Sam...” Frodo halted, swallowing hard. “Sam... you did all you could, and more... You did more than your best. No one else could have gotten me there, Sam. You know this is true... no one. You were the only thing between me and death. Between me and something far worse than death. Sam... don’t grieve. It’s done now. It’s over. Here’s your Rosie. Can you remember what else you said to me that day? I do. I shall never forget your words.”

Frodo laid his other hand atop Sam’s as his friend lowered his head further yet.

“Yes, sir, I do...” Sam managed.

At this Frodo glanced first at Rose with the merest of smiles, then at Lily, to offer them reassurance; all would be well.

Sam choked out the words.

“‘I remember Rosie Cotton, dancin’ -- she had ribbons in her hair... if I was to marry anyone, it would’ve been her...’”

He raised his head to meet his wife’s eyes, tears leaving straight tracks down his cheeks.

Frodo released his friend’s hand and returned to Lily’s side.

Sam’s voice strengthened, and calmed. He blinked away more tears. “‘--it would’ve been her...’ Rosie -- oh, Rose. You’re here. You’re here...”

They turned toward each other on the bench and embraced, weeping softly together.

When they finally looked up, Frodo and Lily were not there. Sam kissed Rosie, grateful for this moment, for her, and for his master.

They held each other for a long while, until Frodo and Lily returned with more strawberries and cream.

Frodo and Sam were grateful their wives asked no more questions that evening about what had happened, so long ago, it seemed. But the lasses made certain the treat was offered every day for at least one meal, for as long as strawberries were in season and could be found.

---------

Lily spent the first weeks after the completion of their niwealdor becoming well-acquainted with the daily rhythms of life at Bag End: who made the regular deliveries; which tasks were scheduled for what days... She was already quite familiar with some of it from their courtship, but as Mistress, several of the tasks were transferred from Frodo’s care into hers.

Rosie and Lily caused quite a stir by appearing at the daily summer market together, buying the freshest fruits and vegetables not available in the Garden Hill or Bag End gardens. Many heads turned at the sight of Rosie Gamgee shamelessly offering advice and guidance, without so much as a by-your-leave, to the new mistress. More shocking yet, Rosie was the younger of the two, and still the mistress showed no evidence of minding in the least!

It was rumoured throughout Hobbiton and Bywater, and beyond, that the Gamgees and the Bagginses shared at least one meal every day -- supper usually, and sometimes dinner as well -- at one hole or the other. Just as if they were of the same station!

---------

A week and a half after their first dinner together, Sam asked Frodo and Lily to keep an eye on Rosie for the day while he headed down to Pincup. He refused to give any explanation to anyone. When he returned that evening he rode Bill up to Bag End, and called out at the gate.

“Mr. Frodo! I found what you were looking for!”

Rosie had been sharing dinner with Frodo and Lily and was out the door first. She stopped abruptly, collecting herself on the top step.

“It’s good to see you, Samwise.”

Sam smiled and hopped off Bill, then leapt up the steps to greet his wife.

Frodo and Lily stood just inside the door.

“We’ll give them a few moments,” Frodo whispered.

Lily giggled and covered her mouth. “Should we tell Sam Rosie knocked over her chair at the table in her hurry to greet him?”

Frodo grinned. “I think mayhap we ought to keep that little secret to ourselves. Rosie doesn’t seem to like Sam to think she’s too eager.”

Lily struggled not to smile and whispered back, “I’ve noticed that.”

Frodo became serious. “Beloved, I’ve gotten you a present.”

Her eyes lit up. “Thank you, my love! Is it a ‘just-because’ present, or is there a special occasion I’ve forgotten?” Lily smiled, then searched her husband’s eyes, suddenly startled. “What is it, beloved? Why are you concerned? I can feel it.”

“It’s mostly a ‘just-because’ present, but also...”

Frodo stared at the floor. “I don’t know why I’m having so much trouble explaining it...”

“Frodo, my dearest love, tell me.” Lily slipped her finger under his chin, encouraging her husband to lift his head and meet her steady gaze. She felt the slight tremor course through Frodo, then felt it within herself, more attuned to him since the wedding than ever before.

“You’ll need it for our journey to Rivendell.”

Lily’s eyes widened. “Rivendell?”

Frodo nodded.

“We’re truly going to visit Rivendell?”

“If you like,” Frodo smiled.

Lily carefully reined in her excitement. “Are you certain you want to visit there?”

“Yes. Gandalf is right. It’s not the same as -- as before.”

Lily’s heart tightened at Frodo’s hesitation. “I am just as happy being here with you, my love...”

“Beloved...” Frodo’s voice caught. He took a deep breath and continued. “I’ve already written Merry and Pippin, in Crickhollow, and Barliman Butterbur, in Bree, telling them we’ll be coming at the end of the month.”

Lily threw her arms around Frodo’s neck and kissed him soundly.

When they broke the kiss, Frodo smiled and struggled to catch his breath.

“I think mayhap we ought to join Sam and Rosie now.”

Lily giggled. “Mayhap you’re right, my love.”

Frodo knocked softly on the inside of the door, then stepped out with Lily.

Rosie and Sam startled apart, blushing.

Frodo hid a smile. “I’m sorry, dear Sam; I didn’t knock quite loudly enough, did I...”

Sam blushed again, but Rose only smiled, first at her husband, then at her friends.

“Never you mind, Mr. Frodo,” Sam assured, fully recovered and grinning. He swept his hand out toward the lane. “There you are!”

Next to Bill stood a pony Lily did not recognize. She glanced quickly at Frodo.

“He’s for you,” her husband smiled. “We can’t both ride Strider.”

Lily gasped and moved forward, then stopped and clutched Frodo’s hand, leading him down the steps out to the lane, with Sam and Rosie following after.

To Frodo’s surprise and pleasure, Lily and the pony took to one another immediately; the pony nuzzled her, and she giggled, then scratched the star under his forelock.

“Quite sound he is, and only a few years old,” Sam reported. “Seems trained-up enough -- a little green, I’ll grant you, but a bit of regular riding should work out the vinegar.”

Frodo smiled. “Lily’s pleased, I see. Thank you, Sam; he surpasses my expectations. He looks quite hale and happy. Doesn’t he remind you of a smaller version of Asfolath?”

“That he does, Mr. Frodo.”

“A beautiful white pony -- my beautiful white pony!” Lily sighed. “Oh, thank you for finding him, dear Sam! And thank you, my love...” She beamed at Frodo.

Sam coughed. “Actually, it’s a flea-bitten grey.”

“Flea-bitten grey?” Lily stared back at Sam. “What a horrid-sounding colour!” A smile tugged at the corner of her mouth. She continued, her austerity only partly feigned, “I’ll have you know, Samwise Gamgee, he is white with rose flecks!”

Frodo hid his smile behind his hand but could not hide the twinkle in his eyes.

Lily caught the gleam out of the corner of her eye, blushed and turned to receive the kiss she knew was coming for making him laugh. She was not disappointed. Sam and Rosie and the pony were momentarily forgotten, at least until Sam cleared his throat. Lily blushed all the more, but Rosie rescued them all by asking what the pony’s name was.

Sam looked down at his feet and shuffled them for a moment.

Rosie’s eyes widened, and she prodded, “Out with it, Samwise Gamgee.”

Frodo refrained from laughing outright at the gentle teasing between the Gamgees, and distracted himself by stepping forward to Lily’s right, patting the pony’s flank as Lily stroked the flaxen mane. He waited, smiling.

“Well,” Sam resumed slowly, “come to think, it might be -- easier -- to pick a name of your own.”

Lily looked at him suspiciously and asked, “Sam, what was his name?”

Frodo smiled in amusement, grateful he wasn’t the one with two pair of feminine eyes bearing down on him.

Finally, Sam mumbled, “Flea Bag.”

Rosie and Lily gasped in horror; Frodo burst out laughing.

Lily turned swiftly to throw an exasperated look at her husband, but stopped in wonder at the complete peace and joy emanating from him, reflected there in his face. She found herself laughing with him for the sheer pleasure of sharing it.

Before long, Rosie and Sam joined in the merriment.

Frodo gently turned Lily toward him with a smile, and looked into her eyes as though asking her the most important question in the world.

“What are you going to name him?”

Lily returned his gaze, but soon needed to glance away; she was having too much trouble concentrating. She turned in the circle of his embrace and leaned against him, her hands folded over his around her waist, as she looked the pony over intently. She was content to stay that way, but knew the others were waiting for her decision. She sighed heavily, uncertain.

When no reply was forthcoming, Frodo relaxed and pulled her more closely to him. He smiled into her hair, knowing he was distracting her and not the least bit remorseful. From the corner of his eye he saw Sam take Rosie into his arms.

The husbands held their wives quietly as they waited. Neither Frodo nor Sam understood why it should take so long to choose a name, but these were their lasses... They exchanged quick knowing smiles, and continued to wait.

Frodo finally reached the point where he would be quite content if the pony were never named; if they could only stay like this, peaceful, quiet, close, and sharing it all with Sam and Rosie. An unexpected warmth spread through him, and he silently thanked Ilúvatar for the joy of the moment.

Then Lily began to giggle. Frodo’s head popped up in surprise, as did Sam’s. Frodo voiced the question for all three of them.

“What?”

Lily continued to smile and replied, “I would dearly like to call him ‘Merry’...”

Both Frodo and Sam started to sputter out protests, but the words died as laughter won out, so much so Lily and Rose were released from their husbands’ arms.

“I reckon ‘Merry’ is a quite fitting name for this happy occasion,” Rose intoned, crossing her arms.

She was struggling to hide her smile; but only Lily noticed. Sam was still laughing, with one hand on the newly named Merry for support, and Frodo needed to sit down on the step nearest the road, with tears in his eyes, holding his right side, just as he had at the Yule party.

“Oh, no, Lily!” he panted breathlessly. “You’ve -- given me a stitch! -- Oh!” He held his side with his right hand, and wiped tears away with his left. He looked up to see that Sam was settling, working to stifle further laughter when he saw the mock-severe look in Rosie’s eyes.

Lily had taken sides with her friend and crossed her arms as well, but she too was smiling, enjoying Frodo’s predicament.

“Sam -- oh!” Frodo cried, taking deep gulps of air in an effort to stop. “From ‘Flea Bag’ to ‘Merry!’” He stood with an effort, still holding his side, and approached his wife.

“I -- it struck me in just the right place, as you can see, Lily... I’m sorry -- it’s a perfectly fine name--!”

He bit his lip hard to keep from laughing again. “I really -- Lily, dearest Lily, do you have any idea how many kisses I owe you now, for all that laughter?”

Frodo did not care that Sam and Rosie stood so close. They’d seen him kiss Lily often enough, and would again.

He kissed her once, a short tender caress, holding her face in his hands, then slipped his arms about her.

“That was one. We’ll need to do the figuring on how many more you have coming to you, dearest.” He held her tightly, then released her.

Lily’s face was flushed pink, her eyes shining brightly. She was vaguely aware Sam and Rose saw and heard everything, but she did not care. Their dearest friends had been a part of their courtship from the beginning; they served as fyllans for each other, even before their Promisings; they stood together at their respective weddings, and now they spent part of each day visiting...

Frodo held Lily’s shoulders and kissed her forehead. “I love you.”

Lily fought the sudden pull of faintness as the past several weeks rushed to mind. She still at times had difficulty believing she was married to Frodo, and what was more, his darkness was gone.

She breathed deep breaths, determined he not detect her faintness. He was gazing at her curiously... he knew...

Lily thought quickly, slipping her arms around him and pressing her left cheek against his heart. She pulled back and lifted hazel eyes, more green than blue, to Frodo’s face.

Breathe, she reminded herself.

“I love you, and I shall be more than happy to count up -- those kisses. And to share them...” She blushed crimson. “In the meantime--”

She smiled, studying the tiny rays of gold within his eyes, the ones she discovered were there the second day of their niwealdor, within all that blue. She smiled that she had not noticed it sooner, but did not berate herself, remembering how difficult it was to gaze into his eyes. She fought to speak evenly. “Do you think he’d be offended?”

Frodo smiled innocently. “Merry, or the pony?”

“Oh, no--” Sam cried, bursting into laughter again, and taking the lasses with him.

As they laughed, Frodo realized he was not sure at all what Merry would think, but rather hoped his dear friend and cousin would be honoured. He grinned. “We’ll tell him as we leave Crickhollow, so it shall be too late for him to turn us out.”

Lily nodded mutely, tears filling her eyes as she laughed. Frodo drew her into his arms again, chuckling; she embraced him, and at length settled. They were going to Rivendell...

---------

Two days later, Frodo sent posts to Merry and Pippin at Crickhollow and Barliman Butterbur in Bree to let them know to expect them after the Free Fair. He also informed Butterbur of what they would require in the way of a packpony and supplies.

Frodo spent hours poring over the maps in his study. It wasn’t as though he didn’t know the way. He knew it all too well. Yet he found himself unable to decide even how to start -- by way of Bucklebury Ferry, or the Brandywine Bridge? Frodo tired of the debate in his own mind and decided to talk it over with Lily. She might have a preference; then he could stop worrying about it.

Though Lily made no mention of it, she knew this venture would be difficult for Frodo. She was grateful for how he prepared and planned the journey with her, without complaint. She was also deeply touched when he asked her to choose the way, but a little frightened as well, praying she would choose wisely.

Lily knew the story of the chase to Bucklebury Ferry and wondered if it might be better to take the long way round over the Brandywine Bridge. But then, that was the path of the Riders. She did not remind Frodo of this, as she knew he remembered...

She worried how this first leg of the journey would unfold, as it might determine the success or failure of the rest of the trip. Finally, as Frodo seemed no nearer a decision, she took a deep breath and hoped what she said would help and not hinder.

“Frodo, the -- the Riders -- they took the Brandywine Bridge, didn’t they?”

Frodo shuddered before he could stop himself, and his face clouded. Finally, raising his eyes to hers, he nodded.

“I’d prefer to take the path you and Sam took... and Pippin and Merry...”

Frodo knew either route would bring back memories. “Bucklebury Ferry it is.” And so the decision was made.

---------

Frodo and Lily and Sam and Rosie traveled together to the four-day Free Fair on the White Downs at Michel Delving. It would be the first public event Frodo and Lily attended since their wedding.

On the way, Lily confided to Rosie she was glad for the timing of the Fair; they had delayed the start of their trip in order to attend it. Her monthly course had come, and it would have made for a difficult start to their journey. A light blush crept across her face as she explained she also hadn’t yet thought of a way to tell Frodo she could not give him more than embraces and kisses, for the time being.

“How are you feeling, then?” asked Rosie, keeping her voice low. Sam and Frodo had gone to ready their ponies for their continuing ride, but they might return at any moment.

“I must admit I feel far better than is usual at this time. I’m less achy, and less unreasonable. I feel certain the easy time I’m having of it is a lingering benefit of Gandalf’s blessing...”

“You’d best just tell Frodo, love,” Rosie advised gently. “You’ll have to tell him sooner or later, and Frodo would want to know. He’ll probably wonder, and then worry, if, well...”

Rose sighed, and left the thought unfinished. “Sam took it very well, but then again, he’s got sisters... he knew before I told him, as my humour was a bit less -- all right, a lot less than usual. Frodo has no sisters...”

“Indeed. I’ll pluck up my courage somehow, though with us camping here together along with half the Shire, I really need not explain this time...”

“Lily Baggins!” Rosie stared at her friend, then they both giggled. “Your married name does have a lovely ring to it, doesn’t it?”

Lily grinned. “Oh, Rosie, it sounds simply perfect.”

“I still feel the same way about my own. But be that as it may, why are you afraid to tell him?”

“It’s... well, I’ve never had to tell a lad... if you take my meaning.”

“Hmmm... I do, but think of it this way, he’s not just a lad, he’s your husband.”

Lily sighed. “Blessedly he is. I’ll tell him, eventually, but meanwhile, here they come...”

When they had arrived at the Fair, neither Lily nor Frodo seemed to notice the whispering following them everywhere -- always holding hands, they were! The gossips grudgingly admitted the Master of Bag End looked to be the happiest they’d ever seen him, and the Mistress was sweet as honey. She actually greeted everyone, many by name.

The two newly married couples of Bag End and Garden Hill were seen early on exploring the grounds and then sharing all their meals together. At first, they seemed inseparable.

As each day of the fair wore on, the Gamgees were a part of all the goings-on, pitching in happily with the races and games and anywhere else help was needed. And both of them seemed to know everyone’s name.

The Bagginses, on the other hand, would disappear from time to time, then rejoin the Gamgees without any hint of where they’d been or what they’d been up to, disappointing many of the gossips in their hunt for something new to pick over. Not unlike old Bilbo Baggins they were, these newlyweds, though not quite as odd, and decidedly pleasanter. No stinging quips one had to think through.

Rosie and Sam commented to each other that no one in the crowds seemed to notice how Frodo effortlessly protected Lily from the chatterboxes and gossips. He simply controlled the conversations by speaking first to anyone who approached, warmly greeting them; then he introduced Lily, just as he had in Deephallow and during their wedding festivities. As the initiator of each conversation, Frodo was also the one permitted to end it, gracefully extricating himself and his wife, and all within the bounds of good taste. From time to time he would quietly escort Lily from the activities to some out-of-the-way spot for a cold cider -- most often in the shadow and seclusion of one of the fast-maturing young willows planted by his best friend.

---------

Early the morning of the fourth day, Lily stepped outside the tent they shared with Sam and Rosie to find Frodo gazing west. She touched his arm, and he slipped it around her, drawing her close to his side.

“What do you see?” Lily murmured.

Frodo wondered for a moment if he should tell Lily. Some part of him wanted to keep these thoughts to himself. Then she wrapped her arms around his waist, and nestled her head against his shoulder. They had shared everything...

“The Grey Havens,” he replied softly.

Lily startled. “But they’re so far away -- aren’t they?”

“Just over the horizon, beloved. I can see it, in my mind. I have seen it, in my dreams.”

“Do you wish to go?” Lily’s heart whispered there was more to this place than she knew, and suddenly she felt afraid.

Frodo sighed. “Not yet.”

If Lily had learned nothing else with Frodo, it was that if she did not understand something he said, she could ask, and he would answer.

She quelled her fear. “What’s there -- there at the Grey Havens?”

“A harbour... and the Sea. It’s where the Elves leave Middle-earth for the Undying Lands.”

“Only the Elves?”

“Yes, from what I understand, only the Elves go there.”

Lily swallowed hard, her heart racing. “Would you go... if you could?”

“I don’t know. It might be interesting to see...”

Something tugged at his thoughts, and he realized Lily had loosened her hold on him. He turned to her fully and searched her eyes. “Oh, Lily! Not without you, beloved! Not without you...”

Lily swiftly brushed away the tear which escaped down her cheek.

Frodo wrapped his arms around his wife, holding her tightly. He whispered in her ear. “I love you, Lily. You are my haven; I need no other.”

“I love you so much, Frodo.” Lily could not stop her tears, and buried her face in his coat.

They stood together for a few moments longer, till the early risers for the Fair began to stir and wake.

---------

Just after luncheon, the gathering of hobbits was at its largest, awaiting the final prizes to be awarded for the best livestock, best food, best drink, best competitor, best musicians, and finally Best of Everything Else Not Yet Judged, a favourite with the hobbits, and always something of a surprise.

Frodo made sure Will Whitfoot was within view, then left Lily in the care of Sam and Rose and approached the judges. He requested a few moments to address the crowd and was granted all the time he needed. He stepped onto a large cask, now empty of its ale, and stood before the waiting audience.

They could see he held something in his hand as he raised them to acknowledge the cheers and applause scattered throughout the crowd.

Frodo squinted slightly in the bright noonday Sun, and caught the smiles of his new brother-in-law Will, with Bell at his side, hand in hand at the far end of the crowd. He saw Lily catch his gaze and follow it; she waved at the couple, then turned her attention back to him.

She smiled and nodded encouragingly.

“My dear People, may I have your attention, please,” he announced with a clear voice. He did not hide a decided twinkle in his eye, for anyone who cared to notice.

The crowd quieted, wondering what in the Shire Mad Baggins wanted now, and hoping the speech wouldn’t be too long. As it was, they were not disappointed.

“I’d like to call forward Will Whitfoot, if I may.”

The former mayor approached the waiting deputy mayor, unable to keep from puffing his chest out just a bit. Whitfoot was after all a born leader, and quite happy whenever he was called upon to officiate, and give speeches...

The crowd grew dismayed when they realized a long speech would indeed be given soon, but not by Mad Baggins. Whitfoot had made it to the front of the crowd, and Frodo stepped off the cask, inviting Will to step up and take his place.

“Will, I hereby relinquish and otherwise surrender the office of Mayor to you--”

At this, Frodo handed Will the key to the mathom-house at Michel Delving.

“--and look forward to many more years of your excellent service to all the folk of the Shire.”

Frodo applauded, and the crowd had no choice but to follow suit. They got into the spirit of the thing and cheered, even, but still dreaded hearing a long speech.

Whitfoot beamed, bowing from the waist three times in succession to his left, center, and right; the crowd went on cheering.

Frodo melted into the crowd and found Lily and his two dearest friends. As the hobbits settled in for the speech to come, Frodo spoke a few words into Sam’s ear, winked at Rose, and escorted his wife off the fairgrounds toward the makeshift stable to fetch their ponies. It was time to go home.

For now, everything was just as it was -- before the unpleasantness...

As recorded much later by Sam himself in the Red Book: “Overlithe - the merrymaking in that year (1420) is said to have been the greatest in memory or record...”

---------

That evening, after a quiet supper, Frodo sat at his desk, checking over the lists he and Lily had drawn up. Everything was done. He pulled out his map of the roads they would take to Rivendell and unrolled it on the writing desk.

As he studied the map, Frodo thought back on the past week, grateful again for Lily’s practical nature when it came to packing. It had not taken long to prepare their saddlebags, as they only needed enough to get them to Bree, where all they needed for the rest of their journey was arranged for -- provided Barliman Butterbur did not forget.

Frodo looked up from the map and stared at nothing. Merry is right, he mused. I truly am a dreamer, and the most impractical of hobbits. Lily and I shall be sleeping on the hard ground every night for weeks, sometimes exposed to the rain, cooking over open fires, bathing in streams -- it’s second nature to me now, but not for her...

Lily had never raised the subject, and he hadn’t thought of it at all until they were packing. He doubted now if she’d ever have spoken of it, had he not. But it was imperative she understand what she was in for. This would be an adventure, yes, but camping was hardly easy...

He smiled to himself. Lily was not only accepting of the whole notion of camping when he spoke of it, she was downright eager to start. She wanted the adventure. Truly, she is a most amazing lass...

Lily entered the study quietly and stopped just behind her husband. He was holding a map, but he was staring out the window, and he wore a smile.

She cleared her throat softly, endeavoring not to startle him, and was mostly successful.

He laughed at his own surprise, and as she peered over his shoulder for a closer look, he kissed her cheek lightly. He struggled with all his might to ignore the heady scent of honeysuckle which surrounded her, and pointed to a spot on the map.

“There are several ways of doing this, Lily dearest. We could leave tomorrow, stop in Frogmorton or Whitfurrows, then continue on to Crickhollow on the 2nd...”

“Dear Frodo--”

Lily considered her words carefully.

“I’d prefer to spend our first-month anniversary here, at home, then depart early the morning of the 2nd. If we keep first breakfast quick, we can arrive in Crickhollow that evening, then continue on to Bree the next day.” She concentrated on studying the map on the desk, avoiding Frodo’s glance.

Frodo smiled. “One perfect month...” He attempted to concentrate on their conversation. “But Lily... if we take two days, then you’ll have more time to rest.”

“I know...” She returned his smile, and searched her mind for a reasonable explanation. “And yet it might be better to simply set to it, and not dawdle in the Shire... Get the first part over with quickly, and then slow down if we must, farther along the way. We’ve got the summer, but I think we should be home by fall.”

“True; it would be best to be back in the Shire by fall to avoid any bad weather.” He continued, more to himself than to her, “It’s miserable traveling in bad weather.”

Lily felt the tug of old memories pulling at Frodo’s mind and heart already, and they had not yet left Bag End...

“Yes. I want to see Rivendell, and meet Uncle Bilbo...” she affirmed softly. In her heart, she hoped that being focused on the destination might somehow ease Frodo’s worries for the journey.

Frodo sensed there was more. “And...?”

Lily blushed. “I’d also like to be home in time for blackberry season...”

She giggled at the sudden sparks in her husband’s eyes as he glanced up swiftly from the map. Then she stepped to his side and leaned down, murmuring against his lips, “How else shall I make you more blackberry preserves, beloved?”

Frodo dropped the map to the desk and cupped her face with his hands, searching her hazel-green eyes, then answered her with a kiss.