Lily and Frodo entered the Feasting Hall for second breakfast, arm in arm, their heads close together in quiet conversation.
Frodo glanced away from his wife, in the direction they were going; he paused, holding Lily back with him. He nodded to their table, and grinned.
He caught the puzzled expression that crossed Lily’s face, then she followed his gaze, and smiled as well.
Bilbo sat at their table, in the corner. He had commandeered the chair closest to the wall, and even now leaned against it. The old hobbit’s chin rested on his chest, and he was snoring softly.
Frodo and Lily took their seats quietly, and began to eat.
As Gandalf entered the hall and approached their table, he found himself silently hushed by the couple.
Bilbo woke with a snort, blinking. He glanced up at the wizard, then glared. “Oh no you don’t! You may not take them away anywhere, today! They are spending the day with me, do you hear?”
Lily blinked at the ferocity in the aged hobbit’s voice.
He met his niece’s startled gaze, and blushed. “I’m sorry, my dear. You don’t mind spending the day with an old curmudgeon, do you?”
Lily giggled at the beseeching earnestness of the elderly hobbit, but before she could answer Gandalf cleared his throat.
“What ever are you talking about, Bilbo Baggins? I have absolutely no intention of taking them anywhere. I was, in fact, intending to spend the day with the three of you, but I am thinking better of it now.”
Bilbo ducked his head, chagrined. “Please, do join us, and forgive me, old friend. Blame my boorish outburst on... on...”
A flicker of a smile crossed the wizard’s face. “On the earliness of the hour...”
“Yes! That’s it exactly,” Bilbo declared, then smiled. “You know me too well, you old conjurer. Now, sit and join us! You know how I hate it when you tower over me like that. It reminds me of my Aunt Camellia Sackville, standing over me, instructing me in the importance of eating one’s vegetables, or some such nonsense. Thoroughly unpleasant, all in all. No wonder Otho turned out as he did, and married someone just like his mother.” Bilbo shuddered.
Frodo’s eyes twinkled, his smile bemused; then he met Gandalf’s furtive wink.
Bilbo cleared his throat noisily.
“Now, on to pleasanter things. Pick up your plate, Gandalf, and carry it with you. I simply won’t spend another moment here when I’ve a nice, comfortable chair on my balcony... almost as comfortable as the chair in my study...”
Frodo smiled. “The wingback?”
“That’s the one,” Bilbo chuckled.
“It’s Lily’s favourite, as well, Uncle.”
“Is it now?”
Lily giggled. “It positively invites one to be lazy... to curl up with a book and a cup of tea.”
Bilbo leaned in close. “And it’s big enough for two...” he whispered loudly, with a broad wink.
Lily’s eyes flew open wide. “How would you know that?”
The old hobbit stared at her innocently. “I remember Frodo reading stories to young Samwise, in that chair, though neither of them knew I knew,” he said, attempting without success to lower his voice.
An unlooked-for thought entered Lily’s mind. She held her tongue until they were settled on the balcony. Frodo’s arm about her shoulders sent a tremor through her unexpectedly, and she nestled against him.
They sat in companionable silence for several moments, until Lily could remain quiet no longer, as though the silence invited her question.
“Bilbo?” She gazed steadfastly at her hand, held idly in Frodo’s lap.
“Yes?” He took a sip of tea.
“You needn’t answer, if you prefer, but after what you suggested, earlier -- how two could fit in the chair -- I find myself wondering... were you ever... I mean to say, was there ever anyone... special, in your life?”
The teacup clattered against the saucer in Bilbo’s hand. “What?”
“I’m sorry,” Lily blushed, and continued on hurriedly. “I shouldn’t have asked such a thing. Please, forgive me.”
Bilbo huffed and grumbled to himself.
Watching them all intently, Gandalf studied each of the hobbits in turn.
“Bilbo,” the wizard sighed, “why not tell her?”
Lily felt Frodo start beside her, and realized he did not know this story.
The old hobbit gazed at his three listeners from under grey, furrowed brows, then shrugged, sat back, and began to rock in his chair.
“I suppose it doesn’t truly matter now.” He looked sharply at Lily; then his face and voice softened. “It isn’t what you think.”
His resignation was palpable.
“What was her name?” Lily asked gently.
Bilbo sighed. “Petunia. Petunia Gamgee.”
Both Lily and Frodo sat up straighter, their eyes wide.
A soft smile touched the old hobbit’s mouth, as he stared afar off, seeing the past come more clearly into view.
“She was Hobson Gamgee’s older sister.” He turned his gaze to Lily and Frodo. “Frodo I’m certain knows that Hobson is Roper Gamgee, whose son is Hamfast...”
“The Gaffer!” Frodo sat stunned.
Lily blinked. “Sam’s gaffer?”
“The same,” Bilbo smiled.
Lily did the figuring in her mind. “So she was Sam’s great aunt?”
“Yes, though young Samwise never knew her.” Bilbo sighed.
Frodo and Lily surreptitiously glanced at one another, both aware of the dozens of questions they wished to ask, but did not feel they should.
“It could never have been,” Bilbo continued wistfully.
The pause grew so long Lily gently prompted, “She did not choose you?”
Gradually, Bilbo emerged from his memories, and met Lily’s steady gaze.
“She did not, because I did not ask.”
Lily could not hide the sadness she felt.
A small smile of regret appeared on Bilbo’s face. “In truth, I only ever could watch her, for I became pitifully tongue-tied whenever we met. Bell Gamgee reminded me so much of her, gentle, kind, and too fragile...”
Lily tightened her hold on Frodo’s hand, and felt an answering squeeze, but she could not look away from Bilbo.
Another sigh escaped the old hobbit. “Miss Petunia Gamgee was the most beautiful lass I’d ever seen, with a soft heart to match. Despite my sputtering silences she was always warm and friendly... never tried to embarrass a lad like some of the lasses did, just for fun... I think every lad in the Shire tried, at one time or another, to catch her eye. Then she chose Ned Sandyman.”
“Sandyman?” Frodo blurted. “Sorry, Uncle... the Old Mill Sandymans?”
“The same, though not the one you knew, but the one before.”
Frodo drew his brows together, and Bilbo laughed.
“He was an amicable fellow then. They were well suited.”
“Was it terribly difficult for you, Uncle Bilbo?” Lily wondered.
The old hobbit mulled over the question, then shook his head slowly. “Not terribly. She was, after all, ten years older than I. I’d only just become a tween when they married. Besides, he was good to her, and they were happy. They attended all the parties, and were very generous.”
Frodo could not help himself. “What happened?”
A shadow crossed Bilbo’s face. “She died giving birth to their first child. The babe died as well... Ned was never quite the same after that. Somehow, he got it into his head to blame the Gamgees. I thought long and hard and decided I wanted none of that. And if that weren’t bad enough, when Hamfast Gamgee began courting Bell Goodchild, Ned’s son, Milson, from his second wife -- a thoroughly disagreeable person, mind you -- well, be that as it may, the lad decided he’d set his cap for her as well, but Bell gave her heart to Hamfast right off. Milson insisted Hamfast call him Mr. Sandyman ever after. It made no never mind to Hamfast, so he did.”
Suddenly Bilbo shook himself and laughed. “But as the Gaffer is fond of saying, ‘All’s well that ends better.’ I can’t imagine any lass putting up with being off and left while her husband goes adventuring! And so she shouldn’t.” He eyed Lily imperiously. “And you don’t let that young lad there go adventuring, either.”
Lily gave her husband a sidelong smile, only to be disarmed completely by the intensity within his gaze. She cleared her throat, regaining her composure, and with a slight effort, smiled anew at Bilbo.
“He only--” she began, but Frodo was squeezing her hand again; she could feel his teasing smile upon her. Lily grinned, keeping her face turned to the old hobbit. “Frodo only gets to go on adventures if I get to come along.”
Bilbo’s eyes popped open, unsure whether or not he felt aghast, and then he laughed, loud and long.
Gandalf broke his own long silence, laughing along with his old friend.
When finally the aged hobbit was able to get his breath back, he wiped his eyes. “Frodo-lad, you’re all kinds of fool if you ever let this dear lass go. And make sure you treat her even better than the Gaffer does his taters!”
Before he could answer, Frodo felt his wife nestle closer, distracting him in her turn. Then she replied.
“No need to worry, Uncle Bilbo, Frodo treats me very well; indeed, better than the Gaffer’s taters could ever dream.” Then she giggled. “Do taters dream?”
Bilbo sputtered, then laughed, turning to Gandalf, “Do they?”
Gandalf stared at them, astonished. “Do who what?”
Bilbo continued to chortle. “Think, man! Do taters dream? If anyone here would know, you would. So do they, or don’t they?”
Gandalf shook his head and muttered, “This is utter nonsense.”
“So, you’re saying they don’t dream?” Bilbo prodded.
Lily watched in amused surprise; the wizard was flustered.
“I suggest you ask one,” Gandalf groused.
“Ask one? Are you daft? Who ever heard of talking to a tater?”
“Daft? You were the one who asked if they dreamed,” Gandalf shot back.
Lily and Frodo were laughing so hard they were leaning against one another and wiping the tears from their faces.
Bilbo rocked forward, glaring at the wizard. He opened his mouth to spout a retort, then stopped, and blinked. He glanced at Lily and Frodo, still laughing but now holding their sides, and realized he could not remember the last time he had seen his nephew laugh so freely, or if indeed the lad ever had. Then he realized his mouth was still hanging open, and closed it.
“Gandalf, you’re right. I did ask. But you still haven’t answered, and you are the wizard, not I, so shouldn’t you know?”
Bilbo blinked innocently at his old friend.
Gandalf stared dumbfounded at the elderly hobbit.
“Bilbo Baggins, are you in your cups?”
“In my cups?” echoed Bilbo, incredulous. “It’s not yet noon...”
Abruptly, Bilbo dropped his offended air, and he eyed the wizard critically.
“Can’t bear to say ‘I don’t know,’ can you?” A sly, knowing grin spread across the old hobbit’s face. “There’s the truth of it, isn’t it?” he declared.
Gandalf rolled his eyes. “My dear Bilbo, I have no trouble at all saying, ‘I do not know,’ but my question to you is, Why do you want to know? Does it truly matter?”
Bilbo sat back in his chair and began to rock again. “I don’t know as it matters at all, and perhaps it’s best if they don’t...”
Lily could see the old hobbit was endeavoring to work it all out in his mind, and was relieved when her husband spoke beside her, for her own thoughts were running wild.
“Mayhap,” Frodo suggested, “they dream of being perfectly baked in their jackets, or slathered over a shepherd’s pie? Or even made into soup, or a stew? To fulfill one’s purpose could bring no greater satisfaction...”
Lily stared at her husband, unable to take her eyes from his face.
He smiled, then drew his brows together.
She felt his confusion at her reaction. Tentatively, she offered her question, “Are you satisfied?”
All three males stared at her, and Lily felt their understanding grow.
An appreciative smile spread across Frodo’s face. “Only part of my purpose is fulfilled. There is more yet to come: a long and happy life with you.”
Suddenly, Lily wished they were alone.
Gandalf nudged the old hobbit. “What say you we take a brief stroll along the balcony and down to the garden?”
“Why?” Then Bilbo started. “Oh! Yes, yes, of course. A splendid idea.”
Bilbo turned to the couple. “Gandalf and I’ll return shortly... or longly... We’re going to see to luncheon being served. That little bit we had for elevensies is fast fading.”
The wizard offered his arm, and the aged hobbit accepted it. Then the two strolled across the balcony to the stairs down to the garden, Gandalf taking one short step for every three of Bilbo’s.
Lily continued to search her husband’s eyes, her heart pounding.
Frodo had waved off his uncle and the wizard without looking back at them.
“Frodo-love...” she breathed. “Now we are alone, just as I wished, and I do not know what to do or say...”
She reached up and caressed his lips with her own.
Her breaths came more rapidly, matching her husband’s, and she watched him swallow hard. “Frodo, words are not adequate, my dearest love, to express all my heart is feeling, to know you are at peace with the past, at least in this moment, and more yet, to know I may share all of the rest of my life with you.”
“If not for you, Lily-sweet, I should not know this peace. You were right, dear one. Gandalf intended this journey all along, not just to see Bilbo, but for a deeper purpose. And I think not just for you and me, but for others as well, including dear Felena.”
Lily nodded, and Frodo smiled again, searching her eyes. “We can’t just disappear into our room, much as we’d like to...”
His smile deepened, and he leaned forward to kiss her softly. She was trembling. He placed his palm gently on her cheek, speaking with as much calm as he could muster.
“Yes, sweet, I see clearly the desire in your eyes, and indeed, I echo it... I wish we’d the time. But we do have time to offer a prayer of gratitude to Ilúvatar for the gifts He offered us freely. We needed only to accept them.”
Tears filled Frodo’s eyes, reflecting his wife’s. “Thank you for helping me to accept all the gifts laid before me, to which I was blinded because of the darkness within me. I shall endeavor to be a light for you, as you have been for me.”
Lily could no longer hold back her own tears. “Beloved Frodo, you have been such a light to me. From the moment we first met, you have shined in my heart ...”
“But I could give you nothing...”
“You gave me hope, dear heart.”
“In love, Frodo. I feared I might not be capable of love, for none seemed able to touch my heart, until I met you.”
Frodo wrapped his arms about his lover, and held her tightly, burying his face in her neck.
Finally he whispered, “But what if -- what if I had not returned?”
“Even if I never married, I had tasted love, Frodo. We did not know each other well enough then for me to know what it was to be in love, but I did feel the deep love you possess. Thankfully, it seems Ilúvatar intended ever so much more for us, and gave us to each other.”
Frodo searched his wife’s eyes, again; now they were more green than blue, and he smiled. He cupped her face in his hands, and with his thumb gently stroked her bottom lip until her eyes closed. Then he kissed each temple, and felt her quickened breathing feather across his cheek.
He drew back slightly, studying her face, and whispered, “This is not unlike our courtship...”
He saw Lily smile, then caught his breath as she leaned close and caressed his neck with her lips. She touched upon the scar there, and he shivered.
Then he swallowed. “Not quite like our courtship...”
Lily giggled. “Mayhap Bilbo shall want to nap after tea?”
Frodo blinked and stopped breathing, then wondered aloud, “Why do your... invitations, still surprise me, my sweet... imp?”
Lily raised her brows, endeavoring to hide a smile. “Imp? I believe it was you who started things just now -- and it was you who asked, all those years ago, if we might sit and talk, at the Bywater Fair... I have simply accepted each invitation you offered. Are you saying I misread your intent, just now, with...” She reached up her hand and cupped her husband’s face, then stroked his bottom lip with her thumb.
Frodo closed his eyes, trembling, and Lily stopped. He opened his eyes again, wanting more, and she grinned.
Against his lips, she murmured, “If I am indeed an imp, Frodo Baggins, you have only yourself to blame, for I most assuredly wasn’t one before I met you...” She gave him a soft smile, then gently kissed his mouth, sliding her hands into his chestnut curls.
Frodo shuddered down to his toes, and wrapped his arms around his wife, reveling in the feel of her tasting of him, her fingers in his hair...
“Lily, sweet...” he whispered against her lips, and then he could wait no longer. He kept one arm wrapped around her, holding her close, and he thrust his other hand into her tresses, until he supported her head as he deepened their kiss.
They broke the kiss together, struggling for breath.
“No...” Frodo fought to breathe evenly while continuing to offer his wife light kisses, on her lips, her cheeks, her ears. “I take it back. This is not like our courtship at all.”
Lily smiled, returning the caresses.
With an effort Frodo forced his desire back, and laid his forehead against his lover’s. “Never would I have touched you... nor you touched me... not... not like this...”
“No -- indeed --” Lily managed, and a soft laugh escaped her.
They reluctantly pulled away from each other, for they were able to hear the approach of their friends.
Lily cleared her throat, endeavoring to regain her equilibrium, then glanced at her lover. It was clear he was doing the same, in an effort to put aside their all-too-brief moments of sweetness.
They heard the overloud discussion, as Bilbo mounted the stairs first, followed by Gandalf, and Adber, carrying a tray of food for luncheon.
Lily gazed around the table during the evening meal, allowing the conversation to flow over her. Beside her, Frodo and Bilbo were sharing gentle memories of the younger hobbit’s previous visits in Rivendell.
Across from her, Elrohir sat beside his father with Felena on his other side. Felena and Elrohir spoke quietly, laughing from time to time. Lily watched them from the corner of her eye, or from beneath her lashes, not wishing to intrude, but curious. What was their relationship? she wondered. Mayhap she would ask them to tea on the morrow. Would they be willing to speak of it? Should she even ask...
On her other side sat Gandalf, speaking in hushed tones with the Master of Rivendell, at the head of the table. She allowed her gaze to drift from the wizard to the Elf lord, more questions entering her heart.
Elrond caught her glance and smiled. “What would you wish to ask of me, my lady?”
Lily blushed, and Elrond continued.
“Like your husband, your face reveals much.”
Frodo gave his wife a reassuring smile.
Lily glanced quickly at the others present, and felt their encouragement to voice her thoughts. “Please tell me, my lord -- I know Eärendil, your father, could not return to live a mortal life after seeing the Valar because he chose to be immortal with your mother, but could they not visit you?”
Elrond smiled down at her thoughtfully. “No. Once one crosses to Valinor, they are not permitted to return to the land from whence they came.”
“It has happened only once, but then the need was dire.”
“Forgive me, but don’t you miss them?”
“In a manner of speaking, I suppose my brother and I both missed them, and yet, I shall see them again; but I shall not see my brother again, for he chose to be mortal.”
Lily’s brows drew together. “It doesn’t seem fair.”
Elrond’s smile was kind. “Some aspects of our lives here in Middle-earth have not been ‘fair’, as you say, but that does not mean it was a punishment of any kind.”
“I -- I had not thought of it in that way, my lord.”
Elrond almost startled at the earnestness of the lass. It reminded him so of Frodo’s intense interest in everything around him. Gandalf is right, the Elf realized. Ilúvatar did not simply choose well, but planned for her... He blinked and took a deep breath, clearing his thoughts.
“Lord Elrond,” Lily ventured, “would you tell us the story of your parents?”
“Of course. Do I remember correctly you mentioned the star held a special place in your heart?”
“Yes, my lord.” Lily blushed. “When Frodo first pointed out the star to me, I realized it was the very same star I wished on every night, for twelve years, until Frodo found me again.”
Elrond surveyed the table, then offered, “I believe the meal is finished. Might I suggest we adjourn to the Hall of Fire, where stories such as this were meant to be told?”
At that, the Master of Rivendell stood, and all in the Feasting Hall stood as well, making their way to the Hall of Fire.
Lily sat next to her husband, entranced by the weaving of the Master’s tale. She realized briefly she had not seen the Elf lord present a tale or song here before. Then she lost herself in his telling.
Frodo unobtrusively watched his wife from the corner of his eye, in silent delight. Again he was struck by her inquisitive nature, her curiosity in things beyond the bounds of the Shire. He gently slid his arm around her shoulders, and she hardly seemed to notice him at all, so engrossed she was in the story.
His heart leapt as his lover glanced briefly at him, her smile warm, her eyes sparkling. Then she turned her attention once again to the Elf lord. Her nestling closer to him spoke more clearly than any words of her awareness of him, and her need for his strength and comfort.
Song and poetry were seamlessly intertwined throughout the tale, mesmerizing the listeners. The hobbits marveled at the power of Elrond’s voice, and Frodo saw even Gandalf was completely drawn into the story, though surely he had heard it countless times before.
The hour grew late, and Frodo wondered if his wife had fallen asleep on his shoulder. He peeked carefully and noticed her blink now and again, slowly. She was weary, but still enthralled by the tale. He shifted ever so slightly to better support her, then settled in for the last of the story.
As Elrond completed the final phrase, there was a long, lingering silence in the Hall. None moved within the spell he had cast.
For once, Lily was glad Bilbo had dropped off to sleep and would not applaud the ending of the story, for she feared it might break the slender thread of magic binding her to the Elves along with her husband.
Elrond bowed and sat, but none took his place.
Lily sat up slightly and wiped the tears from her face. She gazed up into Elrond’s face and whispered, “Thank you for sharing your history. It is so beautiful.”
The Elf lord inclined his head. “It was a pleasure to share it with someone so appreciative.”
Felena approached the hobbit couple. “You must be weary, my lady.”
Lily smiled. “Yes, a bit.”
Frodo quickly rose, then lifted Lily gently to her feet. She curtsied in an almost wobbly fashion, balancing herself by holding Frodo’s arm. Then after Frodo bowed to those present, they were escorted from the room by Felena.
Lily stayed her husband with a light touch on his hand.
“Felena, you need not miss any of the singing on my account.”
The Elf maiden smiled. “Is there something you wish to ask, my lady?”
Lily blushed. “You noticed at supper.”
The Elf inclined her head.
“Forgive me, my friend, if I am out of place in asking, but you and Elrohir...”
“It is a long tale, my lady.”
“Would the two of you be willing to share it over tea, on the morrow? Please forgive my boldness...”
“No need,” Felena replied; then she paused for only a moment, and her eyes conveyed the barest hint of mischief. “I suspect it would greatly amuse Elrohir to recount our history. I accept, for us both.”
Lily smiled. “I look forward to it.”
“As do I,” Frodo echoed softly.
Felena bowed and returned to the Hall of Fire, and Frodo offered his arm to his wife.
She sighed, and smiled up at her husband, taking his arm possessively; then she reached up and kissed his cheek.