Lily woke to the sense of her husband weeping softly. The stars still sparkled brightly overhead. Was he awake or asleep? She closed her eyes, and concentrated on Frodo.
Then she whispered close to his ear, “I love you so.”
Frodo’s breath hitched. “Lily, my dearest love.”
“Tell me, my love. Tell me everything.” Lily gathered him closer in her arms.
On a trembling breath that grew gradually steadier, Frodo told her of that dreadful night, the words pouring from him, and in far more detail than ever before. Then he confessed of how, when they passed this way weeks ago, he wanted to lose himself in her, to forget, and yet knew he could not, because he would have been holding back.
“You’re not holding back, now, Frodo-love.”
He could not silence the sounds from deep within himself as she rained kisses over his face, savoring the pleasure of her tender attentions to each feature. Then, he felt her hand at his breast, releasing the top button of his shirt. Her fingers were soft and gentle against him, then she kissed the skin revealed, and she released the next button. Each unfastened button was followed by caresses, warming his bared skin.
“Oh, Lily...” Frodo swallowed hard, struggling to stay with her.
“Beloved,” she whispered against his lips, as she eased his shirt from his shoulders. “Please, lose yourself in me.”
Frodo wondered if he might ever breathe again; his wife’s questing hands and lips filled his thoughts. All trace of his memories of the past vanished in the sensations his lover created within him.
Then he did lose himself in her, and in some way he could not explain, he felt Lily’s very soul join his own. Words left him, and he abandoned any thought of expressing to her the deep peace he felt. Yet his heart was not sad, for he knew the same peace was hers, even if he could not say how the knowledge had come to him.
Frodo cradled Lily in his arms. The Sun was rising, and his thoughts crowded out his own efforts to sleep. He gently stroked the waves of his lover’s soft tresses. His gratitude for her filled his breast, and spilled tears onto his cheeks.
Today they would stand together where almost two years ago he nearly lost his life. Two years ago, had he even known what it was to live? He reflected how until that day he had seemed to float along through his life, accepting what fortune drifted his way as well as being mildly annoyed by the petty misfortunes -- though with a humour he now remembered learning from his father, and encouraged by Bilbo. Yes, Bilbo had given him the Ring, but he had also instilled within Frodo a deeper sense of responsibility and a more vested interest in the Shire by making his young cousin the Master of Bag End.
Clarity echoed through him, like the rising Sun; she was not yet peeking over the Misty Mountains, but her rays were visible. Bilbo could not take the Ring to Mordor; he was too old and too attached to the Ring. It had been difficult for him to leave It to someone he loved; never could he have made the attempt to destroy It. And then Frodo realized that neither could anyone else have done it; only him. Only himself, the one child of Primula and Drogo Baggins...
He remembered again his conversation with Gandalf, when the wizard had revealed the truth of the Ring to him. If Gandalf had told him all, Frodo was certain he would have been too afraid to do anything. Never could he have imagined what the future would bring. Would it have been easier, he wondered, if he had simply known Lily would be waiting for him at the end of it all? Would it? He endeavored to remember how he might have thought, before the Quest, and realized he could no longer be certain. The Quest had left its mark upon him, and had changed him irrevocably.
Of a certainty, he realized anew that without Lily he could not have stayed in the Shire, nor perhaps even in Middle-earth. But she offered him an entirely different adventure, unlike anything he had ever known or imagined before. How blessed he was!
Frodo found himself comparing the two most significant journeys of his life. How different they were. One was terrifying and exacted a terrible toll on him, body, mind, and spirit, whereas the one he enjoyed now was thrilling and inspired him, body, mind, and spirit.
His thoughts scattered when Lily nestled closer, wrapping herself around him, then she settled once more. She would sleep only a little longer. He could feel it. An unexpected pleasure filled him that he knew her so well already. Would it all become too familiar? he wondered. The changes of the past two years whipped through his mind like a March wind. He sighed. Lily and he too would continue to change, though hopefully at a gentler pace.
A smile spread across his face, filling his soul, as he felt his wife’s lips against him, then, with her waking breath she whispered, “I love you, Frodo,” and his spirit soared.
“Lily,” he murmured, “do you know how much I love you?”
A soft giggle escaped her, triggering a flutter in his chest.
He smoothed back the hair from his lover’s face, cupping her fair cheek in his hand.
“You are so beautiful, Lily. Your smile, your soft blush, your delicate ears, your honeysuckle hair, your indomitable spirit, shining in your eyes...”
Frodo could resist no longer, he captured his wife’s lips in a deep kiss.
Lily felt his love and adoration, and was almost overcome. She breathed deeply, and opened herself more fully to him. It still awed her that in sharing herself more wholly with him, she struggled less with the feeling of faintness such deep emotions provoked.
With sudden insight she knew this was the beginning of the balancing of their lives. She had felt certain, from that cold November night when they met again after the Quest, that this time would come. Her heart told her, even then, she needed to help Frodo as much as she was able, for there would come a time when he would help her. All through their courtship she had seen little signs; in small ways he had begun to shoulder her cares. Though she had endeavored to tell him, he had not been able to believe her, nor perhaps even understand.
She hoped he would not grow weary of the burden. But she was not able to ponder this for very long at all, for her worries faded and vanished at Frodo’s insistent pursuit to please her.
They arrived at the foot of Weathertop midmorning. Frodo guided them around the base to the western side. He hesitated a moment, then led them into the dell.
“It was here, Lily, they caught up to us.”
He drew his brows together, then turned to meet the calm of his wife’s gaze. “I -- I did not expect this... That is to say, I never imagined I might someday be able to experience no fear -- none -- nor any darkness at all, in this place.
“Lily?” Frodo breathed deeply. “I know I asked you to ride to the crown with me, however, are you up to walking to the top?”
She gave him a reassuring smile. “Yes, Frodo-love.”
They dismounted and prepared elevensies early, eating in silence.
Lily awaited Frodo, as he insisted on cleaning up while she rested. She watched as he put the last dish away, and wondered if he would delay further. Then he approached her, and held out his hand to help her up. She smiled into his eyes, pleased he returned the smile easily. There was a peace about him -- a peace she realized she had felt once before: last night, within the warm circle of his love.
As they walked, Frodo related to Lily the history of the hill. He explained how Elendil, at the beginning of the Third Age, had built a tower atop it, and how it had held one of the three palantíri possessed by Arnor, the North-kingdom. The tower had eventually been destroyed by the forces of Angmar.
Lily was pleased she knew enough to not need the names and places explained; she could simply allow her husband to tell the story. As they reached the rim, her breath caught, and she tightened her hold on Frodo’s hand.
“It’s beautiful,” she breathed. She glanced at Frodo, and noted with curiosity the surprise on his face. Then he shook his head.
“There was nothing here, then. It was barren. Lifeless.”
Lily led Frodo through the summer-green grass, toadflax, bluebells, poppies, and thistles; maiden pink and spur valerian grew around the stones set in a large circle, the only remnants of the tower.
“Much has happened in two years, Frodo-love.”
“Indeed.” His voice reflected his wonder.
They gazed out over the country spread before them, painted in summer’s full colour.
Frodo sighed, then smiled. “The land is changing, almost as if it, too, knows the long-awaited King sits upon his throne in Gondor.”
Lily nodded. Her heart faltered, an unexpected thought filling her mind. Gradually she turned to Frodo. She watched as he continued to study their surroundings, as though looking for something, or perhaps remembering. She hesitated, then she knelt to Frodo, his right hand clasped within her own. She gazed up at him, noting the question in his eyes.
She gathered her courage. “I have promised myself to Frodo Baggins. Now, I promise myself to the Ring-bearer. Now and always. You could not possess the Ring, for It could never truly claim your heart, but I claim your heart, and joyfully accept your possession of me... now and always.”
Frodo’s eyes widened, and his breath quickened. He swallowed hard, tears stinging his eyes.
A smile lit Lily’s features as she felt his acceptance, and to her mind he seemed to stand a little taller. Then he lifted her gently into his arms.
No words were spoken as they stood together, their arms wrapped tightly around each other.
At length, Frodo offered a prayer of deep gratitude to Ilúvatar, for peace, for hope, for love, and for Lily. Then he drew back, and gazed into his wife’s eyes. A broad grin lit his face. “Let’s go home, Mistress Baggins.”
Lily smiled. “I’m ready, Mister Baggins.”
They filled their flasks with water, and watered the ponies, then Frodo helped Lily up onto Merry. He allowed himself to glance around the dell, then he reached up to meet Lily’s kiss. He felt an added passion in her caress, and returned it gladly. They parted slowly, each searching the eyes of the other.
Frodo mounted Strider, Pippin’s lead rope in hand. Without looking back, they headed for the road home.
For the next several days, they found their travel pleasant and easy. They were both pleased that Lily held up unexpectedly well, and they made good time. Their conversations were filled with memories of Rivendell, wishing to keep them more vivid for sharing upon their return home.
Then they were just two days ride from Bree.
When they stopped for the night, Frodo glanced surreptitiously at his wife to see if she recognized the familiar glade.
Then Lily found the little circle of stones where their campfire had burned. She carefully rearranged the stones, and added another from nearby, giving their fry pan a more level place to set.
“No burning the dinner this time,” she smiled to herself. “You’ve changed, Lily Baggins.” She giggled. “You thought you’d be no good at camping. You’ve learned a thing or two.”
Frodo chuckled, then ducked his head when his wife gave him a warning look for listening in on her private conversation with herself. His heart raced as the glare shifted subtly into an inviting smile. He glanced away, and set to the task of making their bower more comfortable.
As they retired for the night, Lily whispered, tears apparent in her voice, “You remembered.”
She sensed her husband’s smile, then heard it in his voice.
“Yes, Lily-sweet, I remembered. How could I forget the first bower you shared with me?” He whispered in her ear, “Or what you gave me?”
Lily realized she still had not found a way to tell her husband he could ask for her love, just as he welcomed her asking for his, but tonight she did not need to tell him as he gathered her into his arms. Instead she felt anew her appreciation for her husband’s tender attentions.
5 September 1420sr
Lily woke and shivered, surprised by the chill she felt. She nestled closer to her husband, and appreciated his enveloping hold on her. She could tell by his voice his was still more asleep than awake.
“Sweet, it seems summer is leaving.” He drew their blanket more snugly about them, then added his cloak as well.
Lily burrowed deeper within her husband’s embrace. “Are you cold, Frodo-love?”
“No, but you are,” he murmured.
Lily’s heart filled with gratitude. She could feel his breathing grow deeper once more. Already he slept. The peace of the morning and her husband’s warmth lulled her back to sleep with him.
During their preparations to continue their journey, summer heat once again lingered in the air.
“My sweet?” Frodo considered his words carefully. “If we ride all day today, as well as on the morrow, we’ll arrive in Bree by nightfall.” He paused, wondering how to proceed.
Lily stopped checking her pony’s saddle. Without looking at Frodo, she asked, “Do you want to ride through?”
Frodo stepped close behind her. “Only if you do. You have said how much you want to return home. I was uncertain...”
A smile crept across Lily’s face, and she slowly turned to her husband.
His breath caught in his throat at the sparkle in his wife’s eyes.
She trailed a finger down the lapel of his coat, her eyes following the line, then she gazed up into his eyes once more. “I should very much like to take a day of rest on the morrow, if we may. I desire one more day spent solely with you, beloved.”
“In our meadow,” Frodo stated with a grin.
Lily decided it was the longest day of their journey thus far. Her husband periodically giving her sidelong glances that made her heart race and wish they were already at their destination. A thrill rushed through her when they left the main road through the Chetwood.
Then they broke through the trees into their meadow.
They shared their private smile and sighed as one, then laughed.
As they settled the ponies and prepared their camp, they glanced furtively at each other, only to see how much more needed to be done. Finally, they stood together, in silent agreement that all was ready for their stay.
Lily slipped her hand into Frodo’s, and she drew him along with her.
“Our maple tree,” Lily giggled. She turned to her husband, and wrapped her arms about him. She searched his eyes, then offered a soft kiss, gradually deepening it.
A deep sigh escaped Frodo, and he wrapped his arms around his lover, reveling in the joy that was his.
6 September 1420sr
Lily nestled within her lover’s embrace. Frodo had brought her breakfast and then fed her.
“I am so blest,” she murmured, then rubbed her cheek against his chest. She hid the smile she felt at his slight shudder, kissing the scar at his shoulder.
“Lily-sweet,” he whispered, and tightened his hold on her. “I am blest indeed.” He felt no need to ask how she wished to spend their day.
Then a chuckle filled him. “Shall we gather raspberries, today, dear heart?”
“And I shall inform all grasshoppers that today they are to find someplace else to congregate,” he declared, then kissed his wife’s forehead.
“You are ever considerate of me,” Lily giggled, then her husband swept her up in his love.
As they set out to find raspberries, Lily led the way, laughing; she was pleased she remembered the correct direction.
“Frodo! Look! The bushes are covered with berries, even more than when we came this way before!”
“You are being thanked for sharing the bounty with the forest creatures,” he grinned.
Lily rolled her eyes, but could not hide the smile tugging at her lips.
They spent the afternoon eating and gathering berries.
And on their way back to their meadow, no grasshopper crossed their path, but just before they reached the end of the trees, Lily stopped.
Frodo looked at her, and drew his brows together. “What is it, sweet?”
Lily placed her pan of berries on the ground. She took the makeshift basket of berries her husband held and placed it next to her own. Then she slid her arms about his neck. Without a word, she offered Frodo a soft kiss. She smiled, as she felt him wrap his arms about her; then he deepened the caress.
He broke the kiss, breathless. He searched her green-hazel eyes, questioning with his own.
“Dearest Frodo,” Lily smiled, “I felt your desire that day, on this very spot. And you gave in to me.”
Frodo blinked, unable to hide his surprise. He swallowed hard, and endeavored to speak but no sound came out of his mouth. He stopped, breathed deeply, then tried again.
“Lily-sweet...” His voice was rough. “I should very much like more memories under our maple tree...”
On a sigh, Lily whispered, “Frodo...”
He did not need his wife’s gift of sight to know he pleased her with his request. He gathered their berries and offered Lily his elbow to hold. Pleasure coursed through him as she slipped her arm within his, and stepped nearer to him. He could feel the length of her pressed close.
Once within the clearing, she stored the berries for later, while he spread their blanket once again under their maple tree.
How grateful he was to create more memories of this place. And to realize their love had grown deeper and more intimate as their knowledge of each other increased. Now he was suffused with a single joy, knowing he had shared all with his wife. There was nothing to hide, only their new life together to explore, for years and years to come.
Lily felt her husband open himself more fully to her, sharing his unfettered elation with her. Was it possible to be any happier? Not today, she decided, and she gave herself to him, her body, her spirit, and her heart.
7 September 1420sr
Frodo smiled to himself as he felt his wife stretch within his arms, then nestle closer. She was waking, but as was her wont, she would gladly listen to him talk to her while she simply listened. It amused him that she seemed to enjoy the mere sound of his voice; he smiled slightly as he spoke.
“We’ll be in Bree tonight, Mistress Baggins, that is, unless you’d like to spend another day here?” He could feel her shake her head ‘no’ against him, and his smile broadened. “As you wish. We’ll continue on to Bree, today. We might stay a few extra days there, if you like.” He swallowed a chuckle, already knowing the answer.
Lily giggled, certain he was teasing her, endeavoring to elicit an answer from her when he knew she preferred to fully waken before carrying on a conversation. She appreciated more than she could say his willingness to indulge in these one-sided conversations.
At first it had worried him, until she explained, only a week back, how much she delighted in listening to him. It not only amused him but confused him, as well, for he recalled being teased, when he lived in Buckland. The other lads accused him that his soft-spoken tones sounded too much like one of the lasses. He had envied Pippin’s lilt, and Sam and Merry’s deeper timbres. But Lily... she had told him more than once his voice was the dearest sound she knew: it was like a waking dream for her; a warm reassurance their lives were truly intertwined.
“If you insist, Lily-sweet, we’ll not stay even an extra day in Bree, but head for home.”
Frodo breathed in sharply, and his heart raced, as Lily’s response, immediate and strong, drove all plans from his mind, but for the moment.
As they left the Chetwood Forest behind, excitement seemed to take hold of them. Even the ponies picked up their pace, including Pippin, who was typically wont to take a plodding pace. They arrived well before the dinner hour.
Riding into the courtyard, they heard Nob shout, “Mr. Butterbur! Mr. Butterbur! It’s the Bagginses! They’re here! Just like the Elf-lady said!”
Lily and Frodo shared a surprised glance.
As Frodo helped Lily dismount, he could no longer withhold his question. “When did you see her?”
Nob paused in gathering up the reins of the ponies and patted Strider’s neck absently. He screwed up his face, pursing his lips. “It must’ve been a week or more, sir. Though it weren’t me what talked with the lady, but Bob. He was in the stables caring for the horses, and she found him there. Oh! And she left a few things for you, waiting for you in your rooms, they are.” He gave a quick bow and led the ponies away.
“Mister and Mistress Baggins,” Butterbur boomed, squinting in the late afternoon sunlight, and wiping his large, weathered hands on his apron. “Let me show you to your rooms, though I’m certain you know the way already. This way now. I do hope your travels have been pleasant. Not had any troubles, I trust? Having a king on the throne has made things a might more amicable than they used to be. Will you be staying long?”
He opened the door for the couple.
Frodo handed Lily into the room, and smiled up at the innkeeper. “Just the night.” At the man’s wide-eyed concern, Frodo grinned. “My wife is impatient to return home, and seems able to smell the Shire from here. She’s ready to be home. But even she could not resist the opportunity to enjoy your hospitality.”
Barliman beamed, puffed out his chest, and rocked back on his heels. “I’m right pleased to have you, and I’ll make sure your ponies are ready in the morning.”
He chattered on as he swept his hand toward the table in the middle of the room, where a tea service already sat waiting for them, along with two bottles: one filled with an amber liquid and the other a deep red.
“Bob said a lady left these for you. I’ll have dinner sent up to you within the hour, but there’s a spot of tea to hold you over.”
Even as the last words left his mouth, the innkeeper bowed with a flourish and closed the door behind him, leaving the couple alone.
Frodo and Lily shared wry smiles, then Lily made her way to the table. She opened the cruet, filled with amber fluid. Carefully tipping the glass bottle, she dipped her little finger in the liquid and touched it to her tongue. A broad smile spread across her lips.
“What is it?”
Lily’s heart swelled and beat a little faster. “Dearest, have I ever told you how much I enjoy that particular look on your face?”
“Oh! And that one, too!” She giggled. “The first is the way your brows draw together, and I know you’re curious, and yet there’s a smile playing about your lips. The other is the rare look of consternation you give.” Lily suddenly wondered where such boldness came from. She usually found it so difficult to say such things to her husband. Mayhap it was Elvish magic...
She delicately dipped her finger into the substance once more as she walked to where her husband stood, then she offered him a taste.
Frodo’s heart skipped several beats, and he wished dinner could be delayed. He took the tip of his wife’s finger gently into his mouth, and smiled.
“Honey. I hope Butterbur remembers hot water for baths...”
“We’ll remind him... when dinner comes...”
They shared their private smile, and laughed, then spoke together. “Pity dinner will be here soon.”
Each took a steadying breath, then they walked to the table together.
Frodo picked up the carafe, inspecting it without opening it. “My guess is that we are also gifted with some of the exquisite Rivendell wine.”
Tears gathered in Lily’s eyes. “It has been such a wonderful adventure...” Her voice caught.
Concern touched Frodo’s heart. “Has it, beloved? In spite of... everything?”
“Mayhap, because of everything, Frodo-love. A year ago, I did not imagine so much would be mine. Did you?” Though she knew the answer, she wanted to hear his reply.
Frodo drew her into a fierce embrace, covering her mouth with his own, hungrily, then more gently, and softer still.
Her lover’s kisses continued, more languid and tender, until Lily felt each caress was an honoured tribute. She returned the adoration.
They drew a ragged breath together, and held each other tightly.
Then Frodo murmured against her ear, “Lily-sweet, please sit. I believe we missed tea. You must be so hungry. I’ll pour for you. Please rest.”
Lily accepted his offer, though reluctant to release him. Pleasure filled her breast as she watched her husband take care of her, including adding just the right amount of sugar and cream, a taste she had acquired in Rivendell.
She sighed contentedly and sipped her tea as Frodo sat in the chair opposite her beside the fireplace.
After taking a sip of his own tea, Frodo glanced at his wife and then back at his teacup. “Are you weary, my sweet?”
“Not particularly. I think I’m too excited about going home,” she giggled.
Frodo smiled and breathed to speak, but was interrupted by a knock at their door.
“Dinner,” he grinned. He motioned for her to stay where she was. “I’ll see to it.”
Lily smiled over her cup. “You spoil me, Mister Baggins.”
“‘Tis only fair, Mistress Baggins.”
Frodo opened the door. “Nob! You’ve brought a feast!”
“It’s been a right good summer harvest, Mister Baggins.” Nob placed the laden tray on the table. “Anything else you’ll be wantin’? Oh! Hot water’s coming, soon as you finish with your dinner, then a nice supper following.”
“That should do nicely,” Lily smiled.
Nob turned toward the door, then turned back. “Oh! And you’ll be wantin’ to light that fire afore long. It’s still pleasant enough during the day, but the nights are startin’ to get cold.” He bobbed and closed the door on his way out.
“Oh, Frodo, it smells wonderful! Mmmmm... roasted rosemary chicken, red potatoes, carrots, asparagus... I seem to remember eating the same thing last time, though the pie looks to be strawberry.” She giggled. “We’re almost home, Frodo! I didn’t think I’d be so excited.”
Frodo laughed. “I too am so looking forward to being home with you, and seeing our dear friends. How I have missed them! And I know you have, as well.”
They savored the meal, and were delighted the hot water for their baths arrived just as they finished eating.
“Excellent timing, Nob,” Frodo smiled.
The cheerful hobbit bobbed his head again. “And by the time you finish your baths, sir, supper’ll be served. Anything more I can get for you, sir?”
“No, thank you, Nob.” Frodo glanced at his wife.
“Thank you, Nob,” Lily smiled. “You’ve provided everything we need, and wonderfully so.”
Nob bowed. “I’ll be back with your supper, then.”
Frodo closed the door behind him.
Lily sighed. “A hot bath... life simply isn’t better than this. Well, almost...” She smiled provocatively at her husband, picked up the cruet of honey, and slipped into the bathing room. “Coming, Frodo-love?”
Nob brought supper, a simple meal of bread and cheese and fresh berries. He lit the fire in the grate in the sitting room and the bedroom, as a chill had already begun to seep into the rooms.
“Just leave the tray outside the door, when you’re finished. If you’ll be needin’ anything, just leave a note on the tray. I’ll be ‘round afore long. Mr. Butterbur said that you’d be wantin’ to leave in the morning, so I’ll have your breakfast here, though not too early.”
Nob smiled and bowed. “Good night, then.” He did not hear the couple’s reply, and smiled again to himself as he made his way back to the common room.
The meal was shared sitting on the rug in front of the fire, and finished with a cup of tea.
Frodo sighed contentedly. He took Lily’s cup, and helped her to her feet. He then placed the tray outside the door, and returned to stand beside his wife.
“Sweet, we’ve a feather bed tonight...”
Lily gazed into the deep blue of her husband’s eyes; her own were sparkling, she knew. “An invitation if ever I heard one, Mister Baggins...”
A crimson blush started at Frodo’s collar, and reached up to the tips of his ears. Then he laughed at the teasing glint in his wife’s eyes.
She slid her hand into her lover’s, encouraging him to lead the way, tightening her hold as they stepped into the bedroom. She was glad Nob had turned the bed down for them already... mayhap she could do that at home... somehow it made the room even more inviting...
Her thoughts scattered as her husband drew her into his arms, his lips seeking the warmth of her neck, then her shoulder, and the familiar and dear dance between them began...
No, she decided, it began when they met, and now continued, deeper, richer, more fulfilling, more peaceful and exciting, more joyous...
Frodo’s mind filled with light, the light of her love. He found himself only able to focus upon snatches of moments, so overwhelmed he was by the sensations Lily evoked in him... her hand at his breast... her fingers smoothing his brow, into his curls... her hair cascading around his face as she gazed down into his eyes... her lips against his, her softness. And her voice, whispering his name, again and again and again.