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Sacrament

by CRB and Ladyhawk Baggins

14 July 1420sr

Lily awoke with the dawn cold. As always, Frodo felt her stirrings and drew her closer. He awoke not long after.

She enjoyed their first morning moments, sharing a prayer of thanks, then words of love and gentle caresses, but she felt a few unexpected twinges of pain in the small of her back as well as across her belly, and sought a secluded spot for her ablutions.

---------

Though Lily was quiet this morning, Frodo did not worry. A smile spread across his face. How can I, after yesterday?

It was time to move on again, but Lily did not feel like moving at all. She was suffering the familiar discomfort which occurred every month, but decided that whether they traveled or not she would be uncomfortable, so it truly did not matter... And it came early, she lamented, struggling to hold back tears.

She also knew now beyond doubt she was not carrying Frodo’s child, and was surprised by the vehemence of her own disappointment. She wondered if she should tell Frodo. Since they had spoken of it just the night before, she knew now how much he also looked forward to a child. She did not want to see the disappointment in his eyes. And today would also be the first time since their wedding she would have to say ‘no’ if he asked for her love. Would he be angry? Would he understand?

Not long into their day’s travel, Frodo realized Lily was withdrawing, and wondered why. When he gently pressed for information, she became even more quiet. Yet he felt secure in the closeness they had shared the previous day, and in all the days before that.

He remembered times before they were married when she was quiet and given to a swift change in mood. When he had questioned Sam about it, Sam, what with a wife and two sisters just older, and one younger, explained the mysterious ways of the Fairer Folk, at least as he understood it. He had explained there was at least one week out of each month when even his Rosie didn’t feel much like talking. As he had put it, it was just easier all round to stay out of the way and let them do whatever they seemed to want, whether it made sense or no...

They covered more ground than Frodo expected. Lily chose to ride a few paces behind him the whole of the day. He recalled his own moments -- sometimes entire days -- of riding in almost complete silence, last week, and Lily’s gentle acceptance of it. He felt all the more grateful for her.

After tea, Lily prepared to move on.

Frodo watched her stilted movements and began to worry. “Sweet, would you like to stop here for the evening?”

Lily paused for a moment and pressed her hand to her back. She struggled to hide a grimace and did not look at Frodo. She could not bear the concern in his eyes. Instead, she stared at a tree close to the road. A sigh escaped her. “No, I’d prefer we move on, if we may.” She bent to lift the satchel with their tea and cups.

Frodo reached for it and smiled. “I’ll take care of that.” He startled at the tears gathering in his wife’s eyes.

“Thank you,” Lily whispered, and turned away before she saw her husband’s hand reach out to her.

He wanted to ask what was wrong, but the question stuck in his throat, as she slipped away into the trees for a few moments. Then, when she returned, her shoulders squared, he could not find the words. Surely, if something were amiss, she would not hide it from him...

As supper approached, Frodo was feeling more than the chill in the air. Their meal was eaten in silence, with no attempt at conversation. Frodo could see the weariness etched on Lily’s face, but there was something else... if only she would tell him.

As they lay down to sleep, for the first time, since they were wed, Lily turned her back to Frodo without a word.

Frodo now knew there was something terribly wrong. He tentatively reached out a hand and placed it on her shoulder.

Lily shrugged it off and then began to weep, but still she would not turn to him. She knew she should tell him, but did not know how, and feared -- she knew unreasonably -- that he might be upset.

Frodo touched her shoulder again tentatively. His voice broke. “Please, Lily, tell me.”

Lily allowed him to rest his hand on her shoulder and sobbed all the harder.

The moments dragged on, until Frodo believed his heart might break. Is this how Lily had felt a few days ago, when he kept her at arms’ length, even in his effort to protect her? How had she borne it?

Finally, she caught her breath and sniffled. Her voice was forlorn. “I know for certain I am not carrying your child. And should you ask for anything like what we shared yesterday, I cannot give it tonight, nor for the next few days.” She sniffled again.

Frodo started in surprise. None of his book learning had taught him anything about such things. He thought that if Lily could have seen his face, she would probably have laughed out loud. This must be what a fish out of water feels like, Frodo decided, as he realized he was completely out of his element.

In a low, uncertain voice he asked, “What can I do?”

Lily shook her head. “I truly do not know.”

Frodo wrestled with the decision of what to do next. He fell back on the one thing he felt certain about, the advice from his dear friend: give her what she wants. But what did she want? She had not told him very much... only what was, and what she could not give. He remembered how often he felt comforted at her touch; mayhap she would at his?

“May I put my arm around you, if I ask for nothing else?”

“Oh, Frodo,” her voice hitched, “yes, please. I wish I could give--”

“Shhh, Lily, darling, you give so much...” Frodo slipped his arm around her waist, held her lightly, and buried his face in her hair, breathing deeply.

Lily settled against him and sighed. “I’m sorry. I should have told you sooner that I knew, but I was afraid you might be disappointed, and I could not bear to have you look at me in such a manner.”

The confession felt like a physical blow, and he held her only a little more tightly, in an effort to reassure her. It was difficult, with her turned away...

“Lily, dearest, I could never be disappointed in you. I do want a child with you, but I am in no hurry. This only means I have you all to myself for a bit longer, and I do enjoy simply holding you...”

Tears streamed down Lily’s cheeks again. “Will -- would you hold me tightly?”

In answer Frodo pulled her closer and held her snug. He resorted to what he knew best. “Would you like to hear about Eärendil?”

Lily laughed for the first time that day, still sniffling. “Yes, dearest Frodo, tell me about Eärendil.”

He handed her his handkerchief; then they settled closer and more comfortably together. Lily fell asleep, as he knew she would, part way through the story.

Frodo sorted through what she had told him, and then realized he would need to learn to accept this challenge every month. Surely it would get better with time; he would do his best to help her. He wondered for the moment if he were up to it. The thought suddenly seemed absurd. The only other choice -- not caring, not trying -- was no choice at all. Just for a moment, the Quest seemed a small thing indeed. He knew without doubt he would gladly spend the rest of his days unraveling the mystery of his dear wife, and be grateful for the opportunity.

The journey they were on had revolved around his memories of the Quest. The next few days would need to revolve around his wife. He could keep those other memories at bay for a while; he’d had plenty of practice, before knowing Lily... She needed him here and now, focused on her. Frodo kissed the tip of her ear, and settled into sleep.

---------

15 July 1420sr

Frodo awoke at dawn and noted that at some point Lily had turned in the night and now her arms were inside his waistcoat, encircling him. His first thought was to wake her as she had awakened him the previous morning. Then he remembered yesternight’s tears. He drew her more fully into his embrace, letting her sleep a little longer, held close to his heart. He had planned to let her wake there, but as things stood he decided it might be easier for both of them if they had more distance for a time.

Lily woke not long after. She was surprised to note she missed Frodo, and yet, did not... She breathed in deeply and found the faintest hint of him, and she could feel him. How could that be? Lily freed her hands from the warm material that surrounded her and rubbed her eyes, then noted the fire and everything set out ready for the making of first breakfast.

She caught a movement out of the corner of her eye and spied Frodo caring for the ponies. He was only in his shirt, waistcoat, and breeches... It was still early enough to be cool. Where were his coat and cloak? She glanced down at the blanket appreciatively and caught her breath; she buried her nose in the beloved material of his coat and cloak, carefully tucked about her.

She worried at first that he might be cold, and was about to call him over to retrieve his cloak, when she noticed his waistcoat was open. She wished she could think more clearly. He was obviously warm, and didn’t need anything more... Lily smiled to herself as she realized she felt glad for it. She slowly sat up and could not resist slipping into his coat and pulling it snug about her.

Frodo noticed Lily’s rising when Strider pricked his ears in her direction. He glanced over and grinned. “It seems I have lost a nightshirt, and now my coat as well, and probably next my cloak?”

Lily smiled; her cheeks tinged to pink as she lowered her eyes and rubbed her hands on the sleeves. “The nightshirt, yes; the coat is only being borrowed for a time. It shall be restored to you whenever you need it...” She looked up into his eyes and smiled, “...and thank you.”

Frodo returned the smile. “Would you like to spend today here, or move on?” He had determined it would be better to let Lily decide, since he truly had no notion of how she felt.

Lily sighed. “I’d like to continue on today, if we may. I’m uncomfortable whether we go or stay, and at least, if we’re riding, I have more of a reason for feeling uncomfortable...” She couldn’t resist the smile that came to her lips, as she realized just how true the statement was. “I don’t want to hold us up any more than necessary.”

Frodo inclined his head. “As you wish. We’re making better time than... well, the ponies and the road truly make this journey much quicker...” He sighed and started over with a smile, “Would you like me to make firsties?”

Lily shook her head. “I can’t imagine endeavoring to move forward, here in the wilds, without actually being able to take the road. And as to you cooking, thank you, dearest, no. The ponies need to be readied for travel. That should keep you busy enough until breakfast.”

Frodo returned to caring for the ponies, and Lily set to work preparing their meal. With everything already laid out, it took no time at all. This morning’s breakfast was far more companionable; Frodo breathed a silent sigh of relief.

Since Lily was more inclined toward conversation, Frodo wanted to continue to share stories with her, but decided that tales of his early life, before the Ring, would be easiest for a while. They would also be far less likely to stir the unpleasant memories. Both of them needed the rest.

When Frodo helped Lily onto Merry, he wondered if she would offer her morning kiss. He knew he could not bring himself to ask for it.

Lily was glad to see the uncertainty vanish from his eyes as she reached down for their kiss.

Then they were on their way again.

Lily felt the need to make an effort to push past her own discomfort and help Frodo feel more at ease with her. She searched her mind for a suitable topic and glanced around. “Frodo, what’s the next landmark?”

“The Mitheithel.”

“The Mith--”

“Mitheithel,” Frodo repeated slowly, with a smile. “That’s what the Elves call it. It’s also known as the River Hoarwell.”

After several more attempts to say the name, Lily wrinkled her nose. “I fear I shall have to call it the River Hoarwell, for I cannot seem to wrap my tongue around the other.”

Frodo laughed. “I owe you a kiss for that, Lily Baggins.” He noted the uncertainty in his wife’s eyes, and his voice softened. “That is, when you’re ready, dearest.” His heart tightened at the relief on her face.

A thought crept into his mind. How you must struggle, sweet... your nature is always so calm, and yet, at this time, everything must be turned on its head for you...

But he feared to voice it, unsure if he would be able to say what he felt, or if Lily would be able to accept it as he meant it. He pushed it away. Mayhap when she is feeling better, we’ll speak of it, he decided.

While lost in his thoughts, Frodo realized Lily had said the Elvish name correctly, albeit slowly.

“That’s right,” he beamed.

Lily blushed, pleased. “Will you be adding the places we’ve stopped at to your maps, when we get home?”

“Indeed, yes,” Frodo grinned. “I’ll sketch them out when we get to Rivendell, then fill in the maps properly, when we return home.”

“Will Uncle Bilbo mind?”

Frodo laughed. “No, he’s the one what got me started! Haven’t I ever told you that story?”

Lily shook her head, her eyes bright at the prospect of hearing what promised to be a happier tale from her husband -- if it included Bilbo, in the Shire, it happened before Frodo owned the Ring...

“I don’t imagine I’ve shown you... let me tell you the story.” Frodo felt quite pleased that this lent so easily to his own plan to talk of earlier days.

“Hmmm... Where shall I start? Ah! Well, this was quite some time ago, love,” he smiled. “I was a tween... I think... how old was I? I was still at Brandy Hall... Bilbo had come to visit me... then I wasn’t yet twenty-one, for it was before he adopted me...”

He stopped speaking, seeming to gather in more of the memory. As he did, Lily noted his wistful expression. Shafts of sunlight and dappled shadow took turns through the leaves above to rest on his face, his dark curls, his shoulders...

As they rode, he turned toward her, his blue eyes reflecting a peace resting deep beneath the wistfulness, and Lily could not help but smile in return. Such deep contentment was there... it suddenly occurred to her: she was part of his present happiness. She had helped, in her own way, to bring him to this peace he felt. Frodo’s smile reached his eyes, and he turned again to face forward, just in time; Lily felt faint, and not from any lack of food. Shall I always feel this way when he looks like this? she wondered. Then she breathed deeply for several moments, glad he had not seen the look in her eyes.

He spoke, and she concentrated on the gentle timbre of his voice, forcing herself away from the sensation of faintness.

“Yes. Merry was quite young, then, and I wasn’t yet twenty-one. No matter; it isn’t important just how old we were, really... what mattered was Bilbo had come to visit me there. I was thrilled, for he had just been on another adventure, and no one could tell a story like Bilbo... between the story itself, and how he told it...”

Frodo sighed, his contentment still evident.

“Yes?” Lily prompted, pressing her lips closed to keep from smiling broadly at her husband’s dreamlike mood. “What was his adventure about, Frodo-love? Where had he been?”

“Oh! Of course!... Forgive me, sweet. I was truly lost in a memory. It’s been so long ago, now. I haven’t thought of this in years...”

He gazed at his wife again and noted her raised eyebrows, the expectant expression...

“Lily, how beautiful you look today,” Frodo sighed softly. Taking in her surprise, he added, “I know; it’s nothing to do with the story I was telling, but... sometimes when I look at you -- I don’t want to wait until some other time, or some other day, to tell you how much I love you. Remember,” he grinned, his voice dropping to a caress, “I’m much better at following my heart now, thanks to you.”

Lily blushed crimson, and fought tears of joy.

“Dearest husband, I love you, I do...” How could she explain what his words did to her without revealing how it made her heart flutter and her breath quicken until she felt faint? He might be flustered and worry needlessly. “Please do go on... I am quite on pins and needles, wondering what’s next in the tale... you’ve only begun!”

“Pardon me, sweet. I’m afraid it isn’t really an adventuresome tale, so there is no need for pins and needles.” He laughed, “I truly did not keep to the story at all, did I?”

Lily raised her chin in an effort to appear serious, and quelled a fit of giggles. She felt a silly sort of tiredness, and knew the feeling would last for at least two days. “You are impossible at times, dearest... you know that, don’t you? I believe this is no less than my fourth attempt at wresting this story from you --!”

Her husband feigned offense. “But we have all day, do we not?”

He caught her swallowing a giggle, and relented, but...

“Oh, no...” he muttered to himself.

His expression was blank, then puzzled. Lily watched him recover, and realized with sudden insight that for a moment he had forgotten completely what story he was recounting. She would not let him see it in her face, but it was more difficult than ever not to laugh. Then she schooled her expression into impassivity just before he glanced at her again.

He cleared his throat. “Well, then. Brandy Hall. Bilbo had come for a visit. I was beside myself with happiness. We’d gone out for a long walk toward the Brandywine, and he told me of his journey to the White Towers, far to the west of the Shire... almost to the Sea, Lily... it was all of it like magic. I longed to go with him, to see new places, to learn from him. I wasn’t truly very -- I wasn’t truly very happy at Brandy Hall. I was too alone, in a way, with so many hobbits of varying ages about. It was a very strange time in my life. I was surrounded by relatives, and Esme and Saradoc were kind to me... but I was alone in that enormous family. I can’t explain it any other way.”

Lily listened quietly, nodding. Her mood had turned serious with his.

“Bilbo asked me if I’d been studying much, and I told him truthfully not as much as I’d have liked. There was in fact a library there, but the volumes were about subjects I wasn’t terribly interested in: the vast Brandybuck family tree, and farming, and such... I remember telling him how excited I was when a peddler came round with his cart... he actually had books for sale, amid all his other wares. It was all I could do not to leap for joy. I was that excited...

“As I recall, Bilbo merely nodded; I learned later it was his way of trying to get me keep talking...”

Frodo stared down the Road, missing the tiny smile of irony on Lily’s face, as he continued.

“He seemed to know I couldn’t afford to buy a single book, and yet he asked me, had I bought one from the peddler? I told him no, but I was trying to save up so I could, by doing odd jobs about the place... I even went so far as to baby-sit Merry a few times, which seemed to truly entertain Bilbo... His first memorable introduction to dear Merry was the little urchin being dragged out of the main dining room, kicking and screaming, at the same time he was stuffing fresh-baked buns into his mouth; he’d snatched them right out from under Cook’s nose...”

At this Lily laughed aloud, then winced and touched her hand to her lower back.

Frodo did not hide his concern. “Are you all right, dearest?”

“Yes. I’m a bit sore is all, and I suddenly noticed it more.”

“I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to cause you any hurt!”

“No matter, truly... It will soon pass.”

“I’ll be more careful to leave out the silly bits...”

“Just now, in truth, I need the silly bits, Frodo-love... don’t worry... I’ll be fine.” She suppressed a grin, despite her backache, then nodded for Frodo to go on.

He saw the sparkle in her eyes and pushed away his worry. “Where was I?” he murmured.

Lily giggled, softly. “Bilbo’s first memory of Merry, and you working to buy a book, including taking care of a certain scamp... you realize you’ll need to share that particular story with Estella.”

Frodo laughed. “Indeed I shall.” He chose not to mention the kiss his wife owed him now, tucking it away for later.

“Well, there had been a book on the peddler’s cart I was truly keen for; I wanted it so badly I could taste it, and I was willing to do almost any job to earn money towards it. The book was -- wait, now I remember! -- ‘charming.’ Yes, that was it...”

Frodo noted her puzzled expression. “I couldn’t find the proper word to describe it, and then Bilbo offered ‘charming,’ and it was the perfect word. He always knew exactly the right word... Anyway, it had maps, rather than a tale. All maps, of the Shire... it might have been done up for a Postmaster, or by a postal rider, like Da... The maps were small, and so cleverly done... I knew it wouldn’t further my language or my history studies, but I didn’t care, and I told Bilbo so. How I wanted that book! More than anything in a very long while...”

Lily heard Frodo’s voice soften, and he spoke more slowly.

“Then Uncle Bilbo opened the pack he’d brought with him on our walk. He reached in, and pulled out the very book...”

“The book of maps you wanted?” Lily’s voice was hushed in awe.

“Yes, and he handed it to me. It was as beautiful as I remembered... slender and blue it was, with silver tooling... He knew I would have wanted it. He knew. And he bought it, and gave it to me...

“It’s still so dear to me... dearer than ever, Lily. It’s just as lovely now as it ever was. I kept my tears back, then, for I did not want to stain the pages, but also for fear of upsetting dear Bilbo; he isn’t particularly comfortable with shows of emotion... oh, Lily, it was the best day... as I leafed through the pages, I couldn’t help myself -- I stopped to study each one in turn, and would ask him what was in the white spaces of the maps, the places not marked at all in the book, almost as if they’re not there, but they are... he knows so much. He knew where the mountains were, mountains taller than any in the Shire...”

Frodo blinked as he looked at the Misty Mountains, still several days’ ride away, but very clear to their sight, stretching away to the north and south.

Lily followed his gaze.

“He -- he knew where the Marshlands were... he’d just been visiting there... oh, we talked for a long time about what was within the book, and even more about what was beyond it. I was so happy, Lily. So happy... do you understand? I know you do...”

“Yes, dearest love. It is indeed a happy story,” Lily stated, feeling the sting in her own eyes. She sensed all of her husband’s emotions, so apparent, so clear, that her own heart tightened in response to the warmth of his memory. She was filled with relief and thankfulness that Frodo was able to feel such joy in a memory, and not sorrow and pain. No shadows to torment him. Only the old loneliness of living at Brandy Hall; but that was gone. They were together. A deep gratitude toward Bilbo, for caring about Frodo’s small desires, swept over her.

“Ilúvatar was watching over you even then,” she murmured.

“Yes. Yes, I’m certain of it. I didn’t know it then. None of us knew of Him then. But I was so grateful... I can’t wait to show you the book when we return home. I keep it in a special place, which is probably why I haven’t thought to show it to you before...”

Lily smiled through the tears she managed to fight back. “I look forward to it, beloved.”

She was pleased Frodo was reminiscing more about his early days, almost as though he were there. He was, for the time, wrapping himself in the safety of the Shire.

---------

After luncheon, they continued at an easy pace, riding in the stillness of the early afternoon, until the warm soft winds of July began to play in the tall poplars all about them. Frodo and Lily heard the soft rushing sound of countless leaves, and took in the familiar sight of the poplars swaying, dance-like, the dark leaf-tops all presenting at once, followed by the instant show of the light undersides as they spun back and forth, capering in the breeze.

“It’s like nothing else,” Lily remarked softly. “I could watch the leaves for hours. The sound of them used to put me to sleep in the afternoons, when Mum put me down for my naps. I was just a wee lass then. There’s a row of poplars all along that end of the gardens... they’re still there...”

“I remember seeing them when I visited you, dearest. By May, they were in leaf for our Promising, and they were lovely...”

Frodo gazed at his wife and forgot all about the poplars. He saw only her beautiful face and her burnished hair, flowing in auburn waves about her in the freshening breeze, until she caught it with her hands and began to braid it.

Her pony stopped, and Frodo pulled up Strider. Pippin the packpony halted in turn, his tail switching impatiently.

Frodo continued watching his love, stunned once again at the realization he was now married; this beautiful lass was his wife. He opened his mouth, but at first nothing came out. He started again.

“I -- I wish you didn’t need to braid it. It’s so beautiful.”

He wanted to touch it. Of course now was not the time, he reminded himself. I will wait until she is at ease again, until she asks for my attentions again. It might be days, she had said. No matter. He gazed at her deftly interlacing the silken tresses, with longing in his eyes, but masked it as she lifted her eyes to his.

She noted his expression; he had not been fast enough to hide it. For now it was easier not to address his longing -- easier for both of them. A nervous giggle escaped her again, under her breath, so that Frodo barely heard it. She finished braiding her hair, and pulled a lavender ribbon from her skirt pocket, nimbly tying the end of the braid with a bow.

Lily almost could not keep from smiling; Frodo’s emotions were so clear, no matter how much he attempted to hide them. I would not tease you ever about this, darling, for in truth I love this trait dearly, more than you shall ever know...

“Frodo-love, you’ve no idea how maddening it is when the breeze is making a shambles of my hair... it tickles my face and my neck unmercifully...”

For a brief moment he kept his face as impassive as he could, until a smile escaped him. “I’ll have to remember that. You’ve had plenty of fun tickling me, sweetheart. At some point I’ll need to return the favour...” His smile grew, and his eyes were teasing and playful.

“Frodo! You wouldn’t! You know how I hate to be tickled!”

He heard the tiniest suggestion of panic in her voice, and endeavored to set her at ease.

“Yes, you do indeed hate to be tickled. I don’t think I shall soon forget the look you gave Will when he attempted it just after you arrived in March... not to mention the one time I indulged during our niwealdor. Dearest, I shan’t tickle you at all today, nor ever again, until next you torment me, as you did the other morning, for which I have yet to repay you. I promise.” He winked, and gave her their private smile, as if there were other souls about who might see the affection they shared.

He continued, still teasing her. “I recall you having a splendid time once you found that spot above my knee, sweet.” He could see she was comfortable now with his banter; it was fine to go on. “Yet you didn’t stop, not until I laughed so hard I cried.”

Frodo watched her attempt to pout, then close her eyes as she bit her lower lip against another sudden fit of giggling. As he waited, he saw one corner of her mouth curve up. She opened her eyes again, the hazel colour a bright blue shade in the afternoon sun.

He gasped a little as her gaze held his, his thoughts drifting. You really do not know the power you have over me, dear Lily. Sweet it is, sweet and welcome. But I cannot think on that now...

“Let’s stop here beneath the poplars for tea, sweet. I want you to tell me more about those early days, when you were just a wee lass.”

“As you wish,” she replied, happy despite her physical discomfort.

She allowed him to help her down from Merry, and her husband held her for a moment, but he only kissed her forehead. This was difficult; Lily would never have imagined there could be a time when she might not crave more, but there it was. She was making the best of it.

---------

Lily poured their tea while Frodo held the mugs. She placed the tea kettle on the ground near the waning fire. It would keep hot enough for a second cup, if they wanted more.

She took her mug from Frodo, then set it down on the blanket, and buried her face in her hands.

“Lily! What’s the matter, sweet--” He put his own mug down, and lifted her chin gently. Tears were streaming down her face, and her eyes were red.

“You’re crying! What is it?” He moved both mugs to a patch of level ground, and knelt close beside her, framing her face within his hands.

She laid her hands on his. Her voice held more than a trace of self-disgust. “This is so foolish. I’m weeping over such an inconsequential thing!” For a moment she closed her eyes, and tipped her head slightly to rest her cheek against the palm of his right hand.

Frodo keep his voice low. “What is it? Is the pain very bad now?”

Lily began to laugh at herself through tears which were already ceasing, lifting her head away from his hands, and taking them into her own. She kissed them once, and shook her head slowly.

“No, the pain is not as bad as it could be... it is not that bad, thank you--”

She sighed. “I merely forgot the sugar cubes. I thought they were in the tea-satchel, but clearly they’re not. When did we last have tea? Luncheon. But I can’t even be sure where I put them,” she lamented, wiping her face dry quickly with her fingers, and raising her eyes to his. She saw his concern and confusion.

“This is what you may expect from me once each month... this -- this moodiness. I’m sorry...” she began, but could not finish, and the tears flowed again.

“Dearest...” Frodo held her head against his shoulder and stroked her hair slowly. “Don’t apologize. You can’t help it.”

“But I feel so foolish! What you must think of me! All over a little forgotten sugar!” She placed her right hand on his forearm and squeezed tightly, fighting back another round of tears.

“Oh, this ridiculous -- !”

“Lily, Lily -- ” Frodo soothed. “Shhhhh. It’s all right. I don’t think you ridiculous at all, and truth be told, it gives me an excuse to hold you, if that makes you feel even the slightest bit better about it.”

“It does,” she laughed, and pulled away, accepting his handkerchief, shaking her head again and dabbing her eyes. “I cannot control it.” She blew her nose, and sniffed.

“Take a deep breath, and let it out slowly...” Frodo spoke evenly, endeavoring with all his might not to appear overly concerned. Her eyes were taking on the look of a faint, and he recognized it there, before she had become aware of it herself.

She followed his advice, then realized why. She felt dizzy.

“Rest here a bit longer, and get your breath back, sweet,” he counseled, urging her gently to lean against his shoulder once more. “I’ll get the sugar as soon as I know you’re fine.”

She was already feeling better. “I’m all right, really... truly.” She pulled back again.

“You’re certain?”

“Yes,” she smiled, breathing evenly. Her eyes were still red, but she let him see her expression.

“All right. You do seem better, love. But I think some tea would be in order now. I’ll be back instantly.” He kissed her forehead and rose to go.

She watched him as he searched for and then triumphantly retrieved the sugar cube pouch from the cooking kit, where it had been packed at their previous stop.

A smile touched her lips. “You are usually the absentminded one, and I the finder...”

Frodo grinned. “Everyone has an off-day, sweet... hmmm... you do seem to enjoy teasing me roundly when I mislay things. Now I may tease you, as well -- ?”

He caught her slightly pained expression, and smiled again, more softly. “But not today, love. Only when you’re feeling better. You’ll promise always to tell me when you’re not feeling well...”

“I promise,” she sighed. How many days had they been traveling?

“Frodo, what day is it? I’m truly not myself, I must say...”

He dropped two cubes into her tea and stirred them in, then handed her the mug, making sure she held it securely before releasing it to her.

“It’s July the 15th.” Picking up his tea mug, he drank some thirstily and grinned at her, the relief evident in his voice. “And it’s Sunday, at--” he looked up at the Sun “--at four and three quarters, if you’d like to know. I’d say that’s a fairly good guess.”

Lily’s mood was happy again, the quickness of the change surprising even her. She struggled not to laugh, and had to be careful not to choke on her tea. “I love you, Frodo Baggins.”

“Ah!” he exclaimed, smiling in return, his eyes alight. “But I love you more--”

She adored their game. “No, I love you more.”

“All right. I accept...” he stated with equanimity. “This time, you’ve won out.” He laughed aloud, then finished off his tea, and kissed her cheek once.

She giggled and met his eyes. “I won the last time, as well...”

Frodo picked up the teakettle. “Are you quite certain of that? I think it was me.” He offered her more tea, but she shook her head, laughing. He poured himself another mug.

“Yes, I’m quite certain, Frodo-love. I never forget anything, even when I try.”

Her eyes were sparkling, and Frodo was glad. The tea was invigorating and soothing, both at once.

“Then please, dear heart, would you tell me the story of your mum, putting you to your nap, while you could hear the poplars shifting in the breeze? Remember?”

She suppressed a laugh, pressing her lips tightly together. “That’s right! I promised you a story!”

“Yes, you did,” he teased, sipping at his tea.

For a moment she hesitated, and nearly put her hand to her head, but she stopped herself well in time. Frodo would misconstrue it as pain, when what she felt was a sudden strange sense of disbelief. She blamed it on her monthly course, but --

“What is it?” he smiled, but then it faded. “Are you well, Lily? Should we stop here for the day?”

“No, no... I--” she stammered. “You’ll laugh. I don’t know how to tell you...”

He put his tea down once more. “I shan’t laugh, I promise.”

He was so serious now, her dear serious Frodo.

“It -- I realized I--”

He saw tears filling her eyes again. “Lily -- it’s all right, please tell me.” He took her hands.

She looked down at his hands, so beautiful... she could not tell him that now. My thoughts are so scattered... “I wish I felt better! I -- Frodo, you’re really mine! Is it true? Is this a dream? Tell me, please tell me this is not a dream!”

There was such supplication in her eyes! Frodo felt tenderness welling up within his breast, and his smile reached his eyes. “It isn’t a dream. And I can wait for as long as it takes for you to feel better, my dear sweet Lily, love of my life--”

He took away her empty tea mug and set it aside, then gathered her into his arms, and kissed her hair. He felt her sigh, and closed his eyes. This was bliss. He wished, for her sake, that she felt better.

“You have a way with words, my dearest Lily, and if you keep this up I shall have to reclaim my handkerchief... No, beloved, it’s not a dream... It is, but it isn’t. It’s real. You’re more real than anything I’ve ever known. I could not love you more.”

She smiled against his shoulder. “I can’t seem to get used to the idea... Oh, no, please, not again -- not these absurd tears!” She giggled against his waistcoat, her tears wetting it. He smelled wonderful. Dream or no, she did not care. It did not matter. He was here with her. “I love you.”

“And I love you, more than anything. Would you like to tell me the story of your mum and the nap another time? You’re beautifully grown up, now, but even at that, I think a nap would be comforting, before we move on -- if you’ll still want to move on.”

She heard the care in his voice, and was nearly asleep already, with him stroking her hair, so comforting... Oh, she was so tired. A nap... a nap...

“Mmmmm. Yes... another time, the story... I love you,” she sighed, and fell asleep in the next moment, basking in his warmth.

After a time Frodo lowered her gently down to lie on her back on their blanket, then lay on his side watching her, propped up on one elbow. She curled onto her side, facing him, and he laid one hand over her waist. He was glad she could not see his tears as she slept.

He whispered, so as not to wake her. “Ilúvatar, how is it that she is mine? How can it be?”

He sighed, and watched her sleep, and did not remove his handkerchief after all, still clutched in her right hand.

---------

They traveled on at Lily’s insistence, after her nap, and stopped later than usual, at dusk. Supper was a quiet affair; they spoke only a little, and the near-silence was restful; they heard only the lulling night-song of the frogs and crickets, and thought it soothing.

Lily was content, but tired and aching, and Frodo could see it. After their meal and athelas wash, he let the fire die, and in unspoken agreement they prepared for bed, Lily putting away the last of the supper dishes while Frodo cared for the ponies.

She lay down as she had the night before, with her back to Frodo, and he slipped an arm around her waist, gently pulling her close. Without a second thought, he picked up the story of Eärendil where they had left off the night before. He got a little farther along, before they both fell into sleep.