They woke to the soft patter of rain.
Lily stirred, and was grateful Frodo’s cloak covered them, sparing them the first chill of the morning. Then she realized her husband still bore much of her weight, and whispered, “I love you, Frodo Baggins.”
He tightened his arms around her, forbidding her from easing away. “I love you, Lily-sweet,” he sighed, and glanced out leisurely at the steady drizzle. “From the look of it, this cave shall be our home for another day.”
His grin faded when he saw her expression. “What is it, beloved?”
Lily swallowed hard and struggled to hold back tears. “There’s not enough food for us. I’ve tried to supplement what we packed with what we’ve gathered, and with the fish and coney you’ve caught for us along the way, but I anticipated being in Rivendell by this evening. Without being able to gather anything more... there’s only enough food for part of today.”
Frodo smiled again. “Oh, I thought it was something serious.”
His wife’s eyes widened. “It is serious.”
“Is there enough to feed you, Lily-sweet?”
Lily’s brow furrowed. “Yes, and a little more, but--”
“Then, that is all that matters.”
“Shhh. I’ll not even notice, Lily-sweet, I assure you.”
Tears filled Lily’s eyes. “I can’t let you go hungry.”
Frodo smiled tenderly, and searched his lover’s eyes. “I need only you.”
Lily blushed. “But Frodo, you need food as well!”
“Not nearly so much as you, beloved.”
Frodo kissed his wife, intending only to silence her protests, but their heightened emotions flared swiftly, and he deepened the kiss, savoring the love he felt within her, for him. He broke the kiss for only a moment, whispering, “I love you so much, Lily-sweet,” and claimed her mouth once more.
Lily felt the deep hunger within her husband, and realized it was only for her. As she was carried away by his passion, she understood he was telling the truth. She would fill his need far better than food ever could, and she surrendered to her lover’s entreaties.
When finally she could breathe, and think, again, she nestled comfortably against her husband. She felt him lazily stroking her hair, and sighed.
“Beloved Frodo, if I could but live on your love, I’d need no food at all.”
“Yes,” Frodo sighed in response, “but you cannot. It truly is all right, Lily-sweet.”
Frodo softly kissed her and searched her eyes. “To please you, if you would but share one bite of every meal with me... it shall be more than enough.”
Lily fought back tears unsuccessfully. “How can I eat, if you are to go hungry?”
Frodo smiled warmly and tucked a burnished strand of auburn behind her left ear with his finger. “Shhh, Lily, no tears -- I’ll not be going hungry, beloved. I promise you. I’ll only miss a bit of food. That’s not like going hungry at all... not at all like -- like truly going hungry...”
Even as he kissed the tears away from her cheeks, Lily felt the memories rise within him, and she tightened her hold on him. “Merry and Pippin told us -- told Rosie and me that -- that you and Sam went without...”
She felt her husband shudder, then sensed his effort to set aside yet another memory. When he spoke, his tone held only curiosity.
“When did they tell you this, sweet?”
“In March, when you were so ill. You weren’t up and about yet...” She glanced at Frodo, then away. “They spoke of -- of how you’d changed after the Quest. How you no longer ever picked at your food. Even Rosie admitted she noticed a difference.”
Frodo sighed. “Sam would have agreed, if he’d been there. I still marvel that no one has let word of my illness slip to him, and now it matters not at all. Now that I’m healed...”
When she looked into his eyes, he was smiling and serious, all at once.
She nodded, smiling in return, though tears once again trickled down her face. “Yes, Frodo-love. You’re healed now...”
He kissed her temple. “Dearest Lily, you need to eat... Shhh, dearest, or soon you’ll have me in tears as well... Let me take care of you, sweet. You’ve taken such good care of me. It’s my turn. Please. It will make me happy.”
“All right,” she quavered, and he tilted her chin up, so that she had to smile at him.
“That’s more like it. Come, it’s time for you -- for us -- to eat something now. You might need your strength more than you know, these next few days...”
Lily read the love in his eyes, and smiled at his message, so like the one she had conveyed to him on their wedding afternoon, when he had completely forgotten the notion of eating food of any kind for nigh on eight hours; they both had.
She tipped her head back down and kissed the hollow of his throat, her soft hair caressing his bare skin, and he sighed raggedly, putting thoughts of more shared love to rest. She read his thoughts, and he was grateful for it.
“All right, yes, let’s do eat. I am hungry, I confess it. And I don’t want to faint in your arms, now do I, Frodo-love?”
He felt her smile against his skin. The meaning of her words was plain. “No indeed, Lily. Thank you. I do believe that would frighten me out of my wits.”
They laughed softly, and rose as one to start the new day.
Lily prepared soup for the day and ate a late breakfast, combining both meals, in the hope of making the food last a bit longer. She insisted on giving Frodo his mouthful first. He complied with a smile, then stood and kissed her brow.
“I want to see what we’ve got, Lily-sweet, and rearrange things so the packs are more balanced. Now I want you to eat every last bit of that breakfast, dearest. Remember what we decided: no fainting hobbit-lasses today!”
Lily giggled at his smile, her cheeks turning the slightest bit pink. “Yes, Master Baggins,” she grinned, and at that, Frodo chuckled and left her to her meal to sort through their belongings.
He watched Lily from the corner of his eye, and when she finished, he stopped his work and rubbed his right shoulder, wincing slightly.
Lily saw him start to stretch, then noticed he did not finish it. He was wincing again, but made no sound.
“Come Frodo-love, sit here in front of me; turn around.”
Frodo settled on their bedroll, with his back to her as he was commanded.
“Ohhh...” he sighed, as Lily eased off his braces and began to rub his shoulders. He was tempted to strip off his shirt as well, but knew too well where it would lead, and though he would not admit it to Lily, he was a bit sore. A self-deprecating smile crossed his face, and he was glad his lover could not see it.
I’ve clearly grown more accustomed to the softness she affords me than I realized, he mused. I never thought I’d find anything uncomfortable again, since the Quest, and yet I’d not trade one moment shared with her, no matter the conditions...
His eyes closed, and he leaned back gradually against her, and she slipped her arms around him. He trembled as she whispered in his ear.
“If you’d like to use me as a pillow, just a short nap, I’ll not mind in the least. I’m certain I slept better last night than you...”
He shifted and sighed contentedly, resting his head in her lap, and drifted off to sleep with the feel of Lily’s fingers in his curls.
When Frodo woke, Lily tried to give him more of elevensies. He only fed it to her, refusing any more than the originally agreed upon mouthful for himself.
Frodo waited until she was finished. “Now may I have at least three kisses?” he implored, and laughed at her expression of puzzled surprise.
Lily tilted her head up to him, in offering. “Of course, Frodo-love, always... but--”
“It’s the rest of my elevensies.” He took her kisses warmly, an intimate knowing, and took her breath along with them. Then he released her, watching the colour rise in her cheeks.
“You’ve no idea how sweet you taste, dearest; thank you. I do believe that was the best elevensies I’ve ever enjoyed. I am quite happy now.”
It wouldn’t do to start all over again, he decided, with a trace of regret. It had been a lovely thought, however.
Her eyes were still quite hazy, still unfocused. He laughed again and quickly kissed her cheek.
“I know... I feel the same way. I think it’s something to do with this cave, and the rain... what do you think, dear Lily?”
Lily only nodded, slowly, and smiled into his eyes as she touched her still-warm lips.
After their modest meal, they returned to their Elvish lessons amidst gales of laughter.
“Elen síla lúmenn’ omentielvo,” she managed to say all at once, in a rush.
“Beautiful!... like you...”
He searched her eyes. “Lily, we’ve spoken of how if we’d met before the Quest, at Bilbo’s party, I’d remember, and would never have left you, and yet, we did meet before the Quest... at the Bywater Fair... but it was... it was...”
She laid her hand on his arm. “It was after the Ring was given into your keeping.”
“Yes... we talked of the fair on that day I drove you home to Deephallow...” He met her eyes expectantly.
“Yes... we talked a little of what you remembered of the day, and also of some other fairs we had attended.”
“Sweet, would you tell me of the whole of the day, the day we met at the Bywater Fair? Not just the time we spent together, but from the moment you woke... am I asking too much?”
A smile spread across her face. “In truth, I remember it almost as if it were yesterday.”
“I wrote it all down, of course,” she grinned.
Frodo’s eyes widened. “Where is this written account -- may I ask?”
Lily blushed and giggled sheepishly. “In my room...”
“No, beloved, Bag End.”
“The far room, where I keep my sewing things and everything I’ve not sorted and settled yet... because someone keeps distracting me.”
Frodo chuckled and blushed. “I’ve not the least inkling as to whom you might be referring.”
“Indeed?” Lily raised her brows imperiously, then smiled broadly.
Frodo’s face became crestfallen. “You’ll not tell me of the day?”
Lily immediately felt remorseful until she caught the twinkle deep within his eyes. She lifted her head and sniffed. “If you’re going to continue to pester me, then I suppose I shall have to tell you...”
“Good!” Frodo sat down cross-legged in front of his wife, leaning toward her with undisguised interest.
Lily maintained her spurious air for another moment, then giggled again. “Well, then, where shall I start?”
“At the beginning, of course!” Frodo laughed.
“All right, from the start of that day,” Frodo conceded. He folded his hands in his lap, like a child waiting for a lesson or a story.
“As you wish, Frodo-love. The date was 22 June 1407. If you recall, the winter wheat harvest was especially good that year. What with the Free Fair coming, there wouldn’t normally have been a fair in Bywater, but the farmers needed to distribute their crop quickly, in preparation for the fair at Michael Delving, and none of them was particularly interested in hauling it to the White Downs, so a special fair was called in several of the towns, Bywater being one of them.”
Wonder filled Frodo’s eyes. “I remember that...”
Lily smiled. “My da was going to help set up the booths and such for the Free Fair, and decided to come up as far as Bywater a little early, so we could visit our cousins. They lived in the house next to the Cotton’s smial. A few years later, they moved to Brockenborings -- they wanted to live someplace quieter. Will had just come of age, and they sold their place to him.
“Be that as it may, my cousin Violet asked if she could come along to visit Rosie. My folks agreed, and the whole family came. Then Daisy took sick, and Mum decided it might be best for her and me to head back to Deephallow, with Daisy, while Da and Will continued on to the Free Fair. That day we met -- you and I -- was our last day in Bywater before heading home again.”
“How did you start the day?” Frodo asked eagerly.
Lily smiled indulgently. “I woke at dawn, stretching out some of the stiffness of sleeping in my cousin’s bed. He was nine years old, as I recall, and the bed was a bit small, but they wouldn’t hear of me sleeping on the floor.” She expected Frodo to be impatient; instead, he nodded and settled himself to listening.
“You want to hear every tiny detail, don’t you?”
Her husband nodded vigorously. “Yes, please.”
Lily giggled. “I’ll endeavor to remember... I am very glad indeed, now, I wrote it all down that night!” She thought for a moment. “I got up and got ready--”
“Did you choose a particular dress?”
“No,” she laughed. “I didn’t know I’d be meeting you, so I fear I took no special preparations. Though I’m certain I wore my favourite green ribbon.”
“Because it always made me feel better to wear it. I knew we were leaving to go home instead of the Free Fair, and I was disappointed. I looked forward to being with Violet and Rosie. We had made plans to canvas the whole fair together. It would be the first time all three of us would be at the Free Fair at the same time. The year before, Rosie had been caring for a sick lamb, and the year before that Violet had been ill, and the year before that we were all just barely coming into our tweens, and our parents wouldn’t let us go about without one of them as escort. This time, Will had volunteered to escort us, and we planned everything so carefully...”
“Will didn’t want to spend time with his friends?”
“He determined he’d have a better opportunity of meeting other hobbit lasses if he were with us, than if he went about with his cronies...”
Frodo laughed. “Smart lad, Will.”
“Indeed,” she grinned.
“So you wore your favourite green ribbon...”
“Did you braid your hair that day?”
“Yes, though in truth, my mum plaited it especially for me. It was cooler, particularly on warm days, but it was also pretty... She could do things with it I never could.”
Frodo considered her answer. “Have you worn it that way since we met last November?”
“I--” Lily searched her memory. “I don’t think I have. In fact, I don’t think I have since my mum passed...”
“Would--” Frodo hesitated “--could you show me?”
Lily nodded, and Frodo retrieved her brush, then settled himself in front of her once more.
After several moments of thought, Lily carefully braided her hair in a loose plait. “It’s not as good as what my mum could do.”
Frodo stared as his wife intently. “I think... I think I can remember. Your skirt and vest matched... yellow?”
“Yes! You remember!”
A wistful smile spread across Frodo’s face. “I fear I don’t remember much else.”
“It’s all right. I didn’t expect you to remember at all, what with the influence of the...” Lily sighed deeply. “What with the influence of the Ring.”
Frodo seemed to ignore the reference, but he shuddered, once. “I don’t remember all the details, but I do remember feeling more comfortable with you than I ever had with any lass before, or since, come to think of it, except Rosie, who is, I imagine, more like the sister I never had...
“What did you do after your mum fixed your hair?”
“Ate firsties: strawberries and cream.”
He could not help himself, and his breath caught slightly in the suddenness of the memory. Sam, dear Sam. He cleared his throat once, before speaking.
“Mmmmm... then what?”
“Violet and I met Rosie outside, in the lane. We were given permission to explore in the morning, while my da and mum made their arrangements.”
“What did you do first?”
“We visited Rosie’s mum’s booth...”
“Yes! I stopped by later in the day! She had... what was it? Wait... I think I remember...”
“Wool...” Lily hinted.
“Yes! She had skeins of lamb’s wool!”
“Yes! From Rosie’s lambs. Her mum agreed to take care of things that morning so the three of us could spend a little time together. Rosie had also made some scarves from the wool.”
Frodo crowed with laughter. “My scarf! That’s where I got it! I’d forgotten!” He quickly retrieved their last apple and sliced and fed it to Lily, taking only one bite for himself as he continued.
“I remember! After you and I spoke, Sam found me and wanted to show off his Rosie. There was but one scarf left. I thought Sam might want to acquire it, but he confessed he’d bought one first thing. Rosie admitted it was the least pretty of the lot, but I assured her it didn’t matter, as it was so soft. I still have it...”
“Indeed, you gave it to me for your birthday.”
Lily gasped. “The one you shared with me?”
“The very same,” Frodo grinned.
“You bought it that very day...”
“Right after we met...”
“Did you purchase one as well?”
Lily nodded in wonder.
“You did? Do you still have it?
“Yes, at home.”
“At Bag End?” Frodo’s eyes widened.
“In your room?”
Frodo leaned forward and softly kissed her, then grinned. “I love you more each day... Tell me, where did you go after that?” he asked keenly.
“Let’s see, after getting my scarf, Violet, Rosie and I went to look at the jams. Because it was such a small fair, Mrs. Bracegirdle was offering little tastes on slices of her fresh baked bread.”
“Mmmmm... it was delicious -- though not as good as yours!”
Lily giggled. “I think she sold as much of her bread as she did her jam.”
“There was a three-legged race next, and Violet and Rosie entered, as they were the closest in size. They didn’t win, but they didn’t fall over either. Did you see it?”
“I’m certain Sam roped me into watching with him, especially if Rosie was in it!”
“We enjoyed strawberry-raspberry tarts, then and watched the little ones’ piglet catch! There were some prettily designed clay pots, cups and plates to look over, as well...
“Then, just before luncheon was the little ones’ tug-o-war.”
“I don’t recall who won...”
“I’m not sure, as they all ended up in the mud! I don’t think they really cared either.”
“What did you eat for luncheon?”
“The three of us shared a pot of tea and a plate of sandwiches -- cucumber and watercress. We felt very grown up. We watched the juggling and a puppet show for the little ones while we ate. And where was Sam in all this?”
“Mostly helping the Gaffer selling potatoes from his garden.” Frodo laughed. “He is very proud of the quality of his earlies.”
“That explains why Rosie wanted to purchase potatoes after luncheon! Violet went with her, as my mum had found us and asked that I get a few things for our trip home...”
“Your basket of vegetables!”
“The very same. Farmer Maggot was on his way to the Free Fair and stopped to sell a few things in Bywater, and since he lives down the road a piece from us, Mum was familiar with the quality of his goods and asked that I get them while she said her goodbyes to our cousins. I’d just finished, when I ran into you...”
“And we immediately fell into conversation,” Frodo ventured.
“No, in fact -- I started to walk away, but I could not hide my limping, and you suggested we sit for a bit. You took my basket of vegetables and offered me your arm, then escorted me to a table where we talked for an hour.”
“An hour?! How could I forget such an hour spent in your company?”
Lily felt a mix of wonder and sadness within her husband, and quickly continued. “We talked for a moment of the vegetables. I was surprised you recognized Farmer Maggot’s produce, though now I know why. You wouldn’t tell me that day...” She grinned.
Frodo returned the smile. “What did we talk about?”
“Nothing... truly! We just talked about the day and the fair. It was so... comfortable and yet...” She blushed lightly.
“What? Please tell me,” Frodo pleaded.
“I found the -- the intensity of your gaze not entirely comfortable... and yet not at all unpleasant...”
Frodo’s expression was all curiosity. “Did you?”
Lily heard the sincerity in his voice. Her voice lowered. “I feel the same now as then, only more so.”
Frodo’s voice softened, matching her tone. “How did I ever let you slip away?”
“First Merry and Pippin joined us, and then Pippin got us all something to drink...”
“And I can well imagine Merry teasing us all unmercifully!”
Lily giggled. “He did indeed.”
“Why did I let them drag me away?” Frodo lamented.
“You did not.”
“No. You did, in truth, ask them to let you speak with me in peace -- and you called me a ‘sweet lass’... dearest Frodo! How my heart leapt within me! -- but then my mother called for me. It was time for us to go.”
“Then -- I met your mother, Lily?” Frodo’s voice was hushed.
“Yes. And she thought you quite handsome, and charming, as well.”
“She did? Truly?”
“Yes, truly... And by the time we returned to Deephallow, she had managed to unearth how I felt about you...”
“Did she -- did she approve?”
Lily’s smile was soft, and full of memory. She glanced away from her husband’s gentle gaze for a moment, at her hands, folded in her lap. “Yes, she did, though she could not say why. She decided you would be all wrong for Daisy, but if ever the choice was mine to make, she would welcome you.”
She raised her eyes to meet his, her throat closing as she kept the tears at bay.
Frodo could not speak. He shifted to sit beside his wife, and wrapped his arms about her, drawing her close.
They sat together, silent and content, and let the stillness of the cave envelop them.
A sigh escaped Frodo as they settled down in the evening to sleep. “Can you hear it, Lily? The rain is easing. We’ll be in Rivendell tomorrow.”
Her heart beat harder at his words. “Rivendell!”
Frodo smiled and kissed her brow. “Yes. And Uncle Bilbo... He will love you, Lily.”
He watched her expression change, and heard the longing in her voice; not only the longing, but also her attempt to hide it.
“And a soft bed?”
Frodo laughed gently. “Yes, and a soft bed.”
They offered their evening prayer of gratitude and settled as comfortably as they could. Frodo knew her breathing as if it were his own; he knew the exact moment Lily fell asleep, her head nestled against his chest. His heart was full to overflowing.
In that moment of fullness, he thought of Sam, who had saved his life, his body and his spirit, uncounted times. He would not be here, with Lily in his arms, peaceful in sleep, without Samwise.
“O, Sam, dearest of friends, how shall I ever thank you?” he whispered brokenly. He did not wish to wake his beloved, and prayed softly. “Thank you for Sam; thank you for sparing me, and for the healing... thank you for giving me Lily.”
After a time, he was able to drift off to sleep, his heart still full to overflowing.