An hour before dawn, Frodo woke to Lily’s soft caresses.
Lily felt her husband’s breathing change and knew he was awake. She allowed him to shift to his side so they faced each other, then continued to lightly caress his shoulder with her hand, trailing soft kisses along his shoulder to his neck.
He turned his head, rubbing his cheek against hers, then captured her lips. He slipped his hand around her waist and drew her close, deepening the kiss.
Gradually, Lily eased her other arm around Frodo’s neck. Without breaking the sweet exploration of his kisses, she thrust her fingers into his curls, as she persisted in tenderly stroking her husband’s right shoulder and arm, down to the long fingers which held her waist, and back again to his shoulder.
Their breathing quickened when Frodo trembled under Lily’s unrelenting tender touch. He tightened his hold on his wife. Then he reminded himself to slow down and relax, warmly caressing Lily’s back with his right hand. He eased his left around her, pulling her closer.
Lily sighed, grateful for the soft bed, and vaguely recalled being concerned about a hard floor... then she reveled in centering on her lover’s touch. Wanting him to enjoy the same delicious feelings he gave her, she allowed her hand to roam down his arm to his waist, then delicately massaged his back. When he murmured his appreciation, she kissed his throat.
He answered her by gently kissing the tip of her ear, then easing his way down to her neck. He felt her sharp intake of breath deep within himself, as if it were his own, elated in the measured pursuit of pleasing her.
Each brought pleasure to the other, then more yet, until at last they were filled, and satisfied. They greeted the Sun locked in a loving embrace, breathless and full of the deep peace and joy they had come to cherish.
Frodo found it difficult to speak. “Good morning... Lily-sweet... thank you...”
She smiled back at him serenely, but her voice was unsteady as well. “Good morning, Frodo-love...”
They offered a shared prayer, their foreheads touching, grateful for the new day and for all their blessings. And when they ended the prayer, it was with a kiss.
The three Bagginses had finished luncheon and afters, and were enjoying a bright patch of sunshine in an alcove near Bilbo’s rooms. Frodo and Lily were seated opposite their uncle on a carved wooden bench, under the alders and birches. Elrond had the bench made especially for the elderly hobbit years ago, so his feet could rest on the ground easily.
Bilbo rocked slowly in the bent-willow rocking chair. “Lily, my dear, did Frodo ever tell you about his adoption?”
Bilbo’s question came from nowhere, and Lily smiled in spite of herself. Frodo was holding her hand, and he squeezed it gently, acknowledging her surprise at the non sequitur. His eyes seemed to remind her that Uncle Bilbo was after all getting on in years, and it was to be expected that at his age he would launch into a new topic of conversation with no preamble.
Frodo caught Bilbo’s grey-brown eyes twinkling at the memory of a story, and he leaned closer to Lily, whispering in her ear.
“Bilbo’s a master storyteller. Even the Elves sing his praises, not only hobbits... just wait.”
Lily covered her mouth to keep herself from giggling at Frodo’s obvious pride in his uncle. She endeavored to whisper, but giggled nonetheless.
“Frodo-love, I’ve heard him tell stories! I was at the grand party! He was wonderful!”
“Oh! That’s right! I’d forgotten!”
“We never met that night, so I forgive you, dearest,” she laughed softly, and kissed his cheek.
Bilbo overheard them, and guffawed. “You two lovebirds must think me deaf as a post! And where’s my kiss?”
“I’m sorry, Uncle Bilbo!” Lily giggled again. She stood, and leaned forward to kiss his soft cheek, then sat next to her husband once more.
Frodo took her hand, laughing. “Please pardon us, Uncle. We were carried away.”
Bilbo winked at them. “I can see that! Not blind, either, you know!” he smirked. “I’m in a storytelling mood and I’ve a captive audience, what a glorious day... Where was I? Oh! Frodo’s adoption...”
“I’m curious and eager to hear you tell the tale...” Lily grinned. “I trust you’ll share it with me?”
Bilbo rocked far back in his chair, gathering his thoughts. “Well... let me see now,” he finally began. “I’d visit Frodo from time to time at Brandy Hall, and he visited me at Bag End, of course. Frodo, do you still live there? I’m certain the Sackville-Bagginses are still steamed about that. It never went to them, did it?”
It was Frodo’s turn to smile broadly at the abrupt turn in the new tale. “No, Uncle. They’ve not got Bag End. It all worked out rather nicely.”
Bilbo seemed to have completely forgotten Frodo’s news of moving to Crickhollow before the Quest, and there was no point in grieving him with the truth of what the Travelers had found upon their return to the Shire.
Lily felt Frodo hesitate slightly as he made the decision. Then she felt his heart warm with love.
He continued softly, “It’s beautiful, just as you left it, Uncle. And now it belongs to Lily, as well.”
Suddenly Bilbo appeared wistful, and the couple started at the speed with which his mood changed. He looked away toward the nearby falls, then back, and his next question took them by surprise, his voice oddly hushed.
“And someday, it’ll belong to some new little Bagginses? I hope?”
Unprepared, Lily’s eyes misted with tears. Beside her, Frodo swallowed hard, and he laced his fingers into hers, holding her hand tightly.
“Yes, indeed, if Eru wills it, Uncle Bilbo... yes.” Frodo could not keep himself from kissing Lily’s cheek. “As many as He will grant to us.”
Lily only nodded at first. “Yes, dear Uncle, we pray for children. I feel sure of it... yes.” She smiled at Bilbo shyly, then at Frodo, but her smile was different for him: for her eyes had changed colour, the green within them revealing to her husband her deepest wishes and hopes and fears.
Their gazes held for a long moment, until a voice interrupted their reverie.
“Excellent!” Bilbo chuckled, as though the matter were very much settled. “I always did enjoy having the little ones about... well, not the little, little, squally ones, but the ones a little bit older, the ones that enjoy a good story, you know! What about that old Ring I gave you, Frodo? Do you still have it?”
Frodo sat bolt upright, every warm thought of having children with Lily chased from his mind as a strange ache filled him; but the desire seemed a vestige of what it had been before.
No, he decided. It was not real desire at all. It was his habitual reaction of many long years -- since even before the Quest -- to any mention of the Ring. The desire for It was dead within him. He could not feel the old incessant longing at all. It was gone.
Lily at first watched Frodo with alarm. His grip on her hand had gone so tight as to be painful. Then her fears lifted, and were given over to joy, for she knew what it was Frodo had just discovered.
The Ring had no hold on him, apart from his memories... Gandalf warned her they would ever be a part of him. But still she was happy for her husband, as he relaxed, and kissed her hand, and whispered, “I’m sorry if I hurt you, love.” She shook her head to assure him he had not.
Bilbo persisted. “Well, Frodo, I was wondering about that Ring...”
“I’m sorry, Uncle. I seem to have lost It.”
“Oh! A pity. I was hoping to see It, touch It, once more... Some other day, mayhap...”
He dozed off, and relief washed over Frodo. He sighed deeply.
“Oh, Lily. I -- I didn’t know what to say!”
His eyes were intensely blue, in their patch of sunlight amidst the shade trees. She met his gaze steadily.
“It was the best thing you could say, Frodo-love. I mean, would he really understand if you told him? And would it matter, after all? I don’t imagine he’ll remember anyway, and yet it might distress him terribly to know what truly became of It.”
Frodo searched her eyes so intently she nearly had to turn away. Between the purity there, and the beauty, she might weep, and now was not the time, nor the place.
“He isn’t healed, is he, Lily?” Frodo asked, blinking fiercely, as tears came to his own eyes for a different reason altogether. “He isn’t healed, as I am. Is he?”
Lily reached up to caress her husband’s cheek. “No, love. He isn’t.”
“It’s you. It’s the vows, the wedding. I wish I understood... I wish something could be done to help Bilbo, as well.”
“Beloved, his hurt was not nearly as deep as yours. He carried It a long time, but Its master was unaware of It. Not like you, who endured the torment of not only the Ring, but Its master as well. Bilbo is affected, to some extent, but his hurt never reached the depth yours did. I can see his spirit. He is not scarred, as you were.”
Lily lifted Frodo’s marred hand to her lips. “He lost a favourite trinket. Your soul was in the balance, and without healing... you would have been lost.”
Frodo finally tore his gaze away from his wife, blinking back his tears furiously; Bilbo had awakened.
“So, what were we talking about, Frodo-lad?”
“We -- we were talking about when you adopted me, Uncle. You’d been coming to see me at Brandy Hall, and I’d been enjoying my visits to Bag End, very much...”
“Ah! That’s right! Yes indeed, Frodo, you’re as sharp as ever, I always say.”
The older hobbit pondered for a moment. “Well,” he began, “after my adventure to the White Towers--”
“You’ve been to the Towers?” Lily did not hide the wonder in her voice.
“Indeed! And what an adventure that was! I hadn’t a clear idea of how long I’d be gone, but I’d never been there, and decided it was as good a time as any...” He came to himself again, noting the couple sitting side by side, unobtrusively holding hands. “Where was I again? Oh, yes, telling you about Frodo’s adoption.”
“I would like to hear about your adventure to the White Towers,” Lily smiled.
“You may read about it, if you like. I couldn’t resist. It’s in a nice rich brown leather book I titled Nothing of Note. It’s in the library in Bag End... Now, as I was saying. This was before you knew Frodo, my dear. In fact, he was only a tween. I was very careful to go about it legally, as I didn’t want any grief from the Sackville-Bagginses, you know.
“Frodo was quite surprised by my declaration, and not particularly comfortable with the notion at first. He decidedly needed time to get used to the idea, not to mention Hobbiton needing time to get used to him. Even though Frodo’s a Baggins, he’s also from Buckland, and I’m afraid that made him suspect in the eyes of the neighbors.
“I needed to find a way of introducing him without seeming to introduce him, you see... I finally decided to arrange for us to attend one of the monthly summer picnics. It’d give everyone, from Hobbiton to Bywater, and beyond, the opportunity to take a good look at the lad and meet him face to face, and see he truly was all right, and not harmed by his living in Buckland.
“I knew the gossips would have a field day, and I was certain the Sackville-Bagginses would make an appearance, especially if they learned Frodo was in attendance as well, as they didn’t know the lad particularly well.
“They didn’t disappoint me.” Bilbo laughed. He rocked forward in his chair and stopped, resting both hands and his chin on the head of his cane, his tone turning conspiratorial as he addressed himself to Lily.
Frodo looked on with quiet delight.
Bilbo glanced at him, then winked at Lily. “It was almost too much for our dear lad. He wasn’t used to being the topic of gossip, at least not so prominently, and it did get a bit tiresome answering the same questions over and over. One must be careful to overcome the longing to simply stand on a table and make a general announcement, for then it makes it plain and clear that you think your audience are all busybodies, when actually, many of them are simply curious and good hardworking folk...
“You should have seen them...” Bilbo closed his eyes in thought for a moment. “Who were the mainstays, again?” He opened his eyes and looked at Frodo. “I remember one was Lobelia’s neighbor, Opal Grubb...”
Frodo choked down a chuckle. “I don’t know, Uncle... I only remember green, brown and orange.”
“Green, Brown, and Orange? I don’t remember anyone by those names.”
“Not names,” Frodo laughed. “It was the colour of their aprons.”
“The colour of their aprons?”
“Yes. Remember we bet on which would reach Lobelia first, the one in the green apron, the one in the brown apron, or the one in the orange apron?”
Bilbo screwed up his face and stared afar off for a moment, then broke into a cackle. “Indeed! I remember now! There was a honey-crusted berry tart in the offing!”
“It was better than watching the pony races, and there were more hazards,” Bilbo chortled. “I was rooting for...”
“Brown,” Frodo reminded him. “And I was cheering for green.”
“And who won in the end? I can’t seem to remember...”
“Don’t tell me!” Lily burst out, and then giggled. “Let me read about it!”
“As you wish!” Frodo laughed.
“What an adventure that was!” Bilbo recalled enthusiastically. “You two ought to go for a walk, and I think I’ll take a good long nap.” The old hobbit yawned and stretched.
An Elf entered silently, bearing a tray laden with afternoon tea.
After tea, they left Bilbo napping, and stepped into the passageway.
Memories sought stealthy entrance into Frodo’s mind, as he recognized, for the first time since their arrival, something familiar about the door next to Bilbo’s. He stopped and stared, then lightly ran his right hand over the inlaid door, finally resting his fingers upon the handle, warily...
It was his room. His room, from when he first arrived in Rivendell that dreadful night. He could no longer hold back the memories, and they began to flood his mind, like the flood at the Ford of Bruinen... memories of the pain he had known here, then others: of healing, of love...
Lily searched her husband’s face.
As though in a trance, he tested the door, which silently swung open. He hesitated, then entered.
Lily followed him into the room, looking all about herself in wonder.
The headboard of the bed was a beautifully carved elf maiden, her arms outstretched, as though receiving the sleeper.
“Frodo?” Lily’s voice, only a whisper, sounded loud in the empty room.
Frodo let his hand smooth the coverlet along the edge of the bed. When he spoke, it was more to himself than his wife, as if endeavoring to convince himself of the reality of the past.
“This is where they brought me, after...”
“Weathertop?” Lily’s soft voice finished it.
Frodo glanced at her, then back at the bed. “Yes.” He sighed deeply. “Sam... Sam kept watch; I was told later. Sometimes he slept on the floor next to my bed, rather than be parted from me. All through the Quest, he was always there. He never allowed me to be alone, ever. Not even after...”
Frodo slowly sank to his knees, then sat on the floor. He pulled his knees up to his chest, wrapping his arms around them, and bent his head to hide his face. He began to rock back and forth, then to weep. Within moments, his silent tears turned to a torrent of wracking sobs.
Lily was at a loss as to what had happened. She knelt next to her husband on the floor, and wrapped her arms around him, aware of his pain.
He struggled to move away from her; she would not let him go, but he could not bring himself to lean into the comfort she offered. He rolled himself more tightly into a ball of abject misery.
Lily rocked with him, unable even to guess at what memories had been stirred.
Long moments passed, and when she could bear it no longer she softly whispered, “Frodo, I love you.”
Frodo’s head snapped up. “You can’t. You can’t! Not after what I’ve done!”
Lily was taken aback by the vehemence in his words, and by the wave of anguish she felt overwhelming him. She almost bolted to their room, but forced herself to stay, and swallowed hard. He had not taken this tone with her since the desperate days just prior to his terrible illness in March. “Frodo, what have you done?”
Frodo allowed his head to drop back onto his knees.
“What have you done?”
Her husband gulped for air in his struggle to find his voice.
“I betrayed him. I betrayed him...” Frodo angrily spat out the last words, “--for It.”
Lily quelled her growing fear as best she could. “Betrayed whom?”
Frodo sobbed again, and choked out, “Sam. I betrayed Sam!”
Lily’s brows drew together. “How did you betray Sam?”
Several more sobs escaped Frodo before he could reply. He could not look at her, but neither would she let him pull away. His voice was barely above a whisper, and filled with self-loathing as he gritted the words through his teeth.
“I wanted to kill him for the Ring. I envisioned him as a grasping orc, and with Sting, I would have cut his throat.”
Frodo’s shoulders slumped, his voice soft once again. “After all his devotion, all he did for me, all he gave for me, I wanted to kill him...”
Lily held back her own tears for him. “It wasn’t you, Frodo.”
“But, Lily, it was...”
“No, beloved, it was the Ring.”
Frodo wept and rocked himself again. “The sword was mine, in my hand...”
Lily touched his hand where it lay clenched around his knees, and continued gently, “But you didn’t do it.”
“I did in my heart!”
Frodo glanced up and searched his wife’s eyes, not knowing what he sought there. Forgiveness? Understanding? Or perhaps condemnation? “Just for a moment, Lily -- just for a moment, I did...”
“But you didn’t,” Lily assured him, as soothingly as she could.
Frodo shook his head. “Why? Why will you not accept the truth? Why are you trying to make it easy for me?”
“What do you mean? I know the truth, and I don’t believe it was easy for you at all.”
“No, I mean now... I told you at Weathertop I gave in to the Ring from the start. And--” His voice broke. “Oh, Lily, how grateful I was you accepted me in spite of it, but this--! This is not just about giving in to my desire for the Ring! This is about betraying my dearest friend for a worthless piece of gold!”
Lily started at his choice of words, hope flickering. “You know now what you did, and accept the responsibility. And then, you did fight It, Frodo. To the end, you fought It.”
His eyes turned an icy blue colour, and held an expression she had never seen before. His cheeks were flushed, the colour vivid against his fair skin.
“I did not fight It long enough! Not when it mattered most! I gave in! I gave in to the Ring. I wanted It, above all else. Even my friendship with Sam didn’t matter as much as the Ring.”
“But it did, Frodo! Your friendship with Sam won through, beyond your desire for the Ring, or Sam would be dead!”
Frodo stared at his wife, fighting unsuccessfully to control his breathing. “Lily, how can you be so -- so understanding?” he choked. “I betrayed my dearest friend.”
“He does not see it as a betrayal by you.”
“Sam does not believe you betrayed him, ever. He felt hurt, but not betrayed.”
“How do you know this?”
Lily took a deep breath and let it out slowly, and met the expression of wonder -- of hope -- in his eyes. “When he came to see me in Deephallow, he told me of the influence of the Ring.”
Frodo stopped rocking and blinked at her, stunned. “In February?”
“This last February?”
“You have known, all this time?”
Lily nodded and shifted, sitting on the floor next to him. She sighed heavily. “When Sam came to see me in February, I almost refused to see him. I was so confused. I -- I could not understand why you gave up so easily. At least, that’s how it seemed to me. I understood so much, and yet nothing at all. I was willing to listen to you, and to try, but you gave up. I truly was struggling to understand and be patient, but you -- you walked away, despite all my efforts... I wasn’t enough. I was so hurt.”
“I’m sorry,” Frodo whispered.
Lily smiled, softly. “Ilúvatar was surely watching over us, for I did agree to see Sam, after all. In truth, I hadn’t planned to say anything to him, beyond the merest of pleasantries, but then he asked after me, mentioning he knew I hadn’t been feeling well. Before I realized it, I found the question out of my mouth.”
“What question, Lily?”
“‘What is the darkness you carry?’”
Frodo’s eyes widened, and all his tears ceased. He was suddenly too surprised to cry.
Lily continued. “You and I had spoken a little of It, beloved, but I truly did not understand at all. I knew only It was there, drawing on you, and me... I did understand far more clearly, after those months together, before our marriage, but it was Sam who helped me at the start. He worried at first about betraying your trust, but decided you had given him permission to tell the story of the Quest to me, and this was part of the story. His uncertainty vanished when I -- when I explained fully how I felt about you.”
“You told Sam?”
“Yes. My heart told me he needed to know I was sincere. It still was not easy for him.”
“He saw more clearly...”
“His vision was not clouded by the Ring as yours was, beloved.”
“What did he tell you?”
“First, he explained his own experience with the Ring, and he told me of Its terrible power. How It affected everyone who held It, and even those who did not. He shared with me Boromir’s betrayal. He also told me what happened later in Mordor between the two of you -- he was not complaining -- only so I might better understand the full extent of the power It could wield.
“I found it all unbelievable, at first. I had seen the two of you together; and there’s no hint of the unpleasantness that transpired on the Quest. How could those awful things have happened and still there be such a deep, abiding friendship? I felt so confused. Sam spent the whole of the day with me, helping me to understand. He wanted me to know, for he felt certain that sooner or later you would endeavor to point to what happened as -- as proof of your failure, and he wanted me to know the truth; the truth unshadowed by the influence of the Ring.”
“Sam told you...”
Frodo sat staring as this wife for several moments, endeavoring to take in all she had said.
He opened his mouth, and closed it again, then took a deep breath and released it. “He forgives me... I know this, and yet it is so difficult to understand how he is able to do so. He placed all his trust in me; he trusted me to carry out the task... and I failed.”
“He still trusts you, my love, and he does not believe you failed.”
Lily covered her husband’s lips with her fingers before he could protest. “We’ll save that for another time. For the moment, we are speaking of Sam.”
She laid her hand on Frodo’s arm. “Did you forgive Boromir for trying to take the Ring from you?”
Frodo startled. “Of course. I knew he was not himself; it was the Ring.”
“And so does Sam forgive you, because it was the Ring...”
“Lily, I --” Tears welled in Frodo’s eyes again.
Hazel eyes searched blue. “Frodo, my dearest love, do not reject the gift Sam has already given you by dredging up the past.”
Frodo’s brows drew together. “How? How do I forget?”
Lily sighed heavily. “You do not forget.”
Confusion filled her husband’s face.
A soft smile touched Lily’s mouth, all her love for him shining within her eyes. “Dear one, let go of the anguish and bitter regret the memory brings. Let it be only a memory, a part of the past, without the feelings that tear at your heart. Please? For Sam. Honour him by accepting the forgiveness he gave long ago.”
Frodo stared harder at his wife, and time seemed to hang silent between them. Then he slowly nodded his head.
Lily opened her arms. Hesitantly, her husband accepted the warmth of her embrace, and released a shuddering breath.
They decided to retire to their room early and dine there, away from concerned and searching eyes. Felena arranged for their last two meals to be brought to them, Lily taking the tray at the door each time, shielding Frodo completely from view.
They spent their time quietly. Lily knew that above all else, Frodo needed time, first to remember what he had shut out for so long, and then to attempt to reconcile himself to those memories; she ensured he was given it, without interruption. At times he prayed, and when he could not, she prayed in his stead.
Sometimes he stood on their balcony alone and looked out over Rivendell. At other times, Lily stood next to him, at times beside him, and occasionally within his embrace. Whenever he reached for her, she was there.
When finally they turned in for the night, Lily wrapped her arms around her husband, kissing his brow. He held her tightly, and nestled his head against her. Only moments passed before he wept softly.
Lily held him closer, one arm wrapped around his shoulders; she slipped her other hand into his curls, and he closed his eyes in weary bliss at her touch.
She kissed his forehead softly, as his tears finally subsided, whispering, “All is well, beloved.”
Frodo only nodded against her and sighed, slipping into exhausted sleep.