At first breakfast, Lily glanced briefly at Felena as she set the teapot on their table. “Frodo darling, might we go for a walk, and mayhap a picnic, this morning? It looks to be a lovely day for exploring the gardens.”
“There is a path that leads north from the main garden,” Felena offered. “Are you familiar with it?”
Frodo thought back, then nodded. “I remember it. Isn’t there a grove of birch trees?”
“Yes,” Felena smiled. “I shall prepare a basket and bring it presently.” She bowed in one fluid movement, and left the room.
“You’ve been there before,” Lily wondered aloud.
“Only in passing,” Frodo mused. “At that time, my appetite for adventure had been sharply curbed, so I did not explore it -- I only walked through it...”
Lily could not hide the concern touching her heart.
Frodo noted it, and shook his head. “Not to worry, Lily-sweet. Adventure with you is entirely different and--” he grinned “--desirable...”
In the midst of sipping her tea, Lily choked, then laughed.
Frodo took her hand in his, and raising it to his lips, he first caressed the back of it, softly, and then the center of her palm.
Lily could not keep from closing her eyes, and forgot to breathe.
“Are you certain, my sweet, you wish to explore the gardens?”
“My dearest love...” Lily whispered. She took several more deep breaths, endeavoring to clear her mind. “I suppose we’ll never see Rivendell again...”
Frodo sighed, then smiled tenderly. “Let’s explore the garden.”
As they began their stroll, Lily was grateful for the quiet all about them. It was nearly silent; only a few birds sang, calling to one another. Lily thought of the newly-hatched blackbirds she and Frodo had protected from the rain on their journey here to Rivendell. Had it only been a fortnight ago, now? It was true what Frodo had told her... Time seemed slowed, or stopped, here.
Her mind drifted to the previous night; she needed to understand what it was Felena wanted her to discuss with Frodo. The Elf seemed to believe she would know the answer without being told, for she had said no more on the matter. Lily realized without difficulty that it must be time to draw into the light another memory; but which one? She searched her mind, then remembered her discussion with the Master of Rivendell. Suddenly she knew exactly what needed to be unearthed.
She glanced at Frodo surreptitiously, and sighed inwardly. What a pleasure it was to see his face so serene. The worry lines had faded and all but disappeared. She felt his peace and contentment, and hoped he felt strong and whole, for what was to come.
He glanced at her and smiled, and rather than pretend she was not looking at him, she returned the smile. Her arm linked in his was squeezed more tightly to the warmth of his side, and she tightened her grip on his forearm.
A soft breath escaped Lily as they entered the clearing. She looked up, and knew Frodo’s eyes followed hers. They were surrounded by silver birch, the colours and patterns interrupted only by a few beech trees. They breathed deeply, together, for the air was delightful here, as in all of Rivendell. Lily stopped to drink in the sight of the clear blue pool, fed by a waterfall at one end, with a rock-embedded stream cheerfully carrying the water away at the other end.
“It’s beautiful, Frodo. The water has such a lovely voice of its own, without being too loud.”
Frodo smiled his agreement. He chose a spot at the base of a large beech -- big enough for both of them to lean against it, if they wished -- and then helped Lily settle on the lush green grass, both of them enjoying the blanket the earth provided.
They watched the waterfall and listened to the babbling of the stream and the singing of the birds and the soft breeze whispering through the trees. The smells of the earth and growing things were soft and pleasant, and the feast for the eyes and ears was accentuated by the feast Felena had prepared for their repast.
Lily sighed in satisfaction after her last bite, then realized the time had come. She gathered her courage, and desperately sought the right words. She set the plates back into the basket very deliberately, hoping against hope to ask the right question.
“Frodo, I’ve a request... something I’d like you to tell me, if you would... if you can...”
Frodo carefully schooled any nervousness he felt, reminding himself his wife loved him and would do nothing to hurt him intentionally. It was so rare for her to ask anything of him, and never had she asked more than he could give...
“Ask me what you wish to know, and I will try to answer.”
“Please, would you tell me about Gollum?”
Her husband started, and then froze, seemingly unable to move or breathe.
Lily searched his face and touched his arm. “Frodo?”
He breathed in sharply, and sagged against their tree.
“Lily, I thought what I told you at Weathertop was my darkest secret...” Frodo’s courage ebbed away.
Soft fingers tenderly touched his cheek. He raised his eyes to behold his wife’s loving smile.
Already knowing the answer, Lily asked, “Will you question my love for you again, as you did then, at Weathertop?”
“No, dear heart, no.” Frodo’s sadness, etched on his face, could not hide the love he felt for her.
Lily lifted her head and nodded once in satisfaction. “Then it was your darkest secret.”
Swiftly, Frodo’s brows furrowed in confusion. “But, Sam... and Smeagol...”
“Dear one, those secrets are sad and perhaps ugly, but not dark. They do not cause you to question my love for you. They do not stir fear beyond all reasoning. Too often, the darkest secrets are not the most painful after all, but the ones that create the most fear. For the fear has a life of its own that feeds on its bearer, draining them of joy and life.”
Lily took Frodo’s hand in hers, drawing him close to her, his fingers tightening around hers. “Tell me about Smeagol.”
For several moments Frodo rocked himself, though his hand was still enfolded in Lily’s. Then he stopped, and turned to face his wife.
“Where do I start?”
“At the beginning.”
Haltingly, Frodo told Lily the story Gandalf had told him.
Lily struggled to hide the horror and disgust she felt upon learning of Smeagol’s treachery, and felt she understood Sam’s perspective better. But she needed to understand Frodo, so she continued to listen attentively. Gradually, she heard more clearly the pain in her husband’s voice, and watched the sadness deepen, like a bottomless well, on his fair countenance.
Though he had not intended to reveal Bilbo’s own indiscretion, it slipped into its place in the tale. At first, Frodo had not planned to tell her everything, but once he started, every detail poured forth.
When asking the question, Lily never imagined he would tell her all, but it felt to her as though a dam burst within her husband. And as she listened she realized Frodo was finally revealing the whole of the Quest. It became clear to her, as he went on, how intertwined Gollum was in the story, from Moria all the way to Mount Doom; to the end of it all.
She silently thanked Felena for preparing her, including ensuring enough food for the rest of the morning and into the afternoon. As she nibbled on it, she did not question when her husband refused to eat anything.
When Frodo spoke of Faramir, he endeavored to ensure that Lily understood the Man, and the grim difficulties Faramir rose above in that evil time, in a struggle which was beyond the ken of all who yet lived.
Holding Lily’s gaze, Frodo described Shelob’s lair and Gollum’s betrayal.
She summoned all her will not to show the terror she felt simply upon hearing the telling of it.
Frodo’s words grew fewer, and Lily knew in her heart it was because the Ring occupied his thoughts, both waking and sleeping, in this part of the tale. She struggled not to shudder at the realization that she would need to ask him about the Ring, and was grateful she need not ask today.
She also noticed a pattern forming with the ring-bearers. Did Frodo see it? she wondered.
“I wanted to help him,” Frodo finished. “But I couldn’t even help myself.”
Gradually, another realization surfaced in Lily’s mind. “How alike you were, and yet not alike at all, dear Frodo. You gave him every chance to prove himself, and in the end, he did, though not as you hoped.”
Lily struggled to hear her husband’s next words.
“But neither did I.”
Lily’s eyes opened wide in surprise. “You saw yourself in Gollum -- at least what you might become -- and perhaps in some ways were already.” Then another thought struck her. “So when Sam spoke unkindly or angrily toward Gollum, it was, in a way, as if he’d uttered the words against you.”
Through Frodo did not move or acknowledge her words, she knew she had hit the mark. She waited until she sensed he was prepared to continue.
“But Sam did not see it, for in his eyes, you were ever his dearest friend, and Gollum an enemy to you both. There were similarities, it is true,” she admitted reluctantly. The thought of comparing her dear Frodo to the murderous Gollum was nigh on unbearable, but to help him remember himself, she sensed it was necessary to start where he was.
“You both owned the Ring, for a very long time, though I still struggle to grasp--” Suddenly she realized it was important to use the creature’s other name; the one Frodo used. “I still find it difficult to grasp that Smeagol held the Ring for over five hundred years. Most of those spent alone. But Frodo, he murdered his best friend for it.
“He knew nothing of pity, but for himself. Bilbo may have cheated for it, but he still knew pity, in sparing Smeagol’s life. You did not steal the Ring. It was given to you, with Gandalf’s encouragement. You came by the Ring honestly, and showed not just pity. You offered mercy, as well.
“Smeagol chose a different path from yours, from the very beginning, and continued to make different choices, through to the last, which could only ever lead you to different ends. Frodo, you are not Smeagol. You never were, and you never will be.”
“But I could have--”
“‘Could have’... ‘might have’... ‘mayhap,’ ‘perchance’... my dearest love, one could go quite mad considering the possibilities. And I could have been alone for the rest of my life,” Lily continued desperately, then softened, “but I am not, thanks to Ilúvatar’s grace. Now, in this moment, there is only what is.”
Frodo stared at his wife in open wonder. She smiled softly.
“Dearest husband, we cannot change what happened, and would we truly want to? What else would change? Would we still be so well suited?”
Frodo’s eyes widened, then he swallowed hard. “If things had been different, would I have been given you?”
Lily’s smile broadened, and her eyes sparkled, matching the tears she could see shimmering in her husband’s. “Beloved...” she whispered.
Frodo pulled his lover to his breast and held her fiercely, his cheek pressed to hers, their tears mingling.
The moments stretched, until Lily did not know how long her husband had held her firmly. Then at last he eased his grip, but only slightly. She sighed contentedly, and nestled against him, closing her eyes.
“Lily-sweet,” Frodo murmured against her ear, gently waking his wife. “Bilbo is expecting us for tea, and it is near that time.”
And for the rest of the day, Frodo kept Lily close to his side. He drew comfort from her nearness, and told her so; and late in the evening, as they were closing their eyes to the night and the starlight, he was pleased when she told him she felt the same. They exchanged their words of love and prayers, sweet kisses blending with speech, until sleep overtook them, and their dreams were filled with wonder at all they had known, and all they had shared.
6 August 1420sr
Frodo caught an impish glint in Lily’s eyes as she filled the pockets of his coat with apples from the fruit basket on their table, and a small seed loaf. She lifted his arm and draped their red blanket over it, and then found a flask and filled it with the wine that sat on their table next to the fruit.
“Where are you taking me, Mistress Baggins?” he wondered with mock suspicion.
His wife smiled softly, and lightly moistened her lips. Frodo felt his heartbeat quicken, and his breathing falter. Surely she knew what she was doing... he looked into her face again, and swallowed hard as he saw what was there in her eyes, the hazel tinged with green.
He had not misunderstood her invitation. She smiled again, and he found himself needing to glance away, at the same moment laughing under his breath at her boldness. Before he married her, he could not have guessed at this side of her. Now as it gradually revealed itself, he would not change anything about her. Not one thing.
With his free hand, he grasped her beckoning one, and followed her out the door and through the maze of corridors.
He hesitated when they reached the glade they had picnicked in the day before, the memories still fresh.
Lily’s heart ached, sensing her husband’s pain, and paused to whisper in his ear. “It’s all right, Frodo-love... it’s time for new memories...”
Frodo’s eyes widened, then clouded. “Lily-sweet, not all memories can be dimmed by... by...” He breathed deeply before forging on. “Sooner or later, we must speak of It. We must speak of the Ring.”
“I know,” Lily sighed. “But today... today, I cannot bear any more...”
Her husband raised his brows first in surprise, then distress.
“Lily-sweet, I wish never to burden you--”
She covered his lips with her fingers and watched his eyes close, then open again; she felt suddenly lightheaded, losing herself in the depth of him, there within the blue she loved so well.
Her tender smile reached her eyes. “You are not a burden, Frodo-love. Today, I want your attention, wholly and without shadows. And I want to be able to give you my attention without wondering if I am not attuned to a hidden meaning. I will be quite content if you would but hold me, and if we speak of nothing save the colours of the rainbow created by the falls.”
Then willingly he followed her as she blithely stepped on a rock at the edge of the pond, then another and another, leading him to the waterfall, then behind it, into a cave not much taller than they were. It dug into the mountainside a short distance, and the floor was smooth, firmly-packed dirt.
Lily shook out their blanket, then removed her husband’s coat and laid it aside with the fruit atop, placing the flask next to it, and finally settling herself on the blanket. She patted the spot beside her.
Frodo smiled, looking at her from beneath dark eyelashes. “You’ll not mind if I steal an occasional kiss...”
Her shocked expression failed, breaking easily into an inviting smile. “I’ll be disappointed if you don’t.”
Frodo laughed, then lay back with his hands behind his head, and sighed contentedly. “There is no echo.”
Lily continued to sit, gazing out through the curtain of the falls which hid them from the world. “No. In fact, the water actually covers any other sound quite well.”
Frodo found unexpected pleasure in simply watching Lily from this vantage, her long hair cascading down her back, free of any ribbon today. He reached out and played with the ends, then returned the smile his wife gave him when she glanced over her shoulder at him.
“Lily-sweet, how do you know this?”
She sighed as her husband began to rub her back. “Last night, Felena told me the children who lived here -- long ago now, I understand -- discovered it. I believe she mentioned that more than one errant child endeavored to hide here, only to be disappointed that their parents knew of the place. But several of them used to spend hours playing here. Including Aragorn.”
“Aragorn?” Frodo chuckled, then gently pulled Lily down to lie next to him, easing her head to his shoulder.
She nestled against her husband. “Indeed.”
Frodo smiled against her hair, kissing the soft waves. How he wished they could speak of children, but his heart reminded him his wife did not want any shadows today, and too often talk of children brought just that. He would let her speak as she felt inclined, and consoled himself that talk of children would come again, and mayhap dear Lily would not mind.
“So the Elves know of this place...” Frodo murmured.
He held his wife closer, allowing his hands to wander as they would, marveling anew at her softness. With a small start he realized how often she carefully chose when and where they discussed the things he found painful and difficult. He would do the same for her.
She played with the buttons on his waistcoat, until he placed his hand on hers and helped her unfasten the first button, gently encouraging her to release the rest. And she felt the change within him, his desire deepening but still reined in, and struggled to remember what she meant to say next.
“Felena--,” she began, but found it nearly impossible to think with Frodo’s strong and loving hands upon her. She started again. “Felena says -- that most no longer remember it. It is--” She felt him raise her long hair off the nape of her neck, then the caress of his warms lips there. Breathing was suddenly difficult. “It is--” she struggled on, “after all, very small, only fit -- for children...” Another warm, heartfelt kiss. “-- And -- and hobbits...”
Frodo had not thought he would ever care to be held fast within the confines of a cave again. Yet, here in this place, with her, his love, his dearest friend, he was safe, safer than ever he imagined possible. How different was the feel of the air’s moisture here. Not like the sultry lair... without touching, he felt the scar on his neck, and shuddered.
Then he shuddered down to his toes; her lips, soft and sweet, caressed him at the scar there, tenderly... How could such horror lead to such pleasure? Again, she kissed him lingeringly in the same place, banishing the past. His breath quickened, just as it had then, in that other time and place, but now it was so different... He kissed her cheek, and found himself unable to resist easing her Elvish dress from her shoulder to caress her there, then held her close once more so he could feel the change in her breathing. He delighted in these small moments, the unveiling of her desire.
He glanced out the rounded opening, and his own breath caught. Like the Window on the West, it was; all crystalline droplets and mysterious moon, gazing out from their hiding place. This space behind the falls was certainly too small for the Elves to use in any way. Not so for hobbits... then his view was obscured by warm auburn tresses as she bent over him. The chill of the water faded in the heat of her breath against his cheek, and the fire of her lips claiming his. The tugging of the past, fading into her, pulling him closer. The ever-sweetening interrogation of his heart...
Never had he felt such warmth amidst such coolness. The errant thought struck his mind, and escaped, spiraling away like the beaded drops trickling down his neck. Desperately, he endeavored to think on things other than his lover’s form, so sweetly caught in the light of the rainbow prism created by the soft misty falls. Had Lúthien looked thus, he wondered, when first Beren spied her, dancing, beneath the moon?
Had she felt like this, all sweet and soft and dark and light? Had she murmured, had she whispered love into an ear strained by loneliness and longing?
Belatedly, he realized he cared not at all.
He was grateful for this place of solitude, this haven of peace for himself and his wife, grateful for her beauty of spirit, and as he bent to kiss her again, more deeply, more desperately, he was grateful for the soft curve of her breast beneath his hand, grateful for the love in her green-hazel eyes, and amazed, still, that she would thank him aloud for something he could hardly deny himself: the intense pleasure of being joined with her, the bliss of his release, and of hers... nor could he withhold his own words of gratitude and love...
Still shaking in the aftermath, still drowning as Lily kissed him everywhere, Frodo prayed to Ilúvatar that they had made a child, and if not, that they might always be so close, like this, so dear to each other, so happy to give.
A soft smile touched her lips as she realized she could lightly wrap her arms around her lover and still he could kiss her almost everywhere. She felt more content than she imagined possible as he offered light caresses across her skin, lulling her to sleep, moments after her kisses, and their words of love and thanks.
He watched the waterfall for a moment, wondering how he had arrived here, in this place, at this moment, with she who loved him as no one ever had. Then he bent once more, this time to kiss her womb, which was his own blessing, and fell into a deep slumber in the sheltering warmth of her arms.