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Sacrament

by CRB and Ladyhawk Baggins

28 July 1420sr

In the predawn hours, Lily woke. She nestled close to Frodo, enjoying the comfort of his arms wrapped snugly about her. Sleep eluded her, and she remembered the stories her sweetheart had shared with her the night before. With his tales, he painted in so much of the blank canvas she carried in her mind of the Quest.

He gave her a detailed account of the Company’s attempt to cross the great mountain Caradhras, and how it defeated them. She had gazed in wonder at Frodo; at the thought of a mountain conspiring against them for no other reason than that it could.

Her husband had spoken with awe and appreciation when recounting his memory of Boromir’s insistence they bring wood to battle the harshness of the fierce cold they would encounter. Boromir had shared with them his own adventures of traveling in the mountains of his country, and the hard lesson he had learned about adequate preparation for such journeys, when one was able.

After his mother had died, Boromir in his grief had run away, not knowing what to do or where to go to escape the loss he felt. He ran from the Houses of Healing, through the Silent Street, past the Hallows where the kings and stewards were buried, and had started up the eastern face of Mount Mindolluin. He nearly froze to death, for he felt himself falling asleep in the snow, even knowing that to do so meant certain death; but he could fight no longer. His father found him there, at the moment he was closing his eyes to rest. But rather than berate him for his foolishness, his father had cared for him and taken him home, then instructed him on proper preparation, showing him how to pack, including extra wood. He took him to the kitchens, to choose the best foods for such a venture. Then, when it was suitable, the two of them had hiked up the mountain a short way and camped for the night. It had been decided that Faramir was still too young to join them.

Frodo told her it was one of the few instances the Man of Gondor seemed to allow his guard down. The only other time he could recall was when Boromir had comforted him in Lothlórien -- when Frodo had been silently grieving the loss of Gandalf. His own thoughts of guilt and sorrow had almost overwhelmed him, but for the stern warrior’s willingness to share wisdom hard won in his war-torn country.

Lily did not question Frodo throughout most of his narrative, for he moved forward and back in the journey, seemingly at random, allowing one memory to call forth another. She had wanted to ask him more about the Watcher, but even with what little her husband had told her, he had shuddered down to his toes at the memory, and she allowed him to change the subject without hesitation.

He spoke of the wargs, and how Boromir’s instruction in sword play had come in handily. The Man, and in truth the other members of the Company, had all been surprised by the hobbits’ quickness in learning how to handle their swords, and to discover that hobbits were skilled with the bow, as well. Though Merry had lamented not being able to show them, they had agreed that when the Quest was finished, the hobbits would be allowed to demonstrate at the first opportunity. Frodo admitted it was possibly the only time anyone had spoken of the idea of the Quest ever being ‘finished’; too often they were simply worried about surviving one more day.

Boromir had praised their ability to defend themselves in the Mines of Moria, when they had had a moment to catch their breath after their fierce battle with the orcs and cave-troll. He confessed to worrying the hobbits would be a liability, but they had proved themselves well, and he openly expressed his pride in them.

Frodo touched only a little on the long trip down the River Anduin; he admitted to noticing briefly a growing unrest within Boromir, but the Ring was increasingly worrying his own mind. He sighed then, and Lily had felt his discouragement.

Then her husband had turned further back, to his memory of meeting Boromir outside the Council in Rivendell, for the first time.

“We five hobbits were talking with Gandalf, before dinner, it was,” Frodo had remembered. “I think Boromir came upon us unexpectedly, for he apologized for intruding and made to leave, but Gandalf invited him to join us, going so far as to take Boromir by the arm and draw him into our group.”

Frodo had chuckled at the memory. “He was, in fact, obviously uncomfortable, though I think it was mostly because he didn’t know quite what to make of us. Gandalf made the proper introductions, and Merry and Pippin were quick to welcome him, as is their way. Then he apologized to me, Lily...”

She had glanced into her husband’s eyes, questioningly.

“He worried he’d spoken too -- strongly at the Council, and possibly caused me pain or alarm. How could I be angry with him? We had all learned things that were new, and for which we were woefully unprepared...”

Frodo earnestly sought Lily’s compassionate gaze. “We understood each other, in a way, even then.”

His wife’s gentle smile reassured him, and he continued.

“Pippin wanted to know the meaning of Boromir’s name, and so, of course, without hesitation, he asked him. I think our Man of Gondor was greatly amused, particularly as he admitted he himself had not given it much thought, but it gave him an opportunity to speak of his beloved city, for which I believe he was very glad, indeed. How he loved the White City...”

“The White City is Minas Tirith? Do I remember correctly?” Lily asked.

“Yes, you remember rightly.”

“Mayhap, he loved it too well?” Lily wondered.

“Mayhap, for it was difficult for him to see how staying away from it was better... perhaps --” Frodo paused, and sighed “-- perhaps I should have been more forthcoming with him, and told him how I needed to leave the Shire to keep it safe. I see now that it was no different for him, but we never spoke of such things.”

“Sometimes,” Lily observed, “in our efforts to protect others, we keep secret from them the very things they need to hear.” Lily searched her husband’s face. “Will there be secrets between us?”

Frodo returned her steady gaze, the silence between them stretching, then he sighed heavily. “There should be no secrets, but how do I tell you everything? I can’t even remember everything.”

A sudden smile touched his wife’s lips. “And how could I ever surprise you -- on my birthday, for example -- if I never kept anything back from you? Perhaps, it is in the intention. With surprises, they will be revealed. And whether or not you drank a glass of water in the night or not, for instance, is of no consequence, and certainly doesn’t need telling... those are not secrets. Secrets are --”

Lily searched her mind for the words. “Secrets are intended to remain hidden, in the dark. They cast shadows where shadows should not be.”

She took her husband’s hands in her own, and searched his eyes. “I believe you will tell me everything you need to, in time.”

Worry creased Frodo’s brow. “Mayhap I should have told you much more, and much sooner.”

“Were either of us strong enough?”

“I don’t know.”

“Neither do I, but the story is unfolding now, and we are both able to bear it, and that is all that matters.”

Their conversation had lasted late into the night and had led naturally into prayers of gratitude, and then to sweet sleep, until Lily’s early waking. The Sun had not yet risen; she assured herself all was well, and drifted back to sleep.

---------

Frodo and Lily slept through firsties, then over secondies they discussed how to spend the day. It was agreed they would join Bilbo for tea.

“Sweet, I’m wondering what we could see before tea; there is so much to take in, here...”

“I wish I could be of more help,” Lily replied almost absently. She sat at the small vanity in their dressing room, brushing her long waves into a shine. Smiling softly, she met her husband’s blue eyes in the mirror’s reflection as he stood behind her. He returned her smile, then chortled, shaking his head.

“You have no idea how lovely you are, dearest wife, and how alluring. I want --”

He wanted to touch her hair, and go on touching her, but he forced his mind to other thoughts. It was best they get out and about, as the day was running away from them, and Bilbo would miss them, if they stayed in their room and ‘let nature take the shortest path,’ as dear Sam was wont to say. Not that loving Lily was anything like a waste of time. No, he smiled to himself; and she had caught his smile in the mirror once more. Hardly a waste; it was quite the opposite. But he was procrastinating. He fastened the top button of his shirt, a silk of dark forest green. Then he started on the cuff buttons, but stopped.

“Lily-sweet, what say you we explore the conservatory? I believe we were distracted a few days ago...”

“In more ways than one,” Lily giggled, then straightened. “I should like that very much.” She turned around on the vanity seat, facing her husband, then stood, and kissed Frodo’s cheek as chastely as she could. She had felt his thoughts as she brushed her hair, both the desire to stay and the wish to explore. She did not want to tempt him into staying in the room for now; there would be time enough for them, she knew. She nearly told Frodo how beautiful the green silk shirt was on him, but her thoughts were such that if she told him --

Lily struggled to keep from smiling to herself. What she wanted to tell him was a surprise, not a secret, and it could wait for the morrow.

They stealthily made their way to the conservatory, not wanting to be waylaid, and came to the place undisturbed.

As Frodo read aloud to Lily, side by side at a table, their feet dangling, she thought about all the things he had taught her. The world was so much larger, and the heavens were so much more than she had ever dreamed or imagined. Frodo had taught her to look for the star Eärendil. He had told her so many stories of the Elves. He had even spoken a little bit about Melkor, and Morgoth. He did not like to speak of them as much, and Lily was just as happy for it. But Frodo had told her that the good that existed had always had to fight against evil. It had always been so, ever since Melkor had defied Ilúvatar. It would go on until the Last Days. Even the Elves did not know when that would be.

“Lily?”

She sighed, then blinked. “Yes, love?”

Frodo smiled. “Ah, you’re daydreaming...”

“I’m sorry, love. It’s so beautiful here, and your voice is lovely, and I was lulled. I was thinking of how much you’ve taught me.”

Frodo lay the volume down and took his wife’s hands into his own, and kissed them. “You have taught me also, Lily-sweet. So much, and so patiently, and so very well...”

Then he kissed her mouth, and their study was forgotten for a time.

---------

After dinner, the hobbits joined the Elves in the Hall of Fire for more music. Frodo translated for Lily. Her eyes flew open in delighted surprise at the first strains of one song.

“You need not translate this one for me, Frodo-love. I know the story of Beren and Lúthien.”

Frodo grinned, pleased.

The evening waned, and the couple quietly slipped away long before the singing was over, still weary from their long chat the night before.

After their prayer, their goodnight kiss deepened unexpectedly, and they were lost once again.

Frodo pulled back from their kiss. “You make me feel -- whole. I wish I could think of better words. They are never enough, beloved.”

“Mmm,” Lily sighed, and nestled against him. “I love you, dearest.”

Frodo watched her eyes flutter open, then shut again; it was difficult to see her in the dark of their room, but he could see her well enough.

“You are weary, sweet,” he soothed. “Rest now. I adore you, and my love can wait... barely.”

She heard the light teasing in his voice, and smiled, her eyes heavy.

“I shall sleep, love... you promise not to wait too long?” Her last words trailed off.

“I promise not to wait too long,” Frodo repeated softly. He felt a surge of love for her. It still surprised him, the depth and breadth of it...

Lily shifted, draping herself over him; she knew he enjoyed and appreciated this, especially when they were both weary and yet still desired one another’s touch.

She sensed again the deep passion of his adoration for her, and wonder touched her heart. It had frightened her in the beginning, those first few days of their niwealdor, until she understood; it was simply the intensity of his feelings for her. Then she found it comforting, and very soon thrilling, as well.

Frodo nearly laughed aloud at the silly little smile on his lover’s face, but she was already asleep in his arms, and he did not wish to disturb her. He would wait, happily. This was bliss.

Breathing in the perfume of her hair, he gently kissed the top of her head. Finally he gave himself over to sleep, and no dark dreams troubled him.

---------

29 July 1420sr

Frodo took the rare opportunity to wake his wife with gentle caresses. He preferred to let her sleep as long as she would, but after all that had been shared between them the last several days he wanted to show her how much he appreciated her.

He sat up slowly, hoping not to disturb her just yet. He would know soon enough if she preferred to sleep; she would tell him the truth, either in words, or with her body. Their vows to be honest in all things, taken at their wedding, and renewed each week, extended even to these small moments. There had not been very many times when she had chosen sleep over sharing love, but even once was enough for him to realize his wife might not feel exactly as he did at any given moment.

She lay on her side, facing away from him, and her soft skin was an open invitation, calling him toward her. The night before had been unexpectedly warm; it was still warm. She was still warm, though the morning chill would soon require some cover.

Frodo smiled; his thoughts brought to mind the first afternoon of their niwealdor, and the first time he was allowed to see her back, as he had methodically unfastened all those buttons on her gown... He kissed the center of all that loveliness, lightly, as he knew she delighted in being kissed there.

She tasted so good -- ! He kissed her again and again, deliberately, softly, until he was kissing the nape of her neck, and the sweet scent of her auburn curls nearly took away all his resolve to wait for her response. He lay down again, sighing quietly to himself, but edged closer to her, until they were touching, his body against hers.

He felt the tiny thrill of Lily’s response to this contact. Her breathing changed, and then caught, once.

“Mmm...” she mumbled, and Frodo whispered in reply, determined to keep his voice neutral.

“Would you rather sleep, dearest love? We have all eternity together, so truly, I can wait...”

She heard the smile in his tone, and knew he had caught the humour in his own words only after they were spoken aloud. She also knew he was completely serious.

Lily turned toward her beloved, and returned his gentle, welcoming expression. His eyes at this moment seemed to hold more light within them than the haze of the early morning twilight in their room.

She placed his hand on her waist, and trembled slightly at the warmth of his touch, then lifted her hand to caress his ear and play with the chestnut locks she adored, watching the light in his eyes increase as he gazed down upon her. Finally his eyes closed, as if the love within her own glance was too much to bear, and at the same moment his lips parted slightly.

Lily covered his mouth with hers, and exulted in his reaction to her kiss. It was like adding fuel to a fire, and her passing thought of engaging in morning small talk vanished. Her husband kissed her deeply in return, until her breath was nearly gone.

“I may take that as a ‘yes’?” he murmured against her lips, aware of his blood rushing within him, his heart beating faster than before.

“Indeed,” she laughed breathlessly. Escaping his hold, she rained her own gentle caresses upon his throat and chest, thoroughly enjoying the sounds they evoked.

“Please don’t stop, Lily,” was all he could manage to say, and then no more words passed between them.

Lily happily accepted her lover’s tender attentions, and reveled in returning the pleasure he offered her.

---------

“You are irrevocably tied to me, Mistress Baggins,” Frodo sighed, wanting to voice the deep bond he felt with her.

A soft giggle escaped Lily. “And a very good thing it is indeed, Mister Baggins, for I should be lost without you...”

“And I without you...”

“I love you,” Lily whispered.

“I love you so much,” Frodo smiled, sensing a game had begun.

“I love you so much more.”

“I love you ever so much more.”

“I love you forever, so much more.”

“I love you for ever and ever,” he intoned solemnly, and then he laughed; and yet his voice still held some yearning. “So much more...”

Lily laughed, finally, and Frodo held her tightly, his emotions mixed, desire side by side with joy, and a slight fear of loss.

“Frodo-love, you win this time.” She kissed his neck, and nestled closer.

He breathed in sharply at her caress, then slowly released it. “As long as you are with me, nothing more do I need.”

“And I you, beloved.”

They settled close once more for the short time left to them before firsties.

---------

Quietly, they prepared for second breakfast. Frodo slipped into his coat, examined himself for a moment in the slender mirror, then looked more closely at the Elven-craft before him. The looking-glass was held in place by hundreds of intricately carved leaves. It appeared to be cherry wood. Frodo touched the carvings, the leaves cool beneath his fingers. He sighed at the exquisiteness of it, then turned back toward Lily.

He caught sight of his wife tying the laces of her favourite green vest, and then smoothing her skirts with her hands. She turned a warm smile to him.

“Lily, you are so beautiful.”

Lily blushed, then let her eyes sweep over him and caught her breath. The clothes the Elves provided suited him perfectly. He was dressed in a deep wine-coloured morning coat, which set off his eyes, his luminescent skin, and his dark curls.

Frodo was surprised by her deepening blush; he was quite certain he hadn’t said or done anything. “Lily, what is it?”

“I -- there is something I have wanted to tell you, since long before we were married... in truth, since the first time I met you...”

Frodo’s brows drew together. “What is it?”

“It’s -- well, it’s...” Lily continued to blush, and started to fidget.

Frodo grew concerned. “Lily, darling, whatever it is, you know you can tell me.”

Lily’s eyes grew wide. “I know -- Oh, no, Frodo, it’s not anything wrong, it’s just that... I hadn’t told you before the wedding because I did not want you to think I was marrying you only because of it.”

“Because of what?” Frodo endeavored to relax, but he still felt guarded. He reminded himself that she said it was not bad, but then why was she so nervous? What would she possibly have kept from him before they married?

“Frodo, dearest...” Lily stepped close to him and focused for a moment on the top button of his waistcoat, trying to calm herself. She noted that Frodo’s right hand was still holding his coat at his waist where he had straightened it. She lightly laid her left hand atop his right, and watched as he turned his hand to grasp hers, gently lifting it to his lips. Softly he kissed the back of her hand, and she raised her eyes to meet his, their morning love fresh in her heart and mind; it was distracting.

She carefully controlled her breathing. “You tell me so often I am beautiful...”

Frodo smiled. “You are.”

Lily blushed softly. “Thank you.” She sighed. “I have wanted so many times to tell you the same thing.”

She expected the quizzical look that appeared on Frodo’s face, and giggled. With her right hand she reached up and lightly touched his cheek. She allowed her eyes to roam across the features of his face, her tone turning serious once more. “You are so beautiful.” She smoothed his furrowed brow with her fingertips. “Yes, dearest, you are truly beautiful.”

Frodo nearly laughed, but stopped just in time when he realized she was in earnest. “What are you talking about?”

“You don’t believe me?” She was not hurt, but she wanted him to accept her words.

Frodo thought a moment. “I don’t know as it has anything to do with belief. I do know you love me.” He paused, and blushed slightly. “But that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m actually -- beautiful.” He was uncomfortable even saying the word in reference to himself.

Lily led him back to the mirror and placed him in front of it. Frodo’s face was a picture of questioning. She sighed. “You don’t see it, do you?”

He shrugged and shook his head, but continued to look into the mirror, endeavoring to see what his wife did.

Lily wanted to be understood, and thought for a moment before settling on a different approach. “Do you believe I can see the beauty in the world around me?”

Frodo turned to her and smiled. “That is one of the things I love about you.”

Lily blushed, and then continued. “Let me explain it another way, and then mayhap you shall see what I mean. My father was not an especially handsome sort; he was ordinary-looking -- I loved him very much -- but I knew he was not beautiful to the rest of the world.” She smiled to herself. “Though he was in my mother’s eyes.”

Frodo raised his eyebrows; she had just proved his point.

She laughed softly. “But it isn’t the same, Frodo-love... My father’s beauty grew in my mother’s eyes as their love deepened. But you... The first time I saw you... I could not tell you before; I worried you might think it my only reason for marrying you. Do you believe I can recognize the difference between that which is truly beautiful and that which is not?”

“Yes.” Frodo looked back into the mirror. “I will try to take your word for it, though I still cannot understand what you see.”

Lily now stood just behind him and a little to the side. She caught his eyes in the mirror. “Then for my sake, even if you cannot understand it, would you simply take it on faith?”

She smiled at the puzzled look on Frodo’s face.

“I will believe you, though I cannot see it myself. Lily, really it is just an ordinary face, two eyes, a nose, a mouth...”

Lily smiled and stepped in front of him, studying his face. “Be that as it may, there’s a harmony about them which makes them pleasing to the eye.” She lightly traced her finger across his brow, down his nose and over his lips. He kissed her finger, lost for a moment in the love borne by her touch; Lily sighed deeply, and concentrated on what she wished to say. “And yet there is something more, something that comes from within... You are so beautiful.”

Frodo blushed. “Thank you.” He smiled and gazed into her eyes, “It’s the company I keep -- it brings out the best in me, you know.”

Lily giggled. “Is it all right if I tell you from time to time?”

Frodo fairly squirmed with discomfort. Lily saw it and smiled, and continued to look at him hopefully.

Finally, he nodded and smiled back. “Just not too often.”

Lily sighed. “As you wish.”

Frodo was eager to turn the conversation somewhere else -- anywhere else. He offered Lily his arm as he asked, “Are you ready for breakfast?”

---------

They spent part of the day in the conservatory, Frodo reading more history aloud. At his insistence, Lily would stop him in order to ask questions about any part she wished to understand better. If he did not know the answer, she would write it down to ask Elrond at a later time.

Frodo stopped reading in mid-sentence; Lily finished writing out a query and looked up at him, meeting his eyes and feeling his hesitation.

“Lily?”

“Yes, Frodo-love, what is it?”

“It’s difficult for me to say this...”

“What is it, dearest? You know you may tell me anything. Come, you are worried, I feel it...” She laid her left hand within his right.

Frodo continued to meet her eyes. “Beauty fades, Lily. It passes. Will you -- I’m sorry to ask, but I must --”

She knew now what he would ask. “Go on, love. It’s all right.”

“I need to know you’ll still love me when we are older, when beauty fades, Lily...”

“Oh, dear heart!” She slipped her arms around him and held him tightly, waiting for the feel of his arms about her, which came very soon. She laid her head against his breast, and he stroked her hair.

“Of course, Frodo-love, of course. Oh, dear -- I have made you worry, by telling you how beautiful you are!”

He was silent, but she felt the nod of his head, his cheek resting upon her hair.

“Of course the beauty without will fade, in both of us. I know you will love me then, as you do now, Frodo. I love the beauty within you far more than the beauty without. You are like no one else, no one...”

“I love you, Lily,” he sighed. “Since the Quest, I -- my spirit feels whole now, with you, and with the knowledge that the Creator cares so much for us. But there was a time when everything within me was darkness, Lily --”

He pulled back, and cradled her face in his palms, as if begging her not to miss a single word.

“There was no Light within me, and certainly no beauty. So many times I wanted only to lie down and die. Without Sam --” Frodo stopped, and placed his hands on Lily’s shoulders, searching her steady gaze.

“Sam held me to life. He held me to life, Lily, my own, my love...”

Tears stung his eyes, and he drew her close again, embracing her tightly.

“I feel beautiful with you, Lily. Tell me again that the darkness is truly gone. Tell me you cannot see it.”

Lily pulled back gently. Her eyes were clear, and hints of blue shone within the hazel colour Frodo loved.

“There is no darkness, Frodo. None. You must believe it. You must believe me. And believe, as well, that I would love you even if I were blind, and could not see your outward beauty at all.”

She watched a tear fall, and kissed her lover’s cheek.

He shuddered beneath her caress. “Don’t speak of such an unfortunate thing, Lily!” he whispered urgently. “Please --”

“Of course, love, I understand, and I shan’t speak of it after this. But you would love me as much if I were blind, would you not?”

More tears pooled, showing blue-green within his eyes. “Yes, Lily, yes, I would still love you, just as much. It is only that there is so much more I want you to see. But no matter, I would take care of you, and would love you, always...”

He kissed her mouth, once, twice, thrice, and she sighed within his arms.

“Everything will be all right,” she murmured, and her own tears fell. She let Frodo wipe them away, before he kissed her again.

“Yes, beloved,” came the reply, his voice unsteady.

---------

Bilbo found them bent over a map in one of the books.

“Come along, you two, time to get out and about a bit. Walk with me.” He offered his arm to Lily. “Don’t look at me like that, Frodo-lad. You get to take her home with you! You’d not begrudge an old hobbit the pleasure of a pretty lass’s company?”

Frodo laughed out loud. “Dear Bilbo, with such a forlorn look on your face, how could I possibly deny you? That is, if Lily doesn’t mind.”

“Only this once,” Lily replied severely, then giggled. “Where are we going, Uncle Bilbo?”

“To one of my favourite places in Rivendell, my dear. I found it only just this past spring, so even Frodo hasn’t seen it.”

“But you’ve lived here all this time,” Lily replied, surprised. “How could you not have found it before now?”

“The place is more empty and open to exploring, of late. Come along.” He took a firm hold of Lily’s arm and guided her out of the conservatory, with Frodo following close behind.

They wandered through the passageways, turning left, then right, then left again, winding their way to the far side of Rivendell. The sound of the falls was muted and far away when finally Bilbo slowed to a stop.

The old hobbit was slightly winded, but he gave Lily a sidelong glance and grinned. “It’s beyond this hedge.” Then he stepped through an opening just large enough for a hobbit.

Lily stepped through, with Frodo close behind her.

She gasped. “Oh, Bilbo, it’s beautiful! Frodo, look at all the butterflies! I’ve never seen so many different kinds all in one place.”

“Yes,” Bilbo beamed proudly. “It’s a butterfly garden.”

“A butterfly garden?” Frodo wondered aloud.

“Yes, Elrond is quite proud of it, you know,” Bilbo continued. “By collecting a variety of flowers, different butterflies are attracted. He created it for his wife, Celebrían.”

“His wife? I haven’t met her,” Lily stated.

“No... she left for the West, long ago.”

Lily’s surprise was apparent, but she sensed something left unrevealed in Bilbo’s words. “Without Elrond?” she queried softly.

“She could no longer endure the sorrows of this world.”

Lily heard in Bilbo’s voice an attempt to keep his own emotions at bay. She murmured aloud what she sensed he felt, and what her husband beside her felt, as well, for she could not keep the emotion hidden. “How terribly sad that sounds.”

“Indeed,” Bilbo reflected somberly. He turned his attention back to the butterflies, then brightened.

“Elrond wondered why it took me so long to discover this garden. He thought I should have found it much sooner, being the famous Burglar Bilbo Baggins. I told him that if he expected me to find things, then next time he ought to send along a dozen dwarves and a wizard.”

The old hobbit laughed until he was out of breath, and Frodo went giddy with laughter, tears forming in his eyes.

Lily only smiled, looking from one to the other, and wondering what she had missed.

Frodo caught her expression. “Never fear, Lily... I’ll -- I’ll explain... Oh, I’m getting a stitch!”

“Actually, I want to tell it, Frodo-lad! Goodness me, I need to sit for a bit. There,” he pointed, “chairs and a table set for a tea... well, nearly,” he squinted, peering at the table setting. “I believe it’s ready and waiting for us, even if a bit early.”

Lily smiled wonderingly. “Everything is our size.”

Bilbo grinned in reply. “The Elves are gracious hosts, when they choose to be, and they’re very fond of the two of you!”

Lily blushed. “They hardly know me at all.”

Frodo laid a hand on his wife’s arm. “You have brought me joy, and that is all that matters.”

“Indeed,” Bilbo agreed. “Now, best we start before it gets cold. If you’d be so kind as to pour, dear Lily.”

Bilbo noticed Frodo adding sugar to Lily’s tea for her, suddenly feeling as though he were intruding on a private moment. He smiled at the couple as the moment passed, and joined them as they sipped their tea.

“Much better, much, much better,” Bilbo mumbled, almost to himself. “These Elves... they didn’t know how to make a decent pot of tea till I taught them. But notice, they forgot the cakes. I keep telling them that tea means tea and cakes, but they never seem to listen! I think they’re actually trying to keep me trim; imagine that!” he laughed.

“They are a bit stubborn then, the Elves?” Lily queried.

“Oh, yes indeed, my dear Lily,” Bilbo replied, and Frodo chortled, between sips of tea.

“Tell us more, Uncle Bilbo,” he prompted.

Then the old hobbit proceeded to regale the couple with tales of his adventures, minor as they were, since leaving the Shire, after the Long Expected Party. And though Frodo already knew the stories, he gave no indication of it.

“Frodo-lad,” Bilbo lamented, “you must be bored stiff listening to all this again.”

“Oh, no, dear Uncle,” Frodo smiled. “Not in the least, for now I am afforded the opportunity to hear the stories and see them through my dearest Lily’s eyes.”

“She does have a way of making things--” Bilbo pursed his lips “--fresh!”

“Like spring.” Frodo could not hide his pride in his blushing wife.

“There! We’ve embarrassed her,” Bilbo chastised. “No need, my dear, especially as it’s the truth, plain and simple.”

Lily giggled, then her smile faded. She closed her eyes and touched her hand to her forehead.

“Lily?” Frodo’s voice reflected his concern. “Lily, what is it? Are you all right? What’s wrong?”

“I -- I don’t know. I feel -- I feel faint...”

“What time is it?” Frodo glanced at the sky overhead. “It’s difficult to tell here...”

“It isn’t late,” Bilbo assured. “We haven’t missed dinner.”

“Dinner? What of tea? This is nowhere near a proper one...” Frodo endeavored to control his increasing panic.

“Tea is long past, my lad,” Bilbo declared.

“Dear Lily,” Frodo murmured. “I’m so very sorry. I must get you something to eat, and quickly.”

Frodo glanced around the glade. “Bilbo, is there a quicker way back than the way we came?”

“None that I’m aware of -- I’ve never looked for one.” Bilbo was puzzled. “Is she all right, lad? What can I do to help?”

“Please, Uncle, stay with Lily. I’ll return momentarily.” Frodo searched his wife’s eyes. “Just rest, dearest. I’ll return shortly -- no, no, stay where you are, and rest. It’ll be better this way.” He swiftly kissed her cheek and slipped through the hedge.

“I’m sorry, Uncle Bilbo,” Lily berated herself. Her speech was measured, and slow. “I -- I should have been more careful, and paid... closer attention to the time. But it’s so difficult here to do that... it seems almost -- almost as though time is different here.”

“Indeed,” Bilbo agreed, feeling more helpless than he cared to admit. “Why not lay your head down, child, that is, if it will help... Here, let me move aside the tea tray. There, now. That’s the way...”

He watched as Lily laid her head on her forearms and closed her eyes.

In less than quarter of an hour, Frodo slipped through the hedge, panting, as he endeavored to catch his breath.

“You must have run the whole way!” Bilbo declared.

Frodo gulped some air as he sat next to Lily and gently roused her, enough to feed her several bites of cheese. Then, as she showed signs of recovering, he placed the rest of the round in her hand to finish for herself, as he fished out of his coat pockets brown bread, a pear, and a flask of apple cider.

As Lily revived, she became aware of the concern etched deeply on Frodo’s face, as well as the worry in Bilbo’s eyes.

“I’m so sorry,” she offered. “I didn’t mean to--”

“Shhh,” Frodo soothed. “You are all right, now. It seems I’ve gotten out of the habit of stowing apples in my pocket,” he added ruefully.

“Are you quite all right, my dear?” Bilbo leaned close and patted her hand. He sighed with obvious relief.

“Yes, Uncle Bilbo, thank you.”

Frodo relaxed visibly, but kept his eyes on her. “She’s a true hobbit, Uncle: she can’t miss a single meal.”

Lily smiled wanly. “I have become far too pampered here.”

Bilbo sat back and grinned, “An easy enough thing to happen in Rivendell...” He paused, then observed quietly, “You take care of each other...”

“Yes,” the couple chorused, and smiled.

“I hope it didn’t ruin the afternoon for you,” Bilbo asserted.

“Not in the least,” Lily assured. “And I hope we may visit this garden again soon. There is so much to see.”

“Of course you may,” Bilbo chuckled, relieved to be back on comfortable footing. “You must! There is indeed so much to see here, my dear... We could explore Rivendell for a month, and not see it all.”

“Thank you, Uncle,” Frodo added. “Lily, are you able to walk now, love? Do you feel strong enough to go back?”

“Yes, love, I’m quite myself again,” she blushed.

“Take my arm, then, sweet,” Frodo offered, “and we shall take a very easy stroll back to our rooms.”

“But I never heard about all those Dwarves, and the wizard...”

“It will keep,” Frodo chuckled.