Over second breakfast, in the feasting hall, Frodo told Lily of the day Merry, Pippin and Lord Faramir exchanged fond stories of his older brother.
Frodo smiled. “We were still in Minas Tirith, celebrating the coronation of King Elessar, his wedding to Lady Arwen, and then Faramir’s wedding to Eowyn of Rohan. It was a happy time, indeed... and we were able to tell a few tales to Faramir he had never heard, about his beloved brother... he hung on every word, and in turn, my cousins could not get enough stories about Boromir... I enjoyed hearing them too, very much...”
His voice had become wistful, and he looked down at his hands as they cradled the teacup. He was surprised to see his maimed finger now for what it was; since his marriage to Lily, he had gradually seen his right hand as normal, forgetting it had actually once been whole. He felt Lily’s concern at his quietness.
Then he looked harder at his hands.
“Lily -- look!” he exclaimed, his pleasure genuine. “I can scarcely believe my eyes! Look at my hands!”
“I’m looking, love... what is it? Oh! --” She took his hands into her own, across the short expanse of their special table, and smiled inwardly.
Lily raised her eyes to meet the bright light within her husband’s, and endeavored to keep her tone serious, for his excitement was real. She was only amazed at how long it had taken him to notice the progress he’d made. Truly, he was not aware of himself...
She bit her lip before speaking, still hiding a smile. “Why, Frodo-love, you shall have to trim your fingernails! They’ve grown!”
Frodo’s mouth hung open, and his brow furrowed, even as he smiled. He remembered to close his mouth, but his eyes were still wide with surprise. “When did this happen?”
Lily giggled. “We’ve been very busy these past few weeks, Frodo-love. If you’re not nibbling on your hands, you don’t pay much mind to them, do you, dearest?”
“I -- I -- apparently not!” Frodo grinned, and looked at his wife. “I’ve had something much better to nib-- to occupy me, than my hands...”
He tore his gaze away from the twinkle in her eyes, and inspected his fingernails again, turning his hands over several times, as if to verify the reality of what he saw.
“I haven’t wanted to bring up the subject, Frodo-love, since you seemed to be doing so well. I thought it might... well, set you off again? I wasn’t at all sure. So I kept quiet... but dear Frodo, I look at your hands every day, often... They are beautiful, your hands. I love them. I love everything about them...”
She took his hands again into her own, and slowly kissed each fingertip, paying special attention to the space where his finger should have been.
“Lily!” Frodo protested, but only halfheartedly. He knew the Elves were not bound by any of the hobbits’ social mores, and her kisses drew no attention, here in the feasting hall.
Suddenly his expression changed.
“Will you help me? I’ve never done this before...”
“Trimmed my fingernails... I’ve never had any to trim! Not since... well, not since I was twelve, truth be told.”
Lily understood. “I would be more than happy to show you how to trim them, and better yet, I’d be more than happy to do it myself, but only on one condition.”
He gave her their private smile. “And that is -- ?”
“Afterward, you must allow me to kiss your hands for as long as I wish...”
She giggled at his expression, by turns impish and knowing.
“I happily accept the terms. How soon? Today?”
Lily grinned at his enthusiasm. “Of course, love. Anytime you wish.”
“Now. After our secondies... as soon as we’re done with our tea?”
“But I was hoping to hear what Merry and Pippin were saying to Faramir!”
“Oh, yes! Forgive me, sweet. I’m -- yes, now, where were we? Oh, yes! Well... I wish you could have seen Merry! And the look on Faramir’s face, when my dear cousin accused him of not properly educating his older brother.”
“Was he terribly put out?” Lily wondered, wide eyed.
“I don’t think he was angry, so much as speechless.”
“Merry certainly is very capable of making a person feel that way,” Lily sympathized.
“Indeed,” Frodo smiled. “Merry had shaken his head in dismay that the son of a steward should embark on such a momentous journey so woefully unprepared!”
“I can well imagine Faramir’s discomfort at having his brother spoken of in such a manner. Though I’m certain Merry was referring to something nonsensical?” Lily raised her brows.
“You know him too well, my dear. Faramir almost sputtered, but for his gracious nature, when Merry announced that he had been required to teach Boromir to juggle!”
Lily laughed out loud, then quickly covered her mouth to stifle the sound from echoing in the hall. “When did this happen?”
“While we were still in Rivendell. Boromir was becoming increasingly impatient to be on his way...” Frodo stared across the room, unseeing.
“Frodo?” Lily gently covered his hand on the table with her own.
Slowly, he returned his gaze to his wife’s face. “Merry -- I have spent most of my life seeing him and Pip as scamps, but in truth Merry is remarkably astute...”
“So is Pippin,” Lily smiled. “They hide it well, behind their jovial manner.”
“Yes, they do. I suppose their mischievousness landed them in enough trouble to shadow their...”
“Understanding natures,” Lily finished. “Pippin isn’t yet out of his tweens...”
“No, and they have both seen far too much...”
“Frodo-love, tell me more of the juggling lessons. Why had Boromir never learned?”
“Merry was able to draw out that Faramir was good at juggling. As a child, he’d seen a young boy, younger than himself, in the garrison playing at it, then taught himself, when a snowstorm from off the mountains kept them all indoors for three days. He admitted that at the time, Boromir thought it childish, and lacking in merit. He has -- had a very serious side... In truth, Faramir does as well, but they expressed it differently... perhaps it was, in part, learned because they were schooled from a very young age in the serious business of protecting their people...”
Frodo smiled, and decided to keep his sadness at bay. “As it was,” he continued, “Merry had rolled his eyes in agreement, reporting that Boromir had said much the same to him. Then Faramir wondered how Merry had managed to change Boromir’s mind, and my dear cousin had explained that it was a practiced skill which required a great deal of coordination, manual dexterity and agility -- not to mention keen eyesight -- and that not everyone was suited to mastering its finer points. And by this time, Lily, Pippin was laughing so hard at Merry’s story that he nearly choked on his ale. It’s the first time I remembered seeing him laugh like that, since Rivendell...” Frodo shook himself.
“Then I looked up to see Faramir with the broadest smile I’d ever seen...”
Frodo’s countenance was full of fond remembrance.
Lily giggled. “So Merry laid down a challenge Boromir could not resist.”
“Precisely,” Frodo chuckled. “Mind you, Boromir threw back his head and laughed quite heartily, then took Merry’s challenge and learned to juggle in the space of an hour. He never did anything by half-measures. He surpassed Merry’s skill, Lily. Once his mind was made up... and then it was Merry’s turn to be speechless. And for a time, even dear Pip had nothing cheeky to say... Though he did manage to quip he feared Merry might choose a replacement to juggle with. Merry seemed to consider the idea for a time, then decided that Boromir’s height was a decided disadvantage. Pippin was greatly relieved,” Frodo grinned.
“Do you know how to juggle, Frodo?”
“No, though Merry did try to teach Sam and myself, years ago. I was hopeless, but Sam was not half bad.”
Frodo drank the last of his tea. “Lily, are you finished, sweet?” He lowered his voice. “I’m eager to have my hands kissed for as long as you wish... after they’re trimmed, of course...”
He stood and winked at his wife, and took her by the hand, kissing the back of it softly.
Lily thanked him for the caress with her eyes. “Frodo? Who taught Merry to juggle?”
“Oh... Gandalf, at one of Bilbo’s birthday feasts.” Frodo kissed her cheek softly as her eyes grew wide with surprise.
“Mm-hmm...” Frodo kissed her again, at the tip of her ear, and smiled; he could tell she had already forgotten about Gandalf and juggling.
Fingers intertwined, Frodo and Lily made their way back to their rooms. It was a struggle not to hurry, and it seemed to them an age, before the winding, almost labyrinthine, paths were traversed.
Bilbo found the couple in the conservatory. “I’ve wandered the length of Rivendell, searching for the two of you. I thought you’d be out walking in the gardens, or in your rooms...”
The old hobbit felt suddenly self-conscious. “I’ll look here first from now on. Come along, my dears, and join me for luncheon. I’m famished and have a story to tell my new niece, about Dwarves and wizards,” he grinned.
He tottered back to his living quarters with Lily and Frodo strolling hand in hand beside him, as he asked about their reading that day. Lily admitted they had talked more than read when they found a map of Middle-earth before there seemed to be a Shire.
Bilbo grinned. “A bit odd, isn’t it? Realizing there truly was a time when there was no Shire at all? Nor hobbits, for that matter. I imagine many of our Shire-folk would be quite put out by it, as they tend not to think much of anything but their own family history,” he snorted. “The world is a wide, vast place, and we hobbits know far too little of it! It would do them all some good to step beyond their own borders, at least once... make them appreciate their peaceful homes, I’m thinking. Wouldn’t you agree, Frodo-lad?”
Lily blinked at the severity of the tone, then calmed as Frodo winked at her.
“Indeed, Uncle Bilbo.” Frodo paused. “But would they truly appreciate it?”
“Probably not,” Bilbo grumped. “Best keep it to ourselves.”
Frodo and Lily followed Bilbo through his rooms and out onto his balcony, where a table was generously laid with fruit, bread, and cheese.
They tucked in hungrily, quiet for a time. Then, as they sipped at their tea, filling in the corners, the old hobbit began to unfold the promised story. He deferred often to Frodo, until the younger hobbit was telling most of the tale himself, with Bilbo adding a running commentary of his thoughts about the whole adventure, as he looked back in memory.
Frodo and Lily both carefully schooled their expressions at the telling of the Stone Trolls, though they could not help sharing their private smile.
As they finished preparing for dinner, Felena knocked, and entered at Lily’s welcome.
Lily sat at the vanity, smoothing strands of her hair back into a blue ribbon that matched the Elven dress she had chosen to wear.
“My lady,” Felena smiled, and bowed slightly. “I wanted to ensure that you and your husband were made aware... the party of Elves from Lothlórien shall be departing after the evening meal, so the meal itself shall be somewhat less drawn out. They wish to continue their journey to the Grey Havens.”
“Thank you, Felena,” Lily returned the smile. “May I ask a question?”
“Of course, my lady.”
“These are not all of the Elves of Lothlórien, are they?”
“Oh, no, my lady. There are many more Elves in Lothlórien, and the Eryn Lasgalen beyond, but we generally travel in small companies; it is easier for a few to pass unnoticed.”
“Eryn -- ?” Lily repeated, puzzled.
“Eryn Lasgalen, my lady. If your husband has spoken of it, he would most likely have called it Mirkwood, as does Master Bilbo. Though it did have another name before Mirkwood, before the shadow of Dol Guldur -- Sauron -- fell over the land. Long ago, it was called Greenwood the Great. Prince Legolas hails from there.”
“I have had the privilege of meeting Prince Legolas, when he and Master Gimli and Aragorn -- King Elessar, attended our wedding. I hope I am able to remember the correct name, but I fear I shan’t, for I seem to have a little difficulty keeping all the names straight, lovely as they are...”
Felena bowed slightly, smiling. “My lady, pardon is only necessary when offense is taken. You have done very well to learn all that you have about our people and our lands. Your husband tells me you know the entire story of Eärendil the Blessed Mariner, nearly by heart.”
Lily’s cheeks tinged with pink, then she smiled. “I think I do. Frodo has been very patient, for I’ve asked him to tell it me over and over again. It’s so beautiful.”
“It is.” Felena marveled silently that just as she had thought she could not like the hobbit mistress more, she proved again the wisdom of Eru in choosing her as the Ring-bearer’s final companion.
Lily picked up her hairbrush again, then looked up at the Elf once more. “So we may yet see another group in Rivendell before we leave?”
“It is possible.” Felena paused. “What is it, my lady?”
Lily startled out of her thoughts. “I was wondering... that is, do you think, perhaps, the Lady Galadriel -- my husband has spoken a little of her -- but is it possible she might pass though here -- never mind, I’m certain she would not...”
Felena searched the young hobbit’s face. “Perhaps you would like to meet her?”
Lily blushed. “She did give Frodo a special gift. It helped to save his life, more than once...”
“You could convey the message you wish to share with her to Lord Elrond. His wife is the Lady Galadriel’s daughter.”
Felena smiled at the wide-eyed surprise on Lily’s face.
“Oh, Felena,” Lily sighed. “I shall never get used to the idea of how old the Elves are... begging your pardon. I didn’t mean-- you don’t look old at all... You are so... graceful and elegant and unlike anything in the Shire...” She stopped, flustered.
The Elf smiled. “The Shire has created its own kind of beauty, has it not? And it is very beautiful, indeed.”
Lily returned the smile. “Thank you.”
Felena nodded. “Is there anything else I may get for you, my lady?”
A light blush crept across Lily’s face. “I wondered if I might take a bath this evening, after the evening meal...”
“Of course. I shall see to it that a warm bath is drawn for you and ready upon your return.” Felena studied the hobbit a moment. “Is there something more?”
“I wondered if I might have some honey?”
“Certainly. How much shall you be needing, my lady?”
“A half cup should do, if it isn’t any trouble.” Lily’s blush deepened. “Though it would be better if it were thin and not thick, for thin is easier to work with...” She sighed. “My hair is losing its shine.”
Felena brightened. “Of course! Would you like me to help you?” The Elf struggled to hide her surprise as the hobbit blushed from the tips of her ears to the ends of her toes.
Lily glanced furtively toward Frodo’s dressing room. “Thank you, but I shan’t need your help...” Her voice disappeared.
Felena swallowed her smile. “I shall see to everything myself, my lady. Would you like lavender or pine or rose in the water?”
“Yes, my lady. The needles are covered with water and boiled, then the water is bottled, and the needles are used in the garden.”
“Mayhap another time. This time, I’d like rose, a reminder of our gardens at home, if it’s no trouble. It’s two months, tomorrow...”
Felena nodded and turned to leave, then stopped. She looked back over her shoulder. “I shall see to it you are not disturbed on the morrow... You are fortunate, my lady, to have such a one.”
“Yes, Felena, I am very blessed indeed.”
They shared a knowing smile, then the Elf slipped out the door.
Bilbo attended dinner, sitting with Frodo and Lily. They lingered over their meal long after the Elves departed the feasting hall. When the older hobbit nodded off, then woke again with a start after their second cup of tea, they agreed it was time to retire. Bilbo bade them farewell in the outer passageway, and assured the couple he would enjoy a quiet day alone on the morrow.
“No need to blush, Lily dear,” Bilbo chortled. “It will make the day more like your wedding day! I wasn’t there either, but instead of waiting a month and a half to see you, I shall see you the next day! Now there’s a good turn of luck, if I do say so myself.”
Lily lightly kissed the old hobbit on each cheek, and he blushed down to his toes.
“I’m not certain I’ll ever get used to that,” he mumbled.
“Good night, Uncle Bilbo, and thank you,” Frodo smiled.
Bilbo smiled briefly, then shuffled off to his own rooms.
Frodo drew Lily into his arms as they watched the aged hobbit disappear down the passageway. “We’re very blessed, Mistress Baggins.”
“We are indeed, Mister Baggins.” Lily reached up and softly kissed her husband. Then she stepped back gradually, until only their fingertips were touching. She smiled, breaking their touch, then turned abruptly and dashed down the passageway towards their room, calling over her shoulder, “You’re it!”
“Wh--?” Frodo blinked, then grinned and ran after her. He nearly reached her when she glanced over her shoulder and saw him; she squealed, and found an unexpected burst of speed.
“Home free!” she panted, delighted to have touched the knob on their door first.
Frodo slowed his headlong flight by grabbing his wife about her waist and swinging her around in his arms, both of them laughing.
“Lily Baggins,” Frodo gasped, catching his breath. “Where did you learn to cheat?!”
Lily laughed, and struggled to sound offended. “I do not cheat! I’m quicker than you, and you know it!”
Frodo opened the door, then lifted Lily in his arms and carried her into their rooms. He started to close the door with his shoulder, when Lily used her foot to push it shut.
“Sweet, do not think that by being utterly adorable, I shall forget your cheating.”
Lily pouted unsuccessfully, as she gulped down a giggle, still panting slightly.
Frodo carried her the rest of the way into their bedroom, then set her down, staring at the table in the corner of the room, covered in breads, fruits, cheeses, a teapot with the makings for tea, and a number of Elvish delicacies. Without looking at his wife, he grasped her hand and pulled her gently with him to inspect the table more closely.
“It’s a feast!”
“Enough for the whole of the day, on the morrow...”
Frodo glanced at Lily, then back at the table.
“I hope you don’t mind,” Lily continued. “I asked Felena...”
“How could I mind?” Frodo raised his brows, and grinned. He dipped his little finger into one of the bowls filled with a golden liquid, then touched it to his tongue. “Honey, and quite a lot of it...” He eyed Lily.
She gazed up at him. “It’s been a while... will you help me, Frodo-love?” Then she caught the look in his eyes, and could not resist returning it with an innocent look of her own. “Remember you helped me with my hair, before the Free Fair...”
He gazed at his wife, tightening his hold on her hand, then lifted his free hand to touch her auburn tresses, and leaned in close to her ear.
She felt the warmth of his breath, one soft kiss on her neck, and then his voice, low and melodic, sent a tremor through her.
“Lily-sweet, however am I to stay angry with you for cheating, when you offer me so much...”
Lily smiled softly in reply.