As dawn crept into their room, Frodo recalled, for a brief moment, his thoughts just before sleep the previous night. Then he pushed past them, farther back in memory, to a time when he thought himself very like his Uncle Bilbo.
He felt Lily’s furred foot rub against his ankle as she nestled closer to him in her final dreams before waking. How had he ever imagined he could live without her?
He turned his mind to the years he lived with Bilbo.
When his cousin had adopted him it had truly seemed the perfect solution, and they did seem well suited. Both of them were alone in the world, and had an unusual -- for hobbits -- curiosity about life outside the Shire.
Frodo realized that because the pair of them had gotten on so well together, he believed himself to be very like his uncle indeed. But now, looking back, he could see the significant differences between them. Why had he never noticed before?
Yes, they shared a love of learning and adventure, at least of the more harmless variety. It was these very things that had bound them to begin with.
Frodo paused in his reminiscing as his wife nestled her head against his shoulder. He stroked her hair, fanning it across his chest, and played with the curled ends of one auburn tress, kissing the top of her head gently, so as not to wake her.
Could Bilbo have ever married? A soft smile touched Frodo’s lips. No. His uncle never longed for that type of companionship, but then, neither had he, until he met Lily. She was indeed an unusual lass, and grateful he was for her. None other could stir within him the desires and passions and love she could. It was almost as if she had been made for him.
Frodo mentally shook his head and smiled broadly. Lily had often told him just that, and that he had been created for her, as imperfect as he was -- she gave so much more than he did! But she would not let him speak so.
Once again, he turned his thoughts to the past. He acknowledged to himself that Bilbo never seemed quite comfortable among the Shire hobbits, though one would not notice, until one saw him with his friends, the Dwarves and the Elves. Then he seemed completely at his ease, but, Frodo realized, the Dwarves and Elves accepted his uncle and considered him worthy of respect, unlike most of the local residents, who admittedly thought him mad, or at least half cracked.
Frodo, for his part, felt he had “fit in” with the Shire hobbits, by and large. He had a close circle of friends he enjoyed spending time with, and they with him -- and not just one or two, but more than half a dozen. Frodo could not remember any such close companions of his uncle’s. Frodo had been his companion when they went wandering. The old hobbit had gotten on well with a few, especially the Gamgees and Cottons, but he had no friends such as Frodo did, in the Shire. But when Frodo recalled his own dear friends there were many, including Falco and Fatty, and others, though his dearest had always been Merry and Pippin, and Sam.
Suddenly, Frodo realized that Sam had not truly been counted as one of his friends all those years because he was seen only as his gardener and manservant. Now, Frodo called him friend, companion, and, in his heart, brother. Sam knew the best and worst of him, and still held him dear. Indeed, Sam had interfered -- there was no other word for it -- during his courtship of Lily, and how grateful he was for it! Never could he repay that debt.
Yes, Frodo admitted he and his uncle were very much alike in some ways, and very different indeed in others. Their adventures had led them in diverse directions. Bilbo’s had led him to seek the company of the Elves, and Frodo’s had led him on a similar course, until Lily. One person could make such a difference...
Sam certainly had...
Gollum, in his greed, had seen the deed done...
Frodo pushed the darkening thoughts away as he felt Lily stir. So aware of him she was. Yet even as he turned away he knew she would draw out the shadows, force him to look at them in the illuminating light of her love. But he was not ready to face these, not yet...
“Lily-sweet,” he whispered, in case she was not truly awake.
“Mmmm?” came the sleepy reply.
Frodo continued in a hushed voice. “When last did I tell you all the reasons I love you?”
He felt her smile against his shoulder, felt her breath warm on his chest, as she shifted to hold him more tightly. She smelled so very sweet. He concentrated to hear her mumbled reply.
“Even if you told me last night, I should want to hear it all again this morning.” A soft giggle escaped on her sigh, and she gazed up at him, smiling.
Suddenly he realized he wanted to capture forever his feelings for her. All of them. He could write them down. Mayhap, for Lily, poems might come again. His last poem had been a lament for Gandalf, in Lothlórien. He smiled; these would be different, for he felt new in her presence. Each morning, he felt new.
She was watching his eyes, waiting for his reply. He kissed her ear before whispering into it. “Then I shall tell you.”
“Frodo?” Lily glanced between her husband and her uncle, a question in her eyes. The trio had taken an early dinner in Bilbo’s rooms, and moments ago Felena removed the last trays of afters and sweets.
“Yes, love?” Frodo smiled as he stole a kiss from his wife, just below her ear.
Lily blushed crimson and rearranged her long Elven skirts of iridescent blues and greens, where she and Frodo sat at Bilbo’s feet, the old hobbit happy in his rocking chair.
“Did Uncle Bilbo teach you your letters?”
“My Elvish letters,” Frodo smiled again.
“Primula taught you your letters when you were quite small, didn’t she?” Bilbo added.
“Yes, she began teaching me just after I turned two.”
“Two?!” Lily gasped in surprise.
“She decided if I could get into every cupboard in the kitchen, then I was old enough to begin learning my letters.”
Bilbo chortled. “You came to visit at Yule, after you turned two. It snowed for several days, and as I recall, it kept us trapped inside. And you were into everything! Primula was quite beside herself worrying about you getting into something you ought not. She was careful to use learning your letters as a reward for good behavior. I told Drogo it would never work, but she knew you better. You learned to write your name.”
Frodo chuckled. “And you rewarded me with a story of dragons and gold.”
“Your mum wasn’t particularly pleased about me filling your head with such tales... You know, I think she worried about me spiriting you away, someday...”
Lily smiled softly. “But she let you keep telling the tales?”
Bilbo shook himself. “Indeed she did.” Then he smiled mischievously. “Truth be told, I think she enjoyed the tales almost as much as Frodo, here.”
Frodo’s eyes grew wide. “I don’t remember her listening to your tales.”
“Of course not, lad.” Bilbo’s face became wistful, in memory. “You always had a way of concentrating on what folk were saying, as though there was no one else there... as if the person you were listening to was the most important person in the world...”
Bilbo’s voice faded. “It was your inquisitiveness and intense interest in more than just hobbit affairs that caught my attention.”
The old hobbit turned to Lily abruptly. “You’re very like him, my dear. Mayhap if I’d found a lass like you... mayhap things might have turned out differently...”
Lily blushed to her toes, and Bilbo laughed at himself. “What nonsense. I doubt very much there’s ever been a lass like you, and now I’ll stop embarrassing you. Did I ever tell you about the first time I took Frodo camping?”
“No! Do tell me, please.” She caught Frodo smiling to himself, even as he watched her, and she grinned at him, then turned again to Bilbo.
“Frodo-lad was ten, if I remember rightly.” The old hobbit leaned in close to Lily, and his voice became soft and contemplative. “I -- actually hadn’t planned to take him camping, but when the family showed up, they were all so somber... Even I knew something was amiss, when Primula didn’t immediately set to putting lavender under all the mattresses...”
Lily would have smiled, as she watched Bilbo’s eyes reflecting his drift into the past, but for the solemn tone she heard in his words.
“In truth,” he went on, “I hadn’t been expecting them; after all, it was May, not December. They always visited in December...”
Lily glanced at Frodo, who shook his head. She could feel he did not remember this tale. His brow furrowed slightly, and she watched his expression turn wary and guarded.
Bilbo leaned back in his rocker, and stared at nothing. “I admit I know very little of the ways of a lass, but at least I knew enough not to ask dear Primula directly. She even let me prepare and serve dinner, then apologized for not eating much.
“Frodo was also not his usual curious self. The whole family turned in early. Then, in the dead of night, I heard weeping. It woke me. I’m not accustomed to being awakened, particularly not by crying. It took me a moment to realize it was not Frodo-lad at all, but a feminine voice... Primula.”
Lily wanted to ask why, but did not want to interrupt the story, and decided to let it unfold as it would. She felt Frodo tighten his hold on her hand, and returned the gentle squeeze.
The quiet lengthened, and then Bilbo sighed. “It wasn’t until the next day that Drogo found me in the garden and finally told me that Primula had lost the child she’d been carrying for five months. And though a month had passed, she still grieved terribly. He mentioned almost as an aside he wished he and Primula could have a little time alone together, but Frodo needed looking after as well -- and Primula felt badly that she wasn’t simply grateful for only Frodo.”
Lily’s heart contracted, and Frodo swallowed hard, as she shifted nearer to his side, where they sat together on the great woven rug, bright with tiny white stars upon a deep blue-black. Frodo sat cross-legged, while Lily tucked her feet to the side under her skirt, their bodies touching down to their knees, their arms linked, and their fingers intertwined.
Bilbo cleared his throat. “Enough dreariness... I’d been planning a little outing anyway, and I decided to take Frodo along with me... He was worried about leaving his mum, but Primula and Drogo assured him she’d be right as rain by the time he got home.
“Primula packed us some food. I hadn’t been expecting that! I can tell you, it was a treat not to have one of my hastily packed satchels of this and that.”
“I’d forgotten,” Frodo spoke softly, almost to himself.
“Be that as it may--” Bilbo continued. “Frodo and I left the very next morning, leaving Primula and Drogo behind, at Bag End. I hadn’t any particular destination in mind. I only wanted to be out and about. Spring was a tad early, and the Shire was beautiful. So Frodo and I simply walked. Though Frodo tried to contain himself, I lost count of the number of times he asked if we’d see Elves.”
“It sounds more like Sam!” Lily laughed, softly, and to Frodo’s spirit it was like music, washing away some part of the sadness within him.
“They’re truly not too much different, Frodo and Sam, not in their hearts. I always figured it was why they got on so well.”
Bilbo gazed at the expectant pair, momentarily searching his mind for where he was in the story, and pleased when he remembered. “We were only gone overnight, but it seems it was long enough, for Primula was more herself when we returned.”
“I think I remember now,” Frodo smiled wanly. “I’m curious why my parents chose to visit Bag End at that time, when they could have stayed at home.”
Bilbo shifted in his chair. “Your mum and da were tired of the sympathetic looks and the constant urging to forget what happened and get on with life.”
“I can understand that,” Lily murmured absently.
Frodo turned to study her, as Bilbo continued.
“I think the two of you, that is, you and Primula, might have gotten on quite well together,” Bilbo mused, smiling down at Lily. “Besides, you both dote on Frodo. I think dear Primula would have found you quite suitable indeed.”
Lily giggled and blushed, and more so at Frodo’s proud smile.
Bilbo pretended to ignore the couple by clearing his throat once again. “Now, this is supposed to be a happy occasion. And I can’t think of many times happier than Frodo and I sharing our birthdays together!”
Lily and Frodo allowed any lingering sadness to slip away, and laughed.
“Let’s see, now,” Bilbo ruminated. “The last birthday we spent together, I was eleventy-one and Frodo was... Frodo, my lad, how old were you again?”
Frodo began to smile at Lily before he spoke, and he heard the wistful absentmindedness in his own voice. “Thirty... thirty-three... Uncle Bilbo.” He was torn between gazing at his wife, and paying attention to his dear uncle. “It was my coming of age,” he finally managed.
“Yes! That’s right! The long expected party. I remember it well...” Bilbo seemed to drift off for a moment.
Frodo spoke softly, as through reminiscing himself. “It was the first time I realized how much I -- I loved you, Bilbo, and how much I would miss you.”
Bilbo gazed misty-eyed at his young cousin, and when no words were forthcoming Frodo continued.
“I rather hoped it was all a joke, and you would be waiting at the smial for me, to laugh over it, but only Gandalf was there. You’d truly gone. Not that I blamed you, though I fervently wished from time to time that I’d gone with you...”
“Didn’t you like being Master of Bag End?” Bilbo asked sadly.
Frodo smiled suddenly. “I found I rather enjoyed it after a time, while another part of me kept wishing to follow you, but not yet.”
Bilbo blinked to hide sudden tears, and spoke gruffly. “Be that as it may, dear Frodo-lad, you came when you were meant to come, and it was a delight to see you then, just as it is now.”
The aged hobbit shook off the memories of his nephew’s arrival and chortled. “The looks on those stunned Shire faces was worth all the fuss and bother of preparing for that party!”
Lily offered quietly, “I was there, Uncle Bilbo.”
Bilbo’s face reflected his surprise. “Were you now?! Tell me, what do you remember best about it? It was a grand event, after all. Was it the gifts? The food? The games? Hmmm, being a lass, mayhap it was the dancing? What about those fireworks? They were something, weren’t they? You can tell me, you know.”
An unexpected blush tinged her cheeks a delicate pink. It was lost on Bilbo but not Frodo, and his eyes questioned her. He grew even more curious when she avoided his eyes entirely, and turned her gaze fully to his elderly relative.
“Actually, what I remember the best is you.”
“Truly?” Bilbo turned scarlet up to his ears. “Now, why would a pretty young thing like you remember an old goat like me?”
Lily giggled. “I listened in when you told the story of the ...stone trolls.” Her blush deepened, and she was grateful Bilbo did not seem to notice, though Frodo certainly did, and his cheeks were now also tinged with pink, up to his ear-tips.
“Well, I’ll be. You remember that old tale. Now, how did that begin?”
Bilbo began to tell the story, but he quickly turned to Frodo, just as he had several days before, and Frodo again ended up telling the story himself.
Lily realized that Frodo told it much the same as the previous day. “Dearest, you seem to know the story as well as Uncle Bilbo.”
“Of course he does, my dear,” Bilbo assured. “He’s heard me tell it often enough. He knows all the others just as well, I’m certain.”
The old hobbit’s eyes suddenly grew wide, then he stared down at his toes. “You’re a very sweet lass, dear Lily, for you listened to that story as though it were the first time you’d heard it, and I realize now you heard it at the party, and again only a few days ago.”
Lily giggled. “I love listening to the stories. And how else shall I remember them if I don’t hear them over and over?”
“Frodo, my lad, you chose exceptionally well indeed,” Bilbo chortled.
“Indeed he did,” responded a deep, well-loved voice.
The hobbits glanced up, startled, as Gandalf swept into the room.
The wizard smiled broadly. “Good day, my hobbits. I do hope Felena has not had the opportunity to inform you.”
Frodo drew his brows together. “Inform us of what?”
“A special guest shall be joining us at supper.”
From the doorway, behind Gandalf, a tall Elf stepped into the room.
“Elrohir!” Frodo leapt up from his place beside Lily and ran into the kneeling Elf’s arms.
Then Frodo stepped back. “It’s wonderful to see you!”
“And you,” Elrohir smiled, still down on one knee. Then he grinned as he noticed the hobbit peer over his shoulder. “No, no, do not look for Elladan. He remained in Minas Tirith, with our sister and our sister-daughter.”
Frodo returned the smile, then seemed to remember himself, and turned to his wife. “Lily darling, come meet our friend.”
Lily approached, smiling shyly, and reaching for Frodo’s outstretched hand.
“Lily dear, this is Elrohir, Elrond’s son. Unfortunately, his twin brother is not with him, though it will make it considerably easier to call him by his correct name.”
The friends laughed, then Frodo continued. “Elrohir, this is my dear wife Lily, of Deephallow, in the Eastfarthing.”
“It is an honour indeed to finally meet you, my lady, and you are more beautiful than Estel described, but then, his head is turned by my sister.” The Elf grinned broadly.
Lily giggled and curtsied. “It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”
“Elrohir,” Felena declared upon entering the room. “Have you made your arrival known to your father?”
The Elf stood and bowed with his hand over his heart. “I only just arrived and was on my way there, dear Felena. How fare you?”
“Very well, and my thanks,” she smiled.
Frodo could not help but notice that Elrohir’s grin seemed almost... roguish. He was suddenly reminded of Merry.
The Elf went on, “I see you were granted your heart’s wish.”
Felena pinked lightly. “Sometimes, one must simply be patient.” She eyed him pointedly.
To the hobbits’ astonishment, Elrohir gave Felena a pained expression, and rolled his eyes. “Never try to best your elders!” he confided, in a way much more like Aragorn, or even Boromir, than an Elf.
Elrond’s son cloaked himself once more in decorum. “I go now to present myself to my father. I shall see you all at table.”
Behind his back, Felena smiled indulgently, then turned to her charges. “It appears we shall have an unexpected feast this evening.”
“Indeed,” Gandalf smiled, satisfied.
Felena eyed the wizard with barely concealed suspicion. “You had something to do with this, did you not?”
Gandalf offered her an innocent gaze, then a quick wink, causing her to giggle uncharacteristically.
The hobbits stared at her in mute surprise. Frodo and Lily recovered their composure quickly, and looked to each other, but Bilbo continued to stare wide-eyed.
Felena breathed deeply to cut off her laughter. “Come, my dears. It is time to get ready for the evening meal. Dear Bilbo, I suggest you cease to look like a fish or you may find yourself served instead of being served.”
Bilbo continued to stare at the Elf, but closed his mouth, and realized that Gandalf too was staring.
The wizard cleared his throat. “It would seem to me, dear Felena, you have perhaps spent too much time with our hobbit friends. Is it my imagination, or are you becoming rather saucy, for an Elf?”
“Nonsense,” she replied tartly. “I find their open manner refreshing.” A smile quickly stole across her face.
Gandalf returned the smile. “On that, we agree.”
Elrohir sat to his father’s left throughout dinner. He held the attention of all in the room with stories of the happenings in Minas Tirith, particularly with tales of the newest arrival to the royal family.
As they adjourned to the Hall of Fire to continue the celebration, Bilbo suggested to Lily and Frodo they come for luncheon, or perhaps tea, on the morrow, as he would probably sleep late.
Once the couple was settled, Felena sat near by. She leaned close to Lily, and whispered, “You might wish to walk in the gardens tomorrow. There is a peaceful place off the main path, just to the north of the main gardens. There is a small grove of trees; I believe you call them birch, and a lovely patch of grass, as well as a pool of deep blue water -- and a waterfall near by. A beautiful place... for the speaking of less beautiful things. Somehow, in such a place, nothing seems quite so unpleasant as at first.”
Lily searched the Elf’s eyes and felt a deeper meaning. “Thank you, Felena.”