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Sacrament

by CRB and Ladyhawk Baggins

16 August 1420sr

At second breakfast, Frodo and Lily shared their meal at the little table provided for them in the Feasting Hall.

Lord Elrond entered and his searching gaze swept the room, settling on the couple. He strode purposefully to their table.

“Good morning. Frodo, might I have a word with you?” The Elf smiled at Lily. “Would you lend me your husband for a moment?”

Lily answered his smile. “Certainly, but only for a moment.”

Elrond inclined his head, amused afresh at the little hobbit’s forthright manner.

He guided Frodo to a quiet corner.

“Frodo,” the Elf spoke so only the hobbit could hear. “I know of a place... it is small, but comfortable. A cottage, I think you might call it? Felena has need of it, from time to time, and has offered its use to you and Lily. And it is not far from here... less than a half day’s easy walk; a quiet place for being alone. Do you remember the pine-woods you wished to explore, when you first visited here?”

At the hobbit’s surprised expression and slow nod, the Elf continued. “Gandalf mentioned it. I think now would be a good time to visit there. You shall be away from well-meaning, searching eyes... take Lily there this morning. You may return late on the morrow, if you so desire...”

Frodo gazed up into Elrond’s face and his ever-present calm demeanor. The hobbit did not hide the question in his eyes.

Elrond continued, keeping his voice low. “Felena has already arranged for it, and is even now preparing a satchel of food and drink... you should not need more for the short journey there... When you and Lily are ready, I shall lead you to the path, then set a watch, so you are not disturbed...”

Understanding gradually dawned in Frodo’s countenance, and he blushed, then stopped as he noted the perception in Elrond’s eyes. “Thank you...”

The Elf slowly shook his head. “I offer this for you both, but more for her, perhaps... Felena tells me your lady is feeling considerably better, and believes -- and I concur -- she may appreciate some time away from the attention...”

Frodo smiled. “Yes, all this does wear on her, but she would never admit it, for fear of appearing ungrateful.” Then he bowed. “Thank you, my lord.” He glanced up with a grin, then caught his breath at the pained look in Elrond’s eyes.

“What is it, Lord Elrond?”

The Elf strove to speak without allowing the tears to show. “Estel spoke rightly. You bow to no one... It is my honour to serve you...”

The Master of Rivendell bowed low. He startled at the touch of the small hand on his shoulder, then glanced up into endless depths of blue.

“Lord Elrond, I shall never grow accustomed to such deference,” Frodo replied, a slight furrow etched in his brow. Then he smiled. “I shall fetch my dear Lily, so we might be on our way.”

Elrond returned the smile. “I shall await you in the courtyard.”

The Elf lord began to turn away, then caught the faintly pained expression on the hobbit’s face. “Not all journeys that begin there are unpleasant, dear friend.”

Frodo nodded, and the worry left his eyes. “I know.”

---------

The path was smooth, and wide enough for Frodo and Lily to walk hand in hand. He had said nothing to her but that they were going for a long walk.

When they reached a small clearing, they stopped to picnic. Lily tucked her legs under her, then giggled when Frodo promptly lay with his head in her lap. She laughed when he gave her an innocent look. Then she ran her fingers through his curls and fed him strawberries as he told her of his day with Elrond, Elrohir, and Gandalf, discussing the departure of the small company of Elves from Lothlórien to the West in a few days’ time, and Elrond’s own plans to visit Minas Tirith.

“They almost convinced me we should go to Minas Tirith,” Frodo laughed.

Lily smiled enigmatically. “Mayhap, one day, Frodo-love.”

Frodo smiled in return, studying her expression for a long moment. “Mayhap, my sweet.”

They enjoyed their fill, then Frodo rolled to his feet and offered his hand to Lily, helping her to her feet and into his arms, his eyes sparkling with humour and love.

Lily giggled, and her heart began to beat faster.

Frodo searched her eyes, then watched as her lips parted slightly, and he felt his breathing change. Slowly, he lowered his head, all the while searching her eyes, until they closed, and she lifted her face to receive his kiss.

Tenderly, he caressed her lips. Her eager response drew from him a deepening of their kiss, until a different hunger filled him, and he broke away, breathless.

He would have released his wife, but she would not. Her arms about him tightened, and she pulled him close once more. She offered a soft, tentative kiss, not wanting to beguile her husband here, in this place, still so near to Rivendell, yet wanting more. Then she buried her face against his chest, attempting to catch her own breath.

After standing together for several moments, Frodo calmed enough to speak. “Are you ready to continue, sweet?”

Against his chest, Lily’s reply was muffled. “Yes, love.”

They took another steadying breath together and laughed, then headed up the path, with Lily telling Frodo of the teas Felena had taught her about.

Another hour passed as they walked, and Lily gazed about her in continuing wonder. Then a shadow passed across her face.

“What is it, sweet?”

Lily sighed. “I suppose we should think about turning back soon.”

“Not just yet,” Frodo smiled. “Let’s go a little further yet.”

The path curved, and opened onto a clearing, with a stream meandering its way through one corner of it. On the far end stood a structure of Elvish architecture, open on all sides.

Lily stopped, and stared in surprise.

Frodo watched her surreptitiously, hoping she was pleased. “It seems a part of the clearing, and at the same time adds to the beauty of the surroundings, does it not?”

“Oh, Frodo...” she breathed, and continued to stare.

“Felena comes here, from time to time, and has offered it to us, at least until the morrow.” He could not hide the sudden concern he felt that she did not want to be here. Perhaps she wasn’t ready. “Does it please you, Lily-sweet?”

Tears filled Lily’s eyes. “Just the two of us?” she whispered.

Concern grew in Frodo’s heart. “Yes, beloved, if you like.”

Lily drew a shuddering breath and blinked, then turned her gaze to her husband. She searched his eyes. “I dared not hope to be alone with you, away from everyone...” Her tears spilled over.

Frodo smiled softly, and drew his wife into his arms. “Come, let us see what it is like,” he murmured, as though they were conspiring.

Lily giggled, sniffed, and dried her tears.

They approached the graceful building and entered through one of the open archways. It was but one room. Three walls were lined with books, while the fourth framed a white stone fireplace. There was a single chair, and a settee made up to serve as a bed. On the table, by one of the many archways, a feast was laid of scones, cheeses, fruits, the makings for tea, and a jar of the blackberry preserves Lily and Felena had prepared the day before.

“Are you hungry, Lily-sweet?”

“Yes,” Lily whispered.

Frodo glanced from the table into his lover’s eyes, and the breath left his body.

---------

He saw the longing in her eyes, the open desire, and an answering desire leapt within his soul and body, filling him, and he gave up the fight against his own need for her. The past several days had indeed been difficult; he had missed her caresses, her kisses, her warmth...

Seeing her now as she lay gazing up at him, with the Sun kissing her skin, its light shining in her hair, he wanted to weep at the strength of his love for her, but that would not do; she would be distressed... Perhaps -- he might allow himself to weep afterward. Lily often did, her tears and words flowing from her brokenly, until she calmed...

She was not calm now, and he was not truly surprised at the depth of the passion he saw in the hazel-green of her eyes. He had seen it many times before, and yet each time it was new.

“How I love you, Lily,” he sighed, and caressed her neck with his lips, and felt her trembling at his touch.

“Frodo, I love you,” she whispered breathlessly.

Her lips were parted, willing him to her with their colour and softness, and he could wait no longer. He lowered his head and shuddered as his mouth met hers, his kisses heavy and full of languor. He wanted to touch her softness, taste the sweetness of her, to see her response to his giving...

For it was a pure giving, unencumbered by the expectation of anything in return. She enjoyed it so; she answered his passion so... He could not begin to describe the joy he felt at being able to please her so completely. He would not have dreamed it possible, before her, but then again she had taught him so much. And she had guided him in learning not to shy away from the joy. She had shown him how to embrace it, to hold it, as they were holding each other now, lost to all else.

Giving, and taking... the giving felt richer. A door opened within his soul, and for a moment he knew the secret to everything. No matter how blessed he felt -- accepting her love, as she gave all of herself, open to him like a flower open to the Sun -- no matter how wondrous her love for him was, giving back to her felt best of all. He knew it was the same for her; he read it within the warmth of her eyes. They understood each other, and the circle was complete.

They gave freely to each other, and as it happened, she did weep for joy afterward, almost sobbing, her breathing broken. His own breathing was much the same. He kissed away her tears, and saved his own for another time. He sensed she wanted his smile, and he would give her anything and everything she wanted, at this moment.

When he smiled for her, he was amazed again at her reaction; the peace and contentment in her lovely face flowed into his heart. Her happiness was his own.

“Frodo-love...” Her lids were heavy, and he kissed them shut.

“Sleep, dearest. I’ll watch over you.”

“Only a nap... only...” She could barely speak, her eyes still closed.

“Yes, sweet. Only a nap. I’ll wake you, and then I’ll feed you. Don’t think about anything. Sleep.” He kissed her eyes again, then her soft silken hair.

She was asleep.

How can I love her even more when she sleeps? he mused in wonder. Or is it simply that I love her more with every moment...

Suddenly he thought of Sam, and of the countless times his friend had guarded him while he slept, exhausted and weary, full of dark dreams, his sleep providing no real rest. Sam had taught him the meaning of giving.

A sense of frustration crept over him, frustration at being unable to give back to Sam and to Lily, to Gandalf, to all of them... A deep ache arose within his breast and he fought it, knowing he must accept their gifts with grace. He could never repay them. It would always be thus. Ilúvatar, help me to learn this...

Lily nestled closer, and as she slept in his arms contentment returned; an answer to a prayer.

He did not know why he suddenly thought of Boromir’s gift to his cousins, of his sacrifice for them. Surely Merry and Pippin faced the same feelings of frustration, unable to thank their friend, who had given his life for theirs.

He had never seen Boromir’s wounded and lifeless body. He shivered at the thought of it, and his lover tightened her hold on him, allowing him to pursue his thoughts. Boromir had been so vital, so full of life. His energy was that of ten other Men, a different sort of energy entirely from the quiet strength of Aragorn and Legolas, and Gandalf... Boromir was more akin to Gimli, ready to face anything, hoping to act, eager to leap into the fray...

And so unlike hobbits, whose happiness lay in resting from their labours.

How he wished he could thank Boromir, as well. Another soul he could not hope to thank, not at all... Perhaps at the Second Gift, he could thank him...

Lily stirred, with a wordless murmur, and he knew she would want to wake. She needed to eat, besides, as did he. He nearly laughed, wondering if in fact he would ever remember to eat if his dear love were not now his wife, beside him each day. He would have wasted away, without her...

As she woke, she saw her lover gazing at nothing, a faintly shocked expression, his brow slightly furrowed.

“Frodo-love?”

He was shaken out of his reverie, shaken out of the stark reminder that indeed he had been wasting away before she loved him. He was on the slow road to an endless death...

“You saved me from myself,” he whispered hoarsely, and gathered her against him, holding her tightly.

Lily realized she was still sleepy, and her gift of sight was dimmed. “Dearest Frodo, what is the matter?” she queried softly, her ear pressed against his beating heart. His skin was warm, his arms soothing.

“Nothing,” he smiled, gazing down at her. It could wait until another day. “I love you, sweet. Let’s eat, shall we?”

---------

17 August 1420sr

Through veiled eyes, Frodo appreciatively watched Lily gather their breakfast on a plate, and bring it back to their bed. He fluffed the pillows and threw back the comforter, patting the space beside him.

Lily giggled, and bounced onto their makeshift bed, almost spilling their plate.

Frodo found himself wondering if he had ever seen his lover’s eyes sparkle as they did this morning. With another giggle, Lily raised the plate above her head, and he covered them both with the comforter, then placed the plate of food on his middle and drew up his knees to help steady it there. As he fed his wife, he found himself watching her more closely than ever before. He knew she would notice, but could not refrain.

“What is it, Frodo-love?” Lily asked as she swallowed a blackberry.

“The way you draw your brows together when you’re curious is different from when you’re worried.” He smiled. “You’re not worried now.”

“Why would I be worried?”

“No reason... but Lily...” Should he mention the difference he noticed? Would she mind? He glanced at the plate of food and picked up a cherry, then put it down again, searching his wife’s eyes once more.

“Sweet, it is only that today you seem more -- lighthearted than I have ever known you.” He glanced away again, out toward the clearing, though he did not see anything for the thoughts cluttering his mind. “Are my memories such a burden to you?”

Lily startled, unmoving, then she sighed and leaned back, more on her husband than the pillows. She trembled and drew a calming breath as his arm stole around her waist, holding her closer. Her eyes closed briefly at the deepening awareness of his skin against hers.

She laid her hand on her lover’s blanket-covered knee and began picking at the coverlet.

Frodo could not describe the feeling such intimacy elicited. He knew his wife was distracted simply because -- for a moment -- she seemed wholly unaware of him. A smile crept across his lips as he realized she was ever aware of him. His heart raced a little faster, for had she not chosen to lean against him, rather than the pillows? Why had he asked her anything, when all he wanted was to share her love? Suddenly he wondered if he actually wanted the answer to the question.

Lily absently relaxed her hand atop Frodo’s knee, and shifted more comfortably against him. “No, it isn’t your memories. I do love being here in Rivendell... it’s odd. We are waited on at every turn, and yet I find it... wearing. Being called ‘my lady’ is flattering, but it also creates distance. And at the same time, my gift gives me an intimate knowing, belying the spoken, and unspoken, formalities. It’s all rather unsettling, and yet...”

Frodo kissed the tip of her ear, and allowed her to feel the smile on his lips. “And yet, you do not wish to be disrespectful of their customs and ways...”

“Yes,” Lily sighed.

She picked up the cherry Frodo had put down and, glancing back at him over her shoulder, she smiled and fed it to him.

His answering smile broadened as she drew her brows together again. He swallowed the cherry. “What are you thinking now, Lily-sweet?”

First her eyes widened; then she giggled. “There have been times when I wished you possessed the same gift of sight as my own, so that you might know of my deep love for you, but methinks you see clearly enough without it...”

Frodo threw back his head and laughed, then released a heartfelt sigh. “Only on occasion, beloved, do you allow yourself to unreservedly reveal what you are feeling. It delights me when you do, but it is rare indeed when your face tells what you are thinking. Forgive this poor, simple-minded hobbit, and tell me what you are thinking...”

Frodo laughed again, this time at the incredulous look his wife gave him.

“Frodo Baggins,” Lily reprimanded; then she smiled. “It is so good to hear you laugh...”

“Come, sweet,” Frodo grinned, “there is something in your heart you have not told me.”

“And I shall, as soon as you’ll let me!” she scolded, but the smile in her eyes refuted the severity of her tone.

“Tell me,” he murmured in her ear, then kissed the tip of it.

Lily closed her eyes and struggled to breathe evenly as her husband shifted slightly, settling her more comfortably within his arms. “Truth be told--”

Frodo kissed her cheek, and nodded against her. “Yes?”

Lily sighed, and almost gave herself over to the delicious feelings her husband was evoking. “Beloved, I truly want to tell you, but it’s difficult--” her breath caught “--it’s difficult when you touch me--”

“Would you like me to stop?” he whispered.

“No, and yes...”

The laughter started deep inside him, then spilled out, high and carefree. “Mistress Baggins, now I know we have been here too long!”

Lily laughed with him, and gratitude toward the Creator welled up inside her, for the time they shared, for this moment -- for this beautiful and dear hobbit, who was her husband.

Frodo gradually got his breath back, then Lily popped several cherries into his mouth.

She smiled sweetly, noting the slight consternation and amusement in his sapphire-blue eyes. “Yes, Frodo-love, those are to keep you busy while I tell you what I have been thinking.”

Frodo opened his mouth to reply, and found another cherry stuffed into it. His eyes twinkled, and he nodded for Lily to proceed, fighting the urge to laugh. It was remarkably difficult to keep it in, and he almost snorted but caught himself in time.

“When we return home... I mean... I...”

Concern touched Frodo’s heart; he rubbed his cheek against her hair, endeavoring to offer comfort and at the same time not distract her overmuch.

Lily sighed, and decided to start again. “When we’re back in the Shire, is there a way that we may be... less noticed?”

Frodo started, then tightened his hold on his wife before she could pull away. “Of all the things I imagined you might say, that was decidedly not one of them...”

“Are you... displeased?”

“Not in the least. I too prefer to be... unnoticed... but it is not an easy thing when one is a Baggins...”

“I know,” Lily sighed, unable to keep the forlorn tone from her voice.

Frodo pulled her closer, then kissed the tip of her ear once more. His thoughts stopped briefly as he reveled in her sigh of contentment, and the feel of her nestling against him. He blinked, and endeavored to concentrate on their conversation. Could he solve this quandary for her?

“Lily, Sam has become quite renowned for his gardening skills, especially with the events of this last spring, what with all he accomplished in the four farthings. I think he visited every village, in the Shire. I doubt any Mayor has ever done that before. His name and reputation has reached every corner of the Shire... What he’s been doing easily overshadows any Baggins tales, for it is far more pertinent to their everyday living...

“And did you notice, at the Free Fair, that many were referring to him as a master of gardening, and the best in all the Shire, mayhap the best the Shire has ever seen... and do you remember how Sam and Rosie seemed to participate those days, in one way or another, in all the goings-on?”

Lily nodded her head against her husband, unaware, at first, of the effect of her silken hair brushing his skin, until her senses sharpened. She felt the small hitch in his breathing, then his struggle to control it, and to breathe deeply and evenly. A smile inched across her face. How it pleased her that she could affect him so!

“Yes, I remember, Frodo-love. What are you thinking?”

“I’m thinking, sweet, that Samwise Gamgee shall be taking a larger role in the Shire than he might have... before the Quest. Indeed, he might make a fair mayor of the Shire someday... mayhap even in seven years time... I’m thinking Mayor Whitfield may be ready to step down...”

“That would be good, and Rosie is dearly loved, as well; and she does possess an uncommon fortitude, I’m thinking,” Lily murmured, almost to herself.

“Indeed. The names most spoken shall be changing, as the years go by. However, Mistress Baggins, I think we should keep such thoughts to ourselves, for the time being, anyway.”

“Yes... neither Sam, nor Rosie, would be comfortable just yet... I’m thinking they don’t yet fully understand your gift of a home and land of their own...”

“I think they will after this first harvest.”

“How I miss them, Frodo-love...” Lily sighed.

“As do I, sweet... more than I can say... but you understand, don’t you?”

“Yes, love. Only a few more days, and we’ll be turning for home...”

“Lily-sweet, even without the gift of sight I can feel how your heart leaps at the thought of returning home...”

“I’m sorry, Frodo--”

“No, it’s quite all right, sweet. I too am ready to go home. What say you we give the ponies the once over, when we return, before the evening meal?”

Lily smiled at the enthusiasm in her husband’s voice. “Now there’s a trio what’ll not be happy about returning home.”

Frodo chuckled. “No indeed! But there’s no way around that one. However, methinks once they smell Shire fields again, they’ll be happy enough.”

“Mmmmm... much of the harvest will be over by the time we return home.”

Lily removed the empty plate from its resting place on her husband’s belly, and laid it on the floor next to their bed, then returned to his arms, facing him.

“Time is too short to wish away even a moment, Frodo-love,” Lily whispered. She smiled. “You have been very patient, beloved, and such patience should be richly rewarded.”

She giggled at her lover’s wide-eyed surprise, then shrieked in delight when he abruptly pulled her snugly into his arms, growling.

A deep gratitude filled Frodo’s heart as he realized Lily allowed him to tickle her gently, for the first time, before turning the tables, until they lay on their backs, side by side, laughing.

“Lily,” Frodo panted, struggling to catch his breath. He lifted his lover’s hand to his lips and kissed the back of it, and then her palm. “Lily, dearest Lily, I must know... You never let me tickle you. Why? Why did you let me today?”

She took several more deep breaths before she could speak. “My dearest Frodo-love, I felt certain you would stop when I asked, and you did.”

“You believed I would not, before?”

“No, dearest; I wasn’t sure if I would have the courage to ask you to stop.” At the look on her husband’s face, she hurried on. “I do trust you, Frodo-love, but with you, I don’t always trust myself.”

She smiled encouragingly, then turned on her side to nestle more closely to her husband. “Sometimes, I feel almost as if I lose myself in you... I feared I might let you tickle me simply to please you, until mayhap I cried, like my brother did a few times, until my da found out. Then that was the end of that. But I knew if I did that you would be miserable, so I waited until I felt certain I would be able to tell you ‘no more’ and you would not show disappointment or regret, but simply do as I asked.”

Lily leaned closer, and softly caressed her husband’s lips with her own. “And you did.”

Frodo enfolded his wife in a warm embrace. “Shall I always be learning new things about you?”

Lily grinned. “I hope so. I should hate for there to be no more surprises.”

A smile of gentle wonder spread across Frodo’s face and into his eyes.

“How I love you, Frodo Baggins, more than I ever imagined possible,” Lily breathed. Tears filled her eyes. “Never shall I be able to thank Ilúvatar enough, for bringing you home to me.”

“Lily-sweet,” Frodo whispered, and swallowed hard, “I shall spend the rest of my days thanking Ilúvatar for you.”

They met in a gentle kiss, tasting the salt of their tears, and the increasing sweetness of their devotion.

---------

Lily paused in the archway and turned back to gaze over the little room. She reflected on the two days they spent in shared love, in perusing the books, and in exploring the clearing and woods.

Frodo stepped beside her, and slid his arm about her waist.

She smiled and blinked back tears. “We’ll not see this again, shall we...”

“No, we’ll not,” he replied gently.

A sigh escaped her, and she laid her head on her husband’s shoulder. “It was a lovely time... I’ll not ever forget it.”

“Neither shall I,” Frodo smiled, and kissed his wife’s cheek.

She returned her lover’s smile, and allowed him to lead her across the clearing. And when they reached the curve in the path, she glanced back once more.

Frodo tightened his hold on her hand, and she smiled for him, quickly brushing away a tear with her free hand.

“I’m ready,” she assured him, and stepped forward, leaving the clearing behind them.

---------

Though their return walk to Rivendell started out somber, Frodo was quite pleased with himself for deciding to undertake the task of easing his wife’s sadness along the way.

“Lily-sweet, the ponies shall look at us askance, wondering where we’ve been. Can you hear your Merry nickering at you, as if he is scolding you?”

“Yes.” Lily giggled, but muffled it by swallowing hard.

“And Strider! Strider shall look at me with those baleful eyes, which all ponies seem to possess -- and use quite effectively -- accusing me of abandoning him without a single word!”

“Yes...” Lily fought with the growing smile on her face, and finally needed to look away.

“And Pippin!” Frodo waited until Lily looked back at him. “Pippin shall behave as though he has never before laid eyes on us! We shall seem as utter strangers to him, it has been so long, and he’ll ensure we know it.”

Lily stopped resisting and let the laughter pour out. “Frodo Baggins! How am I to pout about leaving our charming hideaway when you weave such absurd stories?!”

Frodo blinked at her innocently. “I didn’t realize you were trying to pout. I’m sorry, sweet.” He hung his head. “I shall cease and desist.”

“Oh!” Lily stopped and stomped her foot. “You are impossible!”

Frodo did not raise his head, but glanced at her from the corner of his eye. Then a grin spread across his face as her own smile broke free.

She sighed, and slid her arms around her husband’s waist, gazing up into his cerulean eyes. “Mister Baggins, you warned me over and over about the hardships I would face with you.”

Frodo’s eyes widened at the sudden turn of the conversation.

Lily allowed a small smile to touch her lips, in an effort to ease her husband’s sudden concern. “Tell me, if you can, Mister Baggins, why is it you never told me about how much fun we would have?”

Frodo coughed and blinked, then stared at his wife, his mouth agape.

Then Lily grinned, and slowly reached up until their mouths almost touched; she gently nipped his bottom lip, her eyes sparkling. She felt his heart race against hers suddenly as she wound her arms about his neck, drawing him closer.

His eyes widened, and he swallowed hard, his breathing uneven. He held utterly still, unsure of what she intended.

Lily delighted in tasting his lips, drawing out a gradual response from her husband; his hands at her waist, wrapped around her, holding her fast against him, until he claimed her mouth and deepened their kiss hungrily.

When finally she could breathe and think again, she took quick stock of her appearance and blushed to her toes.

Frodo smiled. “Mistress Baggins, you look... fetchingly mussed.”

Lily giggled, and pinked all the more. “Mister Baggins, I believe you are blushing at least as much as I am. Now please do stop gawking and help me,” she pleaded.

Frodo chortled and paused only long enough to earn a beseeching glance, then aided his wife.

They began walking again and soon found themselves at the stables, where the ostler glanced up at the couple and offered a silent, respectful bow.

To Lily it seemed as though he came to himself, and left his work of pulling out buckets for the evening feeding. He smiled, almost shyly, to Lily’s heart, and handed her three apples.

“Thank you,” Lily smiled.

He nodded and returned to his work.

Lily glanced at him once more, then followed Frodo to the pasture.

Frodo whistled, and three pony heads slowly rose from grazing; without looking about, they headed away from the hobbits.

Lily grasped Frodo’s arm, her eyes wide when finally she sought her husband’s.

A crooked smile touched Frodo’s face. “They’re more put out than I imagined they’d be.”

The ostler approached with three buckets. “No need to worry, my lady. They only need the right incentive.”

He offered the hobbits a smile, then shook the buckets; the grain rustled within.

All three heads popped up from their grazing. Pippin turned swiftly, followed by Merry and then Strider, first walking, then breaking into an easy trot. They stopped just as abruptly in front of the Elf, jostling each other.

Finally, the ponies stood still, their noses flaring, their breath heavy as they sniffed the air for a better whiff of the grain in the buckets.

The Elf placed a bucket in front of each pony, but still they waited, shifting their weight on their feet impatiently. Then the Elf bowed, slightly, and three heads dove into their respective buckets.

The ponies snuffled and munched noisily, grain dribbling from their mouths.

Lily spoke to the Elf, her voice tentative. “Shall they be willing to carry us home?”

“Yes, my lady. They are simply of a mind to enjoy their last few days here. Once you are on your way, they shall settle, and more easily than the coming. You may feed them the apples once the grain is gone.”

“Thank you... I am sorry, I do not know your name,” Lily suddenly realized.

“Roccondil, my lady.”

Frodo drew his brows together in concentration; he looked up again when the words came to him. “Horse-lover?”

The Elf bowed.

Lily did not hide her curiosity. “We’ve not seen you at any of the meals or festivities.”

“No, my lady.”

“May I ask why?”

The Elf found himself momentarily captured by the open sincerity of the hobbit lass. Then he smiled ruefully.

“I am more... comfortable, with my horses.”

“I am uncertain why this surprises me,” Lily admitted. “I don’t imagine your parents realized how fitting would be the name they chose for you.”

“They did not choose it, my lady. I chose it for myself. It has been so long, I no longer remember what name they gave me.”

Lily sought Frodo’s hand, and was comforted by his warmth as she struggled to understand what she was hearing and feeling.

“Your parents, they also call you by the name you’ve chosen for yourself?”

“They do not know of it, my lady. They sailed into the West during the First Age.”

“But -- they didn’t take you with them?”

“I was of age, my lady, to choose for myself. In truth, my heart already belonged to the horses. I chose my name after my parents left.”

“Then you will some day be traveling to the West?”

The Elf patted each pony’s neck in turn. “As long as there are horses in need of my care, my lady, I shall remain here, in Middle-earth. They are ready to greet you, my lady.”

The Elf gathered up the empty buckets, nodded to the couple, and returned to the stables.

Frodo and Lily fed the ponies their apples and patted them, smoothing ruffled forelocks.

“All is forgiven.” Frodo smiled, then searched his wife’s face; it was serious and distant.

“Does his story weigh on your heart, dearest Lily?”

“The more I learn of the Elves, Frodo-love, the less I understand them.”

“Does it trouble you?”

“I am... unaccustomed to being placed in such a position... with my gift of sight, I have been blessed to understand the hearts of others, but the Elves...”

“They hold nothing of the familiarity you’ve found in hobbits?”

“I suppose, after a fashion. I think I could spend all my days with Elves and never understand them.”

“And I think you’re right, dear one,” Frodo smiled.

Lily returned the smile. “The bell for the evening meal will be ringing soon.”

“Indeed.” Frodo turned to the ponies. “Off you go, lads, enjoy the last few days of lazy grazing.”

They gave each animal a final pat, then turned toward their rooms to ready themselves for the evening meal.