Darkness enfolded them; beautiful darkness.
For a few long moments, Frodo allowed his eyes to adjust to the lightening darkness and to remember where he was.
Where they were... for indeed Lily was here in his arms, filling them sweetly, her breathing deep and even in the stillness surrounding them. He was content. It was difficult to think about traveling again today, so peaceful was this moment.
She stirred in his arms; her back pressed against his chest. He ignored the quickening of his heartbeat as her warmth seemed to enter him and spread slowly throughout his body, dispelling all thoughts but those of her. He did not want to disturb her sleep; he could wait until she woke to kiss her. If they were fortunate, she would not be too terribly sore from their full day of riding the day before. It had been her first. How many full days of riding have I known...
Lily stretched lazily within her husband’s arms, vaguely aware of some slight stiffness announcing itself to her body. She felt Frodo pulling her closer, burying his nose in her curls.
“You smell wonderful,” he whispered softly, still unsure if she were closer to wakefulness or to sleep. Mayhap he could give her a lovely dream before the sun rose. “I love you,” he whispered in her ear, but did not kiss her. Kisses always woke her fully; not that she ever seemed to mind. The corners of his mouth lifted in a smile.
Lily smiled to herself. She did not immediately reply to his words of love, choosing instead to bask in them, and nestled more deeply into his embrace. Surely, there was nothing better than this...
Then Frodo caressed the nape of her neck with his lips, the merest touch, and she shivered, down to her toes. Only moments before she thought nothing could be better; already he was changing her mind.
“I could stay like this all day,” he decided aloud, but still his voice was low. “Good morning, my love.”
Lily giggled softly, but kept her eyes closed, reveling in the wondrous feeling of warmth, and sleepiness, and of him. “A tempting offer, Mister Baggins...” she replied. “But what would our hosts think?”
She turned slowly in his arms, eager to see anything she could of his beautiful face, in the near-darkness. Oh, those eyes of his...
“I love you,” she breathed, studying his eyes in the predawn light, then his expressive brows, then his nose, and finally those lips. She briefly forgot the stiffness she felt all over, then reminded herself it was much worse that first time they rode to Deephallow. Gratitude for Frodo’s thoughtfulness flooded her heart. Since the completion of their niwealdor they had ridden every day, except for their one-month anniversary. The athelas leaf yesternight eased almost all her soreness, and she knew the aches would disappear entirely once she was up and moving about.
Then she felt him tense as she studied his mouth; this never failed to awaken his desire.
“Good morning, dearest love,” she murmured, and kissed the scar on his neck, feeling him tense further. “I’m sorry; I could not resist.” Her apology was sincere, but she knew he truly did not mind at all. She sensed her own stiffness once again, and realized kissing him thus mayhap offered him more than she could give at the moment.
Frodo kissed her hair softly and tightened his hold about her when she had settled into a comfortable place against him.
“Never apologize for that,” he sighed. “Bless me, but you are beautiful. And to answer your question about what our hosts might think, as much as I love my dear cousins, I don’t care in the least what they think, truth be told,” he smiled. Being here with her all morning -- all day -- sounded like bliss to him. But she would care what Merry and Pippin thought...
“Yes, beloved?” He kissed her forehead.
“We -- we don’t have to go to Rivendell. Not for me. I sense your reluctance, my love. And I know its source. I’m not sure I would wish to revisit some of those places...”
Frodo closed his eyes, struggling to hold back tears. He wondered again how he could possibly love her more, yet he did. He knew her offer was in earnest, which touched him all the more deeply. What to say?
“My dearest Lily.” He took a steadying breath and looked fully into her eyes; the dawn had lent them more light. “I want to take you to Rivendell. It’s so beautiful there -- though I must tell you truthfully that it pales beside you.”
In response, Lily smiled at him and buried her face in his shoulder, breathing in the faint earthy fresh scent of him. I could happily die here, she mused.
Frodo closed his eyes and momentarily lost himself in the feel of her soft face against him. He struggled to put away the sudden strong desire he felt for her. It was difficult to collect his thoughts again. He fervently wished they could stay where they were but remembered there was something more important at hand; Lily needed reassurance he truly wished to take this journey.
“Besides,” he continued with some effort, “Bilbo wanted to come to the wedding. Since he could not come to us, we shall go to him. You’ll love him, Lily; and he will love you, both for yourself, and for the great joy you bring me.” He gently pulled a little away from her so he could look into her eyes again. He smiled as he noticed the green in them. He brushed her lips with his own and sighed.
“Dearest husband, when you kiss me, I--” she began, and returned his kiss.
“Oh,” she grimaced. “I fear I’m a bit stiff this morning...”
“It’s all right. I know it’ll pass once I’m up and about. The athelas helped more than I expected.”
“You’re certain? We could stay here another day.”
Lily smiled and nodded. “Yes, dear heart, I’m only a little uncomfortable, and I know it won’t last.” She searched his eyes, beseeching. “Would you -- would you hold me awhile longer?”
Frodo gathered her into his arms, and kissed her cheek.
They offered their morning prayer of thanks, and settled close, lapsing back into morning sleep for as long as the day would allow.
What seemed like only moments later, a savory aroma tickled Lily’s nose; sausages were being prepared. “Mmmm... smells like breakfast, Mister Baggins. I fear it’s time to officially start the day...”
“Are you certain you wish to continue, today?”
“Yes, dearest. I remember from our trip to Deephallow, the stiffness disappears more quickly if I ignore it.” She smiled up into his eyes.
Frodo struggled again to put aside his own desire for his wife.
“Come, Mistress Baggins, Bree awaits!”
The relief on Pippin’s face when they entered the kitchen dressed and ready to go was unmistakable, and Frodo, try as he might, could not contain the chuckle that bubbled out.
Lily gently nudged his side.
Breakfast was finished quickly, as the newly married couple reminded the cousins they wished to be on their way.
Pippin had sent Merry to prepare the ponies and bring them around to the door before breakfast.
“Your ponies are none too happy about being off again,” Merry smiled, as they finished their tea. “But the liniment served well, as there’s no stiffness in either of them.”
Lily smiled. “Maybe I should have used some of it.”
Frodo returned the smile with a touch of worry in his eyes. “Are you sure you’re up to another long ride today?”
“Yes, dearest. You’ve taught me well. I’ll be quite well enough once we’re on our way.”
As they stepped outside into the brilliant morning light, Lily stopped for a moment to take a deep breath of the fresh air, redolent with the scent of the maple and sycamore about them. Frodo went ahead to see to the ponies.
He was checking the saddles, and spoke softly to Strider; but Lily overheard, and wished she could smooth the slight furrow in her husband’s brow.
“This is different; no trying to disappear into the woods -- no... hiding.” He stroked the pony’s neck absently, at first unaware of Lily’s approach. Then he turned, and smiled, all traces of worry gone.
“Are you ready, dear Lily? Good...”
It was time to part. They turned together to face Merry and Pippin, and words suddenly seemed inadequate.
Frodo gave each of his cousins a warm embrace.
“We’ll be back here in the fall, on our way home. Lily knows I can’t live for very long without her blackberry preserves.” He turned to wink at her.
“We’ll be getting some of that too, won’t we?” Pippin sounded almost forlorn.
Frodo glanced at Lily, then back at his cousin. “We’ll give it serious consideration, Pip,” Frodo laughed, but stopped when he saw Merry’s expression. He kept his tone light, though he saw the sadness in his cousin’s eyes. “What’s bothering you, Merry?”
Merry gave them a lopsided smile. “Just missing you already, Frodo. Fall seems a long time away. I know Lily’ll take good care of you.”
“Indeed, she will,” Frodo smiled. “Fall shall be here sooner than we know. Fare well, cousins. Wish us good weather for traveling.”
“All right,” Pippin answered soberly, his tone matching his expression.
Frodo wondered at the sad air, then decided Pippin looked more wistful than sad.
It struck him, then. It was wistfulness. The Quest had aged them all, in so many ways. His young cousins were ready to take the next step in their lives. They saw how happy he was with Lily. They wanted this peace for themselves, the peace he found with her; the peace Sam had found with Rosie.
“Greet Estella for us, Merry,” Frodo requested, without a hint of teasing in his voice. He met his cousins’ eyes as he spoke to them. “And Pip, you must introduce us to this lovely Diamond you’ve spoken of, on our return trip. Will you promise?” Frodo smiled, still serious.
“Yes, Frodo. You’ll meet her.”
“Aye. I’ll greet Estella.”
Frodo grinned again, pleased they had understood him.
Lily stepped forward shyly and thanked first Merry and then Pippin. Each needed to stoop a little to receive her gentle kiss on the cheek.
Pippin blushed again, and was a little surprised to see Merry blushing slightly as well.
Merry’s happy demeanor returned. “We’d like to be going with you, you know, but there’s so much to do here!” he teased.
Pippin got into the spirit of it. “Yes! That’s it, you know. We simply couldn’t pull ourselves away, and all that...”
Lily answered in kind, “It’s all right. We’ll think of you every day, for in a way, you are traveling with us.”
The two young cousins eyed her dubiously.
Lily smiled and indicated her pony. “This is Merry.”
Pippin and Frodo both laughed out loud at Merry’s look of consternation. Lily suddenly worried she had offended him.
Quickly his face broke into a wide grin. “It’s a fine name, and I’m honoured. See, Frodo? You can’t get rid of me so easily as you thought.”
Laughing, they embraced once again. Frodo helped Lily onto her pony, Merry, and then mounted Strider.
Frodo muttered under his breath, “At least there’s no mist this morning.”
“Dearest?” Lily searched her husband’s face, which was suddenly troubled.
He shook his head and smiled brightly. “It’s time we were on our way, if we’re to make Bree before dark.”
They clicked to their ponies and offered a final wave to the cousins standing at the gate.
Merry and Pippin watched as they rode down the lane and out of sight. They returned to their main topic of conversation for the last month.
“Pippin, did you notice?”
“Yes, Merry. That shadow’s gone -- it’s clean gone out of him... just as Gandalf promised. Lily was right. Just as he promised...”
“We have our friend back, Pip. I’d have never believed it.”
“Lily truly saved his life... even more than taking the darkness away, she’s brought him -- joy -- like I’ve never seen in him. It really makes a body stop and think.”
“About marriage, Pip?” Merry wondered, serious.
“Well, that too, some... but I was more just thinking about what Gandalf told us -- that Ilúvatar sent Lily on purpose to Frodo. Without her, he never would have healed, only gotten worse, until... what would have happened to him, Merry?”
“I don’t know, and it doesn’t matter, now. Because of Lily, he is healed, and he’ll have the life he deserves.”
They watched until they could no longer see the couple in the far distance.
A part of Frodo wished Lily could meet Tom Bombadil, but he did not wish to endanger her, and the Old Forest was fraught with peril. Instead, he began to share with her the stories of the Quest. He found it more difficult to tell than he imagined.
“It -- it became impossible to make any progress in the direction we wished to go. We couldn’t comprehend what was happening at the time; in fact, we didn’t understand until much later, when this part of our journey was behind us...
“But the Forest -- it thwarted our every effort to move forward, changing the paths... the trees all round us were closing in, opening only the merest of paths, and only in the direction they desired us to go -- herding us -- it’s difficult to describe...”
Frodo reined in Strider to a halt, and Merry stopped as well. He gazed at his wife, his eyes asking for her trust.
“Our ponies were frightened off, Lily, and then the trees made us fall asleep. They sang songs in our heads, soft songs, as we were led along to the River Withywindle. We were lulled to sleep by the trees, so that--” he glanced away for a moment and took a deep breath, then searched his wife’s eyes.
“...so that the willow at the river’s edge could capture us. Tom called it Old Man Willow. It captured Merry and Pippin, drawing them inside itself, and nearly drowned me after it made me fall asleep at the river’s edge. Sam saved me, the first of many times... We lit a fire, thinking to force the willow to release Merry and Pip, but they screamed at us to stop, to put out the fire; for the willow was crushing them... we had to put it out. I remember crying for help, half out of my mind. Tom appeared, singing, from nowhere. He saved us all. He knew what to say -- sing -- to the willow. It obeyed him...”
Frodo watched Lily glance away to the south, toward the Old Forest, unable to read her expression. He wondered for a moment if she thought him mad.
“Lily -- look at me, please... you believe me, don’t you? You must. I’m telling the truth... I have no reason to lie.” His voice was laced with desperation.
His wife edged her pony closer to his, and she placed her hand on his.
“Frodo! Yes, I believe you. After everything I’ve seen of the old darkness within, and of the miracles given us -- your return to the Shire was in itself a miracle, beloved! -- yes, I believe you... I grew up believing the stories of the Old Forest were only children’s tales, told to frighten us. Now you’ve taught me the truth; they’re not tales at all.” She shivered, then smiled encouragingly.
Her husband’s relief was vividly apparent to her.
“Thank you. If I could not share these things with you, Lily...” His voice trailed off, and he glanced away, at the road ahead.
Lily was glad the Sun shone brightly, sharing her warmth. Would her husband be able to share these stories with their children? Would the children be able to bear hearing them? Just for a moment, she envisioned children held on his lap, and sitting at his feet, enrapt, and caught her breath.
Frodo glanced quickly at her and suddenly suggested they rest for a while.
She sensed his concern for her. “I’m quite well, my love -- but a rest does sound pleasant, indeed.” She could not yet bring herself to share these -- intimate thoughts of their future with him. Mayhap later...
“Frodo?” She glanced nervously at her husband.
Something in her voice pulled him from his own thoughts. He searched her eyes. “Yes, dearest?”
“In all this -- where were the Black Riders?”
Frodo could not hide the shudder that rippled through him. Suddenly he was waiting for the voice again; but beyond his own remembered fear, there was only silence...
“I -- I don’t know where they were, at that moment...” He glanced at his wife with a look of supplication, then glanced away. “Is it -- is it all right if we do not speak of them today?”
“Of course, dearest. I’m sorry.”
“It’s all right... We shall speak of them... just not today...”
“Tell me more of Tom Bombadil. What an interesting person he is!”
Frodo smiled gratefully at Lily.
She returned it, happy to feel the lightening of her husband’s spirit.
“One cannot speak of Tom without also telling of his lovely lady Goldberry.” Frodo kissed Lily’s hand, smiling at her with his eyes as he did so.
“She certainly has a lovely name,” Lily smiled, relieved to turn Frodo’s thoughts to pleasanter things.
He glanced around. “We’ve reached the eastern edge of the Old Forest. We should stop for luncheon, and I’ll tell you of her as we eat.”
Throughout the meal, Frodo fondly recalled every detail he could of Goldberry and her home with Tom, as well as their generous hospitality, endeavoring to convey some of the wonder the hobbits had felt in their hosts’ presence.
As they started on their way again, Frodo mentioned the songs they sang.
“Would you sing them for me?” Lily queried, with a grin.
Frodo’s eyes widened in surprise, then he laughed, and he found himself singing one after another as they rode. When he could not remember all the words, he made up rhyming verses on the spot, until Lily laughed so hard she needed to catch her breath.
“Oh!” she exclaimed, clapping her hands with delight. “Are you quite finished yet, dear husband?”
Frodo exaggeratedly drew his brows together and pouted. “What? You don’t want more of my songs? Why Lily, I’m crushed! If you won’t listen to my songs, then who will, I ask you?” Try as he might he could not keep the twinkle from his eye, nor his lip from curling up into a smile.
“Rosie,” she chortled. “You and Sam can sing them for Rosie! If Sam hasn’t already, and I’m certain he hasn’t.”
Suddenly her expression turned thoughtful. “I miss Rosie, and Sam, already. He loves you so, Frodo. You could not have a truer friend than Sam...”
Frodo pulled up Strider for a moment. “It’s true,” he replied softly. “And I love him as well; I sometimes feel my love is poor, compared with his... it’s foolish to say that, I know. But what he did for me...”
Lily’s heart tightened, knowing what Sam would say. “Beloved, he would not wish to hear you speak so...”
“No, he wouldn’t, bless him, dear Sam...”
Frodo grinned, suddenly. “We’ll sing the songs for Rosie, then.”
“Save a few for me,” Lily pleaded.
Frodo feigned haughty indignation again. “I thought you didn’t want to hear my songs?”
“Dearest Frodo, laughing at your songs and riding do not a proper match make,” Lily replied, attempting to adopt his tone, but she dissolved into giggling again when her husband stared her down easily. She wondered how he could keep such a passive face, then saw the corner of his mouth lift in a smile.
“What must have Goldberry and Tom thought of such nonsense?” she cried.
“They enjoyed it, and our company, thoroughly.”
Lily felt his mood change abruptly.
In wonder, Frodo slowly shook his head.
When he spoke again, after a moment, he seemed to muse more to himself than to her, as though very far away; yet he held her gaze.
“Tom did not care about the Ring at all.” He gave Lily a tiny smile, inviting her to follow, and clicked Strider on.
Lily realized Frodo’s memories were indeed returning, and there would be no telling where and when they occurred. So far they were a mix of the unpleasant -- the Old Forest and the Black Riders -- and the pleasant; Tom and Goldberry. Nothing was truly unexpected, though that last comment about the Ring left her uneasy. She sensed Frodo felt something lacking in himself, that he could not resist the Ring, when Tom had thought it so much dross. Lily could think of nothing to say to this; she decided perhaps Frodo expected no reply, in any case.
They rode on, and to Lily’s surprise Frodo pointed out the Barrow-Downs to her. She was uncertain if he would speak of the place, remembering Sam’s reluctance. When she asked if he wanted to tell the story, she noticed he shuddered, as before.
“It’s not very pleasant at all... are you sure you want to hear it? Although, come to think of it, it does turn out right, in the end...”
Lily nodded, her eyes bright and welcoming. “You are here with me, and we are safe. Mere shadows of the past have no power here... especially, if we stay away from the Barrow-Downs.”
Frodo’s heart warmed. He took courage and comfort in her smile and her words and found himself pouring out his heart to her, surprised at his sudden volubility. It was a relief to tell her...
As Frodo told her the tale, he found that for himself it was not quite as frightening as he expected, knowing now how it would end.
When he came to the end of the story, and told of himself and his three dearest companions finally reaching Bree, the town appeared before them in the distance. They had made surprisingly good time.
In Bree, it seemed The Prancing Pony was not only expecting them but watching for them. As they rode into the yard, Frodo saw a familiar face. It was Nob, popping his head out the door.
The cheerful hobbit then turned to yell back into the inn, “Mr. Butterbur! Mr. Butterbur! They’re here! The Bagginses are here!”
Lily and Frodo glanced at each other and smiled.
Frodo whispered, “I like the sound of that.”
Lily nodded, her eyes sparkling.
Nob hurried out. “Mr. Baggins! Welcome back!”
“Hello, Nob. How are you?”
“Fine, sir! Fine.”
Stepping up to help Lily down, Nob instantly found Frodo at his elbow, handing him the reins to Strider.
“Can’t say as I blame you for claiming the privilege, sir,” smiled Nob ruefully. “She is a lovely lass!”
“She is, isn’t she, Nob?” Frodo beamed at his wife, and she blushed lightly.
Merry the pony shook his head once and stamped a hoof with apparent impatience.
Frodo reached up to ease Lily off Merry. Again he wished he could take Lily into his arms, and kiss her, but the inn’s proprietor was holding the door open and inviting them to come inside.
Barliman Butterbur greeted them warmly. “So, Mr. Baggins, you visit us again, and this time with your lovely wife. I say a much better choice of traveling companions!” He proceeded to shepherd them though the inn.
As they passed the common room, Frodo felt compelled to stop. The evening crowd was gathering.
Lily watched the play of emotions cross Frodo’s face. It was as though he were reliving an entire evening from long ago. It did not end well. She slipped her hand into his.
Frodo tightened his fingers around hers and looked down at her, dragging himself back into the present.
Butterbur guided them to their rooms -- a parlour, the bedroom and even a private bath with hot water on the way, started when Nob announced their arrival.
“I must say,” Butterbur chuckled in his affable way, “you’re looking very well indeed. Much better than the last time I saw you.”
He’s changed not a wit, Frodo mused, and hid a smile as the innkeeper continued.
“I confess, little master and mistress” -- he bowed to each in turn -- “Gandalf gave me fair warning of your coming visit when last he was here...”
Butterbur did not mention that when the five companions returned the November before, Gandalf suggested the proprietor add onto the inn, several more rooms for Men but also a few for hobbits, including a suite of rooms in the south wing. He had turned over the idea for weeks and finally decided to do it. After all, with a king on the throne and the roads safe to travel, who knew who might visit now? He had even rented it to a couple and their wee babe from the Shire during the Fair in April.
The innkeeper chose not to volunteer the fact that to ensure he didn’t slip up, Gandalf himself chose the rooms he was to prepare for the couple. The old wizard picked the cream of the crop, the new suite for the little people, and though he did not say it, Butterbur did not need to be reminded the rooms were on the opposite side of the inn from where Frodo and his three companions had stayed, not so long ago, and yet ages, it seemed...
“You’re more than welcome to join the evenin’ crowd in the common room. There’s lots of folk from all over and the storytellin’ ought to be quite a treat, if I do say so myself...”
Frodo struggled to push memories away, and managed to keep his tone polite. “Thank you, kindly, no. I’m a bit weary from our journey.” He gazed at his wife, and asked tentatively, “Are you disappointed, my dear?”
Lily purposely opened her eyes wide and teased, “Disappointed that I must spend an evening alone with my husband?” She relaxed into an easy smile, “Not at all, dearest. I’m feeling a bit worn from the journey myself, and am very grateful for a quiet evening.”
Once they were settled in their rooms, with Butterbur promising dinner in a half hour, Frodo added athelas to Lily’s bath water as he had at Crickhollow, doing whatever he could to make her more comfortable.
Between the athelas, and the water just hot enough, the slight ache Lily felt from another full day of riding eased. She tried to not take too much time, so that Frodo would also have time for washing up before supper arrived, remembering his bath last night had been cut short for her sake.
As he helped her step out of the bath and enfolded her in the warmed towel, Frodo smiled wanly.
“You realize this’ll be our last hot bath for quite some time, sweetheart...” He averted his eyes for a moment. The sight of her was simply too compelling...
“Yes? Go on, dear,” she smiled, drying her feet last.
He cleared his throat and went on as he stepped into the bath. “We’ll be heating water every night when we camp, but it won’t be quite like this... and at times it may be a cold stream...”
He sighed as he settled and felt some of his own soreness eased by the warm water, still fragrant with athelas.
“Not to worry, Frodo-love. I shall be quite content, for I shall be with you. Ah! Wash those beautiful dark curls of yours well now, mind you,” she teased.
Frodo smiled in reply, and set to work, as his wife added the last kettle of hot water to the bath.
Lily disappeared into the bedroom, wrapping herself in her nightclothes, as Frodo closed his eyes and laid his head back for only a moment. His thoughts centered on her; and he was fully aware, since the wedding and their subsequent weeks alone, of the greater effort required to feel in control of himself, to remember to put her wants first. He was also more aware, as each day passed, that this meant more to Lily than he ever imagined.
Finishing his bath, Frodo dressed in his nightshirt and was toweling his hair dry when he heard the knock at the outer parlour door, heralding the arrival of supper.
Supper was roasted chicken, fresh asparagus, red potatoes, carrots in a honeyed glaze, and fresh-baked bread. For afters there was peach pie and a sharp cheese.
“Oh, Lily, I am ravenous! Come, sit... Are you as hungry as I? After another long ride like today I think dried meat and porridge would seem a feast, and this is beyond all expectations.”
Lily laughed, delighting in her husband’s chatter, and even more in his healthy appetite. I’ll put more weight on him yet... or shall I? Even when he eats well, he does not seem to hold onto it... mayhap he shall always be thus. I care not at all, so long as he is happy and satisfied...
They gave thanks for their blessings, then delved hungrily into their meal.
Lily’s thoughts drifted back to earlier in the day.
Frodo smiled and laid his hand over hers. He searched her face. “Now you are the one far away.”
She started and blinked, and then smiled. “Yes....”
Bemused, he gently pursued her thoughts. “You have been very quiet. Are you all right? Would you like to go to sleep now? It doesn’t matter that it’s early. We really did come a long way very quickly.”
A smile inched onto Lily’s lips. “I was just thinking....”
Again she drifted off, then stood and walked to the fireplace. No fire was in the grate, but she stared into it as though there were.
Frodo wondered if he should be enchanted by the look of wistful love in her eyes or concerned by her quietness. He followed her. Stopping just behind her, he wrapped his arms about her waist, drawing her close. He said nothing, but began to kiss her hair, so lightly that a moment passed before she realized it.
“Mmmm, when you were telling me stories today...”
“It’s just...” Lily could not understand why this was so difficult.
Frodo began to grow worried. “What’s wrong?”
Lily started awake from her own thoughts and realized she had worried him needlessly. She turned to face him.
“No dearest, nothing’s wrong, it’s just...” She lowered her eyes.
Frodo gently lifted her chin with his finger, searching her eyes, trying to reassure her.
She searched his eyes as well, and finally took a deep breath, deciding to forge on. “When you were telling stories today...”
Frodo nodded his encouragement. He wanted to tell her how beautiful her eyes were, and how he loved gazing into them, seeing his love reflected there, but it could wait.
“It’s just, well, I suddenly thought of you telling those stories to the children.”
Frodo shook his head a little; what was so serious about that?
He decided to pursue it from the obvious angle. “I imagine I could share the stories at parties and such, like Uncle Bilbo did.”
For a moment she thought he understood, then realized he did not. Her brows knit, and she shook her head.
“No, beloved... that’s not what I meant. Not the children of Hobbiton or Bywater or Deephallow -- our children.”
She could not hide the blush that crept across her face at Frodo’s sharp intake of breath. She held her gaze into his widening eyes.
Frodo swallowed hard, trying to catch his breath, his voice barely a whisper.
“Lily, I -- our children...”
A soft smile formed on Lily’s lips and Frodo’s eyes were drawn to it. He caressed her cheek with a hand that was trembling slightly, then gently touched her lips with his fingers; she kissed them softly. He closed his eyes, his breathing coming faster. He felt her lean close to him and caress his lips with hers, all warmth and softness, and so full of love...
Surrendering himself to her was at once familiar and sweet. He could not help but respond with a kiss of his own, taking her warmth into his arms.
He took a deep shuddering breath, and slowly released it, opening his eyes again. Lily was still there watching him. Was that a question in her eyes? Concern was growing there, and he realized he hadn’t actually answered her fully.
A smile spread across his face, reaching all the way up into his eyes, dark blue in the fast-fading light. “Our children -- our children! They were only ever a dream tucked away in a far corner of my heart, till you came. Oh, Lily... Do you truly think they’d like the stories?”
Lily relaxed instantly, reminding Frodo of their wedding day. It still filled him with wonder that a smile could accomplish so much.
She let her smile deepen as she nodded in reply, “They’ll love them, almost as much as I do.”
Frodo blushed, which caused a giggle to escape from Lily. Then he buried his face in her hair, laughing with her, and a thrill took him, simply to be here, holding her, and speaking of the children to come. With one hand, Lily rubbed his back, while her other hand slipped into his curls. She tightened her hold on him, and suddenly realized she wanted much more.
She pulled away just enough to look into the bottomless depths of his eyes. She knew she could ask him with only a look, but wanted no misunderstandings. And she had noticed in the past few weeks, whenever she asked in this way, it seemed to touch him deeply...
She had voiced his own request. He covered her mouth with this own, full of need and want, and love, and knowing all would be met in her.
Lily awoke in the middle of the night to the sound of a horse snorting and pawing in the yard outside their window. A late traveler must have come in. She felt Frodo stir beside her and smiled, realizing she had wished he were awake.
But he was not. He mumbled and shifted restlessly; then to her surprise he cried, “Get off the road!”
No nightmares had invaded his sleep since their wedding. Suddenly she realized the trip was already taking its toll. So soon? She tenderly touched her fingers to his face, letting him know she was near.
“Shhh, love... It’s only a bad dream. Hush; all is well. You are safe.”
At the sound of her voice, he seemed to calm. Without waking, he turned toward her, and pulled her into his arms.
She nestled there, and offered a prayer, following him into sleep, and no dark dreams came to disturb them again that night.