Alone. He was alone.
Frodo woke with a start. No voice did he hear, yet fear clutched his heart as his eyes swiftly searched the clearing.
When he found her, a smile eased the worry on his face, and he started to breathe again. Ilúvatar, how grateful I am for her, my gift, he prayed. Then his smile deepened.
Lily stood next to their maple tree, her fingers lightly tracing the rough bark.
Frodo mused to himself that he envied the tree at that moment. He watched as she gazed up into the branches and breathed in the morning air; contentment lit her face. She then allowed her eyes to drift around the meadow, and found him watching her.
“You’re awake,” she smiled.
“I missed you.”
He joined her under the outstretched boughs, and she turned toward him, leaning back against the sturdy trunk.
“I didn’t want to disturb you, and I wanted to say goodbye to our tree.” Her eyes grew misty.
He tenderly wrapped his arms around his wife and held her close. “There are other memories to gather.”
Lily smiled again as she recognized the words she had spoken the day before, and decided to reply with some of his. “I know; it’s just that I don’t want this to end...”
Frodo laughed. “I promise we’ll stop here on our way home. Does that ease the burden on your heart?” He searched her eyes for the answer he already knew.
Her sparkling eyes would have been reply enough, but to his surprise and delight, Lily slipped her hands behind his neck, pulling him closer. She leaned back once more against the maple, and he steadied himself on it, one hand above her head, the other low on her back.
She touched her lips to his, once and then again.
“Lily... love,” he sighed, when he could breathe again.
He blinked, aware of the insistent beating of his heart. It took so little from her -- a knowing glance, a smile -- to set it to pounding. He smiled down into the green of her eyes.
“Yesterday was wonderful,” Lily sighed. “Your eyes -- they seem more blue than ever this morning, dearest Frodo.”
He remembered their first journey to Deephallow -- December, it was; he almost lost her then. He pushed away the painful memory to recapture the happier one. She had told him that day his eyes were the colour of the sky.
“I would fain make them bluer yet, if such a thing would please you.” He watched the corners of her mouth raise, and mirrored her expression. “In lieu of that, what is your wish? For whatever it is, I would grant it...”
He kissed her hair softly, then her ear, and felt her tremble under his hand, then he pulled away slightly. He recognized the desire growing within, but refused to allow it to override what she might or might not want. He endeavored to still his breathing.
Frodo drew his brows together in curiosity as he allowed Lily to lead him by the hand back to their resting place.
She turned again to him, laying her palms on his breast; his hands caressed her shoulders lightly. With a steadying breath, she kissed him beneath his left ear, once, twice, again, inching slowly to the hollow of his throat.
“I love you, dearest husband,” she murmured, and her face was earnest when she raised it to his once more. “Please...”
Speech was difficult; he needed to think to form the words. Her lips parted slightly, inviting the touch of his.
“Yes,” he smiled. He kissed her warmly, and held her face as if she were a fair flower, her namesake. “I love you, my wife,” he whispered, and he felt her tremble at his words, his heart overflowing with amazement, and passion, as he gave in to her. She was with him, meeting each caress...
“Yes, Lily,” he repeated against her lips. “Nothing would bring me greater joy at this moment.”
He kissed her next breath away, her mouth warm and generous under his own.
After second breakfast, they were once again on their way. As they guided their ponies onto the Great East Road, Frodo sketched out their travel plans. Lily noticed he omitted any mention of Weathertop.
To the far southwest, they could see the shadowed hills of the Barrow-downs.
“Frodo?” Lily hesitated. Then her husband glanced at her and gave her an encouraging smile. “May I ask--?”
When the pause lengthened, Frodo drew his brows together. “Ask what, beloved?”
“Dearest, I don’t wish to stir unpleasant memories...”
“You may ask me anything. What is it you wish to know?”
“Would it -- would you be able to tell me of the history of the -- the area?” She glanced at her husband furtively.
“Do you mean the lore of the Barrow-wights?”
She nodded. “If it’s not too difficult...”
Frodo searched his memory and began. He found it unexpectedly easy to answer her questions, for she interspersed them with more questions about Tom and Goldberry. His heart warmed as he realized she was choosing carefully what questions to ask and when to turn the conversation in less painful directions.
“Frodo, what happened to the swords, finally?”
“Pippin was given a sword befitting a guard of the Citadel of Minas Tirith, in Gondor. Sam’s was lost in the Black Lands -- I mean, Mordor...”
Frodo stopped, collecting his composure.
“Sam’s was taken, then recovered, and I believe he keeps it still... Merry’s sword turned to smoke when he stabbed the -- the Witch King, on the Pelennor Fields...” Frodo shuddered.
“And what of yours, dearest?” she prodded gently.
Frodo shook himself and swallowed hard. “It broke... when I -- when I tried to defy the -- the Nine...”
Lily struggled to keep her voice steady. “When was that?”
“At--” Frodo cleared his throat and started again. “At the Ford.” He rushed on, in a tight voice. “Please, Lily, may we not speak of it now?”
Questions flooded through Lily’s mind; she determinedly pushed them away. “Of course, beloved, anything you wish... May we stop for luncheon soon? I’m feeling a bit hungry.”
Frodo sighed with relief, grateful she changed the subject, and happy she remembered luncheon at all. His thoughts had been far away, several days’ journey yet... He shook himself free of the memories of the Ford at Bruinen.
“Of course, love. That oak there in the clearing looks to be a suitable spot -- and see the grasses, just beyond? From the look of them, I’d guess there’s a stream nearby.”
“Yes, I see it. It’s perfect.”
Lily feverishly searched her mind for everything Sam had spoken of with regard to the Ford, but could remember nothing. She realized Sam had truly given only the sparsest details of their long journey. Frodo’s letters to her in March, before she came to visit him, told her something about what a wraith was, but not much more. She tucked away the new information at the back of her mind, certain they would revisit this memory again soon; mayhap sooner than either of them wished.
Frodo helped her off her pony. Before releasing her, he glanced into her eyes, then away.
Lily sensed his sudden reserve. For a brief moment she wondered if she would be able to help her husband, abruptly aware she was beginning to feel overwhelmed by the depth and breadth of his memories. She knew so little of what had happened! A prayer rose in her heart, and she calmed.
Deliberately, she rested her hands on his shoulders. “What is it, Frodo, my beloved?”
He startled and met her steady gaze, eyes wide, and saw the encouragement in her smile.
“Lily, are you -- are you unhappy I’ll not speak of -- of...”
She laid a finger softly on his lips. “No, dear Frodo, I am only unhappy the memory causes you so much pain. We’ll speak of it, when you are ready: tomorrow, next week, next year... a hundred years from now... it matters not.”
Frodo’s eyes pooled and his chin quivered. He kissed her finger lightly.
Lily smiled and slid her hand into the dark brown of his curls, then stood on tiptoe and softly caressed his lips with her own.
He slid his arms around her, drawing her close.
Merry whickered and sidestepped into the couple, almost knocking them over.
They broke apart, breathless and laughing.
The last of the raspberries were enjoyed during their earlier rests; now they shared pears and seedcake, and refilled their flasks with water from the stream before setting out.
“Lily, it’s occurred to me I’ve told you little of what actually happened in Bree. Today’s as good a day as any, I suppose,” he mused.
She carefully added every word and inflection of his tone to her picture of the Quest. She pushed away the vision of a largely blank canvas in her mind, which held few brush strokes, and those all in black and grey, but for a single gold ring...
Lily allowed the story to unfold mostly uninterrupted. But as her husband related the disaster of disappearing in the common room at the Prancing Pony, a question formed in her mind.
“Frodo, was it truly an accident?”
At his wide-eyed glance, she hurried on. “I mean, is it possible the Ring took advantage of your nervousness and enlarged to more easily slip on your finger, and then shrank again, to make it more difficult to slip off? To call the -- the Nine, so to speak?”
Moments slipped away as Frodo stared ahead.
Lily began to worry. “We may speak of something else, if you wish.”
He shook himself. “No, no... I’m only thinking. It never occurred to me the Ring might have used my carelessness to further Its desire, and yet now, as I reconsider it... I do not know if it is true or not, but somehow your thought feels true... I don’t know. I suppose it’s quite possible...”
They rode in silence for a time.
Lily released a quiet breath of relief, for Frodo’s reflection was peaceful and unfettered by distress.
When he picked up the story again he told her of the letter Gandalf entrusted to Butterbur; how it never arrived at Bag End because it was never sent, and how Butterbur forgot about it until their arrival at the Inn.
“Then it was delayed further, as I’d not given my proper name, that is, the name on the letter, so Butterbur didn’t know -- actually it was quite a mess, truth be told. I was going under an assumed name, which was Gandalf’s suggestion. It was for our safety, of course, as the -- as they were searching for someone named Baggins. The Nine...”
He was quiet, and for a moment they heard only the soft beat of the ponies’ hooves; then Merry snorted, and neighed.
“I think Merry wants to hear more,” Frodo observed. “He must know the part about the horses and the ponies is coming up soon... even my Strider doesn’t have that sort of perception!” he joked. “We shall have to let Merry know, back home, how smart his namesake is.”
Lily giggled. “He’ll only say, ‘Why of course, dear cousin! How could you have thought otherwise?’”
Frodo smiled over at her. “That’s a fair imitation of Master Meriadoc, Lily Baggins! Not bad at all!”
He lapsed into silence again, and looked at the road ahead.
“So -- what did happen that night?” Lily’s voice was hushed, and blended with the sound of the breeze rustling the poplars, standing like sentries on both sides of their road.
He started. “I’m sorry, Lily, did you speak? I believe I must have missed what you said.”
“Only -- I was only wondering if you could tell more of the story? If you’d care to?”
She watched him straighten in the saddle as he took in a deep breath.
“Of course, dear Lily. Please forgive me. I was quite far away, for a moment... where was I? Yes. Well. Gandalf... we expected -- I expected he’d be there at the Prancing Pony that night, so I was quite taken aback to find he wasn’t there at all. We were counting on him being there to meet us, as arranged... the letter would have explained it all, but of course I’d not got it.”
“This is where, I think, you met Strider? Samwise spoke of him.”
“Yes, that’s right!” he smiled.
Lily’s heart warmed. She could tell he was glad -- relieved -- she knew some of the story already.
She listened attentively to his continuing account of their stay in Bree. Finally, he told of how all the horses in Bree were driven off in the dead of night.
“Except for old Bill,” he remembered softly. “He became Sam’s, and served us so well on the Quest. We loved that pony -- all of us, not just Sam. He’d been half-starved, and cruelly treated. Bill actually wanted to go away with us. And as difficult as our travel was, Bill seemed to thrive. I’m certain he could sense Sam’s kind heart.”
As he spoke of the horses disappearing in the night, Lily remembered their night at the Prancing Pony, and Frodo’s disturbed sleep. A horse had fussed outside their window that night. His nightmares are not coming at random, she decided thoughtfully. I am simply not recognizing the clues. I’d best pay closer attention. A prayer of gratitude rose in her heart as she suddenly felt more able to help her husband.
Their travel brought them to the east side of the forest, placing them between the Chetwood Forest and the Midgewater Marshes.
“Frodo, we could continue farther, as it’s early yet. We’ll have daylight for at least another hour or more.”
“We shouldn’t push the ponies too hard...”
“The ponies? Or me?” Lily smiled.
Frodo blushed and turned his head to gaze at his wife. He smiled crookedly. “I wish only for your comfort and safety, as much as is to be had, under the circumstances.”
“Thank you, my love,” Lily sighed. “I do appreciate your efforts to protect me. In truth, I am a little weary.”
“There’s a grove of poplars and pine just ahead.”
“It sounds lovely.”
Lily balanced the skillet of sausages on a rock next to the fire, then portioned out some blueberries. She had found them while exploring the outer edges of the camp, as Frodo tethered the ponies.
She shook the pan to keep the contents from burning and set it on the rock again. To her horror, it toppled into the fire.
“Lily?” Frodo raced from where he was caring for the ponies to find Lily frantically endeavoring to rescue their food, to no avail.
She watched as it charred in a burst of flames.
He pulled her away. “Let it go.”
“I’m sorry, Frodo! I’ve ruined it! I should have been more careful!”
“Lily, it doesn’t matter, truly.”
“But it was our dinner...” The tears gathering in her eyes spilled over, cascading down her cheeks.
Frodo drew his wife into his arms, and she sobbed against his shoulder.
“I’m sorry, dearest Lily. I need to slow our pace so you’re not stretched beyond your limits.”
“No...” she sniffed, and rubbed her cheek against his waistcoat. “It isn’t that... I never would have done such a thing at home...”
Even now she needed to remind herself that going home after their trip to Rivendell meant Bag End, not Deephallow. In spite of the upset, her heart fluttered and she struggled not to laugh for joy, wondering at how volatile her feelings had become in the course of one day.
“Lily dear... are you regretting we came?”
“No, not at all, it’s just... I don’t know how to explain it. I’ve never felt this way before.”
“There are things you miss, and you didn’t realize you would...”
“Yes. I thought being with you was all I needed... and it is...”
Frodo held her tighter. “What else do you miss about home?”
“I don’t know,” she sighed. “Talking with Rosie and Sam every day, fresh eggs, cream, our gardens, our smial...”
She nodded. “And the mallorn leaves painted on the ceiling.”
Lily lifted her head to gaze into Frodo’s eyes. “What is it? I can feel a change in you... a lightening of your spirit...”
A smile touched Frodo’s lips. “Shall I tell you a secret?”
Lily was unable to resist matching his smile. “Yes, please.”
“I used to count the tips of the leaves...”
“To keep from thinking of you...”
Lily’s eyes widened.
“From the moment I met you, in November, you filled my thoughts, but I never...” His voice caught, and his eyes brimmed with tears. “I never believed you might ever be mine.”
“Beloved Frodo...” Lily breathed. She searched his eyes, then studied his lips, finally offering a tender kiss.
Frodo accepted the caress and returned it, then gently ended it. “You still need to eat, my love.”
Lily smiled. “How many leaf tips are there?”
Frodo grinned. “One thousand three hundred and sixty four,” he recited, laughing at Lily’s startled expression.
She whispered, “You counted every one?”
“So you would not think of me?”
He gently brushed a curl off her forehead with the back of one finger, and his mouth curved into a wry smile. “Yes... well... that was the idea, while it lasted. I wasn’t particularly successful, for I discovered I could count and still think of you... I would find myself relating the numbers to you in some way or another: How many days since I last saw you... How many times I thought of you that night... How many days until I might see you again... How many times I wanted to touch you, and how many times I did... The month before we wed, I would count the reasons I was grateful for you. And I am more grateful with the passing of each new day...”
There was no purpose, none, in speaking of the voice and how It tormented him each night during those same months. That was in the past. She was here now, and happy, and the voice had not returned.
All shadow disappeared from Lily’s eyes, and she smiled warmly. “I love you, Frodo, so much.”
He grinned, then became serious, his gaze resting on her lips. “Lily, I love you with every beat of my heart.”
They lost themselves in a breathless embrace.
“Sweet, I must feed you some dinner. No, no clouds!” he teased, and smiled into her eyes. “That’s better. It’s a bit warm for something cooked, anyway.”
Lily smiled gratefully.
“And, my love, I’ve found a bower in the pines, and I think it’ll be to your liking.” Frodo smiled gently.
“Thank you,” Lily murmured. She reached up and tenderly kissed her husband’s cheek.
They sat together in front of the fire. Frodo leaned against a poplar with Lily wrapped in his arms. They talked of Sam and Rosie and what they might be doing at the moment. Were they talking in front of their hearth fire at Garden Hill?
Lily allowed herself to settle, and appreciated Frodo’s insistence that supper be kept simple as well. He refused any words of dissension about him preparing the meal.
As he fed her the last of the gathered blueberries, she sighed.
“Sweet, are you content, at last?”
“I feel coddled and cared for, beloved. Thank you.”
She gently caressed his lips with her own, then felt a different hunger from her husband, surprised since he returned only what she offered. She pulled back and gazed into his eyes, then watched him swallow hard.
Frodo cleared his throat. “The ponies need to be checked. Rest here and I’ll see to securing everything.” He rolled to his feet and straightened his waistcoat, then took a deep breath and released it before attending to the evening chores.
Lily stared into the fire, and her curiosity grew. Are my own feelings such, I’m not sensing his clearly? she wondered. Does he want more? Would he ask? She thought back over the past month and realized her husband rarely asked. More times than not, one thing led to another, but when she said ‘please,’ he always gladly gave in to her. She knew beyond doubt he wanted her... then why did he not ask?
She watched him as he went about taking care of the camp, mulling the question over in her mind. He worries for me, I know. Is he afraid of asking more than I can give? Or is he afraid I might be too weary? Her heart whispered she was nearing the truth, and her love grew stronger with the new realization of how much he loved her.
His soft voice interrupted her thoughts.
“We’ll not need the fire tonight. Would you like to stay up for a while longer, or would you like sleep?” Frodo smiled at his wife, once again in control of himself.
Lily schooled her face. She knew Frodo would give whatever she asked, but wanted him to know she would do the same for him -- but she did not know how to say it.
“I’m ready for bed, though I’m not particularly weary...”
Frodo nodded and seemed to take her at her word, putting out the fire.
She felt his hand on her shoulder, slipping down her arm to gently grasp her fingers, helping her rise to her feet. After a few moments her eyes adjusted to the dark, and she was startled by how light it still was, with the stars shining and the Moon nearly full.
He led her to the bower, telling of the night in the Shire they spent with the Elves, and how it was Sam’s first meeting with them. They talked for a few moments as they settled; Lily nestled in Frodo’s arms.
She pulled back a little and traced his lips with her thumb, cupping his cheek. His eyes closed and his breathing quickened. She felt his hold on her tighten as she kissed his nose, his cheek, then the corner of his mouth.
“Lily...” Frodo murmured, and opened his eyes to gaze deeply into hers.
“My love...” she whispered; his beautiful eyes, so full of love, captured her heart again in that instant, if he but knew...
He took a deep shuddering breath, and met her eyes, unveiling the intensity of his longing for her.
She felt loved, again, at the thought he could want her so much.
“Please...” he breathed, and before she could finish nodding even once, he kissed her deeply, finally revealing his hunger, and only she could fill him.
In the deep of night, Lily woke. She drew her brows together, endeavoring to place the branches overhead. Then she smiled. One of these days, I’ll find the words to tell my husband he may ask, the same as I ask him. A sigh escaped her lips as she remembered his gentle appreciation for all she gave to him.
She held very still, thinking to fall back to sleep, when Frodo stirred beside her. The Moon and stars offered only speckled light through the foliage. Was he awake? She closed her eyes to listen with her gift of sight.
Her eyes flew open as Frodo became more restless and she felt his distress increasing. Whatever dreams he was having, they were not pleasant.
A prayer filled her breast. Ilúvatar, I understand the darkness, and I know It’s gone, but this... his memories... they’re unlike anything I’ve ever known or imagined. The Shire has been my home the whole of my life. Tears caught in her throat. We knew so little evil there, and because of my beloved Frodo we never shall. Help me to help him. I owe him my life... all Middle-earth owes him a debt we can never repay...
Lily felt her lover shudder, and sensed the fear within him growing. She nestled nearer to him and caressed his face with the tips of her fingers, smoothing his furrowed brow. He clutched her close, and she wrapped her arms about him, rubbing her cheek against his shoulder. She felt him tighten his hold; and then, after a time, he relaxed into peaceful sleep once more.
Thank You, Ilúvatar, for allowing me to help him. Lily paused in her prayer.
Thank You for him...