Disclaimer: Middle Earth, hobbits, and all things related to Lord of the Rings belong to the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien. This story intends no infringement on that copyright.
The Girl Who Aimed Straight
People who got gifts from Bilbo Baggins were not content merely to own them. Such gifts needed to be explained, especially if they had a note attached to them when they came.
Adelard Took constantly explained that Bilbo had given him many umbrellas over the years, and this final one was a little joke between them.
Angelica Baggins carried her mirror many places, and explained that her dear old uncle had thought her pretty and wanted her to have it.
Milo Burrows explained that his volumes of letter-writing had prompted the old fellow to give him some extra ink.
Lily Withypoll wished someone would ask her to explain about the elvish bow and arrows, and the note that said, "To Lily, who aims straight, from her age-mate (except for one hundred years)." She wanted to tell the story about how she had bested Bilbo at stone throwing in the garden one evening when she and Pippin had come over to hear stories, and to explain that when the old hobbit had told her he was turning eleventy-one, Lily, who had just turned eleven, had foolishly exclaimed, "Oh, my! We're the same age, except for a hundred years." How he had laughed at that! She wanted to tell it to someone, but Pippin was the only one who noticed, and he had been there and already knew the story. Frodo Baggins had asked when he gave it to her, but then someone else had been at the door, and Lily had been swept home to the Smials before she had a chance to answer him.
Perhaps he would come to visit, when he stopped being so busy. He was full-grown now, but Lily was pretty sure that he would still be a friend to the younger cousins (which she wasn't, as far as she knew, but Pippin was), as he always seemed really glad to see them. She hoped so. She thought Frodo a perfectly wonderful chum, and when her parents had died, he had come to tell her that she would be all right. He had gotten through it, he said, and he knew what she felt about things. He did, too. It wasn't just the sad stuff; he knew how infuriating it was to see "the Look" when people glanced over -- "the poor little thing," it said. And he knew that sometimes, you felt like just being the same person you always were, instead of being "the orphan child." He told her she was lucky to be in one of the great halls, where there were any number of cousins and in-laws living. "After awhile, they start forgetting precisely why you happen to be there," he said. "You're not all that different from anyone else."
So Lily was very fond of Frodo, and really hoped to tell him the story about the stones someday. She thought he might laugh at it, too, and she liked the sound of his laugh.
But Frodo did not come to the Smials for a long time, and by the time Lily and Pippin came back to visit Bag End again, no one was talking about Bilbo's presents anymore, having moved on to the subject Mayor Will Whitfoot's speech at the Midwinter bonfire. Lily went tromping in the woods south of Hobbiton with Frodo and Pippin and Meriadoc Brandybuck, another cousin of theirs, and the only mention of the bow and arrows was Pippin's brag that Lily could outshoot anyone in the Shire (why Pippin found this a cause to brag was a mystery to Lily, but she didn't mind; she was just glad he didn't think like Aunt Eglatine and Pervinca, who said it wasn't ladylike for her to occupy herself with such things). She enjoyed the tromp as much as ever, but it wasn't the same without old Bilbo waiting back at Bag End to tell them stories by the fire.
Pippin and Merry went off after dinner to bedevil little Myrtle Burrows, which Lily had no interest in. She stayed at Bag End with Frodo and Sam Gamgee, who was the gardener's son (Lily herself was a shopkeeper's daughter, so she didn't hold such a thing against anyone). He was about Merry's age, and the only thing Lily really knew about him was that Rosie Cotton in Bywater was sweet on him. Every female creature in the Shire knew that. Frodo was helping him with his reading, which Bilbo had taught him a bit of. Lily slid up to the table and joined the lesson, as she had barely had time to begin learning from Bilbo and longed to read the great poems he spoke herself. Sam didn't seem to mind, and Frodo seemed glad to have her there. The lessons went on for three years.
"Well, Mr. Frodo," Sam said, "as I see it, we must have sent archers to help the king. Otherwise why would we say it?"
"But no one else says it, Sam."
"That is not proof," Lily put in. Generally, she took Frodo's part, but this time she felt that Sam was quite right. This was perhaps because she liked the idea of hobbit archers going off to help the Big People, and fancied the idea of doing so herself, but she thought that if she got past that, she would still believe it. "Why, I wandered to the south in Tookland once, and I found a Bounder, and he told me that people sometimes look at him and say they have never heard of hobbits at all before. Does that mean we don't exist?"
Frodo smiled at her kindly, and she might have agreed with him at that moment if he had proceeded to tell her that, in fact, hobbits didn't exist, had she not steeled herself to keep up the argument, as she enjoyed it. "But Lily," he said, "all peoples tell heroic stories of themselves." "Maybe that's because all peoples have heroes to speak of."
"An interesting notion," Frodo said. "Though it is more properly stated, 'Perhaps all peoples have heroes of whom to speak.'"
"Well, either way," Sam piped in, "I like the idea."
"As do I."
They all turned to the new voice in the room. None of them had heard the door open, but nevertheless, an old man was standing in the entranceway of Bag End, wearing a grey cloak and leaning on a staff. Sam greeted him first. "Why, bless me! Hello, Mr. Gandalf!"
"Hello, Samwise," Gandalf said, his eyes fixed on Frodo.
"Hello, Gandalf," Frodo said.
"You look well."
Frodo didn't answer this, which Lily thought odd, especially as he looked away, as if he oughtn't look well. She stood up. "I am Lily Withypoll of the Great Smials," she said, dropping him a curtsey. "I saw you only once at -- "
"Yes, my dear, I remember you. I have known your longfathers for generations, though not as well as I have known some others. Your father's shop in Bucklebury was a fine establishment." All this, he said without looking at her. He maintained his focus on Frodo, studying him carefully. Then, without warning, he turned and left.
"Well, there's an odd thing for you," Sam muttered under his breath, then looked around quickly, as if afraid the wizard might have reappeared and heard his irritation.
Frodo gazed after Gandalf for a moment, then shook his head and continued with the lesson.
Lily, as always after her lesson, stayed the night in Hobbiton with some of her mother's distant Banks relatives (Aunt Eglatine Took, Mother's sister, was the only close relative she had on any side), and went back to Bag End in the morning, where she begged Sam and the Gaffer for a lesson on plants and how they grew. Sam gave her a bit of learning about moving different sorts of plants to different parts of the garden in alternating years, but said he didn't rightly know why this worked, only that it did. She returned the favor by helping him with his sums, which didn't feel like work, as she loved to puzzle out numbers. She took lunch with Frodo, then fetched her pony from the village stables and started back to Tookland. For some reason, she was not at all surprised to find Gandalf standing along the Great Road, waiting for her.
He fell in, walking beside her pony. "Good morning, Lily Withypoll," he said.
"Good morning sir. To what do I owe this honor?"
"To your own good sense, Lily. You have a good mind, and are doing a commendable job of exercising it."
"Thank you, sir."
"There is a task to which I would like to set you."
Lily pulled up on the reins and stopped her pony. Gandalf stopped walking at the same time. The idea of having a task set to her by a wizard was exciting and scary, and she wanted to do whatever it was he had in mind, especially if it was an adventure like old Bilbo's. But she thought there were things he was forgetting. "I am only fourteen years old," she said. "And a girl to boot. I shoot well, but my uncle, the Thain, would not approve of my going off anywhere."
"I'm not sending you off to war, you silly child," Gandalf told her. "And I am telling you now because it will take time for you to prepare yourself. I have interceded with the Thain to see to it that you are not impeded, though I will ask both of you to keep my presence in this quiet. It will not work properly if the Shirefolk think it wizard's devilry."
Lily's curiosity got the better of her. "Well, I am almost fifteen. Next month is my birthday."
Gandalf gave her a half smile, and they started to move together again. "The task I set you, Lily Withypoll, is to learn everything you find it in your power to learn. You will travel throughout the Shire, looking into records found in the great houses. You will learn the family trees."
"The family trees?"
"It is the hobbit way of keeping history," Gandalf explained. "And a surprisingly effective one in some ways, though it does tend to narrow the view, and it seems rarely to be used as well as it could be. But I'd imagine that if you put together what each family remembers about itself, you'd come up with a fair history of the Shire."
"Very well. I will learn the family trees. Is that my task?"
"Not entirely. You will also learn the stories of the families who do not keep records, and write down what you can. You may also travel to Bree, to learn about the place from whence the Shirefolk came. At any other time, I would suggest you travel further afield, but it is not practical at the moment."
"So I am to learn the history of every family in the Shire, and Bree."
"I'd also like you to study maps. And I know you like numbers; you should keep up your mathematics when you can."
"And plants? I'm learning a lot from the Gamgees."
Gandalf paused. "You should learn something about plants and animals and stars," he said. "And rivers. Perhaps you should not tie yourself too closely to the Gamgees. You will not be spending a great deal of time in Hobbiton. Most of the records you will need are in Tookland and Buckland."
"I shall have my lessons... "
"I think Mr. Baggins has taught you as much as he can," Gandalf said quickly. "It is time for you to go elsewhere. You will no longer be spending a great deal of time at Bag End."
Lily was so surprised and saddened by this idea that she didn't answer it.
Gandalf went on. "Give yourself ten years to study. When you become twenty-five, before you start thinking about coming of age and looking for a husband, I want you to build a school."
"Yes. A place for people to come and learn. This is your task, ultimately. You will learn what you can, then you will teach it. The Shire has wallowed in ignorance of its own history and the world it lives in long enough. Your task is to bring it into the new age on its feet." He nodded to himself, then turned and started to walk away.
Lily called after him. "Gandalf?"
"Did we send archers to the king or did we not?"
He was far enough away that she couldn't see his face clearly, but she thought he was smiling. "The knowledge exists to be found," he said. "I would wager it exists at Fornost, which you call Deadman's Dike. But do not travel there alone, Lily Withypoll. Your cousin Peregrin is a fool, but a strong and brave one. See to it that he travels with you, or that someone you trust does. But do not go there until you have mastered at least Tookland. I wish you luck." He disappeared down the Road, leaving Lily alone in the early afternoon.
If you want to learn something, Dad had once said, the best place to start is with something you already know, then move out from it. Lily looked into the mirror above her dresser at the Great Smials and sighed. She had to start somewhere.
"I am Lily Withypoll," she said to her reflection. "My father was Rigo Withypoll of Buckland. My mother was Enridreg Banks of Michel Delving. My father's father was... "
She had gotten as far back as her father's father's mother (one Aldercy Greenhand, of Bywater, who Lily thought was related to the Gamgee family, as the Gaffer had mentioned the Greenhand name once, but she wasn't sure how) when Pippin came into her room, walking on his hands. He tumbled out of it, and sat on the floor, grinning. "And what have you locked yourself in for, Lily?"
"It's not your concern," she said primly.
"Oh, mooning about over my cousin Frodo then, I'd bet."
Lily stuck her tongue out at him, but didn't deny the charge. Denying it would be the single best way to start Pippin running around the Smials, telling it to everyone he happened to pass. Besides, Frodo was very handsome (at least in Lily's opinion), and most times Pippin accused her of mooning over him, it was true. "He's over twenty years older than I am," she said. "So he shan't be mooning back."
They joked for awhile about this, then moved on to the circle of girls Pippin got secret notes from (in general, hobbits did not start courting seriously until twenty-five, but it was common for girls to take an interest in the boys around them from childhood on, and Pippin was quite popular among the fourteen-year-old crowd). He claimed to find all of them dull-witted and boring, though he said he might try to steal a kiss sometime, just to see what it was about. Lily suggested that he might like it better if he waited until girls no longer seemed dull-witted to him.
"I don't think you're dull-witted," he said, wiggling his eyebrows.
"Well, you're quite right. Unfortunately, Pippin dear, I am your first cousin, so you will simply have to direct your sights elsewhere."
"I'd rather have you for a chum, anyway. You aren't at all girl-like."
"Not at all! You are simply very different. Which is why I brought you this." He reached into a pocket -- it had been buttoned shut while he was walking on his hands -- and pulled out a small black thing that began to crawl across his hand as soon as it realized it was free. "I found this fellow out in the garden," he said, holding the insect out to her. "I've never seen one like him before."
Lily reached out and let it crawl onto her hand. The black wings were not moving. "I think it was just born. Its wings are wet."
"How do you know about them?"
"The Gaffer -- old Hamfast Gamgee, you know -- showed me one in the garden at Bag End. He says these will eat their way through anything, and that seeing one is a very bad thing for the grass. But they only come every seventeen years, he says." The insect crawled up her thumb and tickled as it made its way into the crook of her elbow. "We should take it back outside. But not in the garden. Maybe down in the Green Hills."
Pippin was up and on his way out before Lily had much of a chance to finish the thought, and she followed him without hesitation. She had ten years for Gandalf's task; one evening playing with Pippin was not going to spoil it.
It was late dusk when they released the insect in the Green Hills, a mile south of the Great Smials. It hopped away into the grass. Lily followed it for awhile, wondering where it would make for, but she lost it after about fifteen feet. Pippin was walking on his hands again; Lily guessed it was a new trick, and he would keep doing it until he got bored. He always did.
She picked up a pebble -- nothing that would actually hurt him -- and tossed it at one waving foot. Surprised by the little sting, he lost his balance and fell out of the handstand. "Hey!" he said, rubbing his wrist. "What did you do that for?"
She laughed. "I'm not walking home having a conversation with your feet, Pippin." He stood up and walked over, amiably enough, then, in a quick motion, pulled the ribbon out of her hair, causing it to tumble every whichway. Laughing, he started to run towards home. She followed, laughing herself, red hair streaming back into the dusk.
Later that night, she found a fresh journal on her bed, a gift from Uncle Paladin, with note that said it was also compliments of a "mutual friend, who expects it to be filled." Lily opened it to the first page and wrote, "I am Lily Withypoll of the Great Smials." She paused, ready to start her family tree, but instead smiled, and wrote firmly, "My uncle is Paladin Took, who makes me keep my promises. My teacher is Frodo Baggins, who makes me think. And my best friend is my cousin Peregrin Took, who makes me laugh."
The fundamentals established, Lily took a deep breath, and began her work in earnest.
As it happened, even in the great houses of the Shire, little was written down, save for the actual names and dates of the families, and Lily realized within a week that ten years was going to be an awfully short time to collect all the stories that went along with them. She wrote down from memory what she knew of the Withypolls, which wasn't a great deal. She thought she would have to ask Farmer Maggot, in Buckland, for any more detail; he had always seemed to know quite a bit when she'd visited with Pippin and Merry. Aunt Eglatine was able to tell her about the Banks family, which (thankfully, Lily thought for the first time) had been quiet and uninvolved even in the small world of Shire history.
She moved on to the Tooks.
Uncle Paladin kept the family trees written out on a great piece of parchment in his study. There were many names, and much space still at the bottom, and some blank lines on the right side, where the Tooks of Long Cleave belonged, since there had been little communication between the branches of the family for some time. Lily knew a few of them from festivals, and they seemed rather un-Tookish to her. She supposed she would be seeing more of them as her project went on.
A month after she began, she was sitting in the garden, writing notes into her journal (about Hildifons Took, who had gone off on a journey many years ago and not returned), when a brown finger hooked over the edge of the book and tipped it down away from her. "Hello, Lily," Frodo said.
She smiled widely. "Well, hello."
"You didn't come last night. Sam missed you."
"Oh, I've been working on this project that Ga -- that I want to do, and I lost track of time, and I didn't realize that you would be expecting me, and... Sam missed me!"
"Oh, quite a lot. Why he was telling Gandalf just how much he enjoyed your company every month, and thought your questions interesting."
"Sam left at the same time I did last month, and he said no such thing to Gandalf."
Frodo laughed. "Oh, come to think of it, you're quite right. I was the one who said that to Gandalf, when he came back. As he expressed some interest in you, it is not surprising to me that he -- I mean you, of course -- came up with a project for you to do."
"Well, I'm not to speak of him in regards to it, so I suppose you aren't supposed to, either."
"My solemn vow." He sat down on the bench beside her. "I really was running out of things to teach you, Lily. But I shall miss seeing you regularly."
"Really?" Lily's heart skipped.
Frodo shook his head. "Don't get any odd ideas from that, Lily. I find you a marvelous child. But it is, perhaps, better that you stay away from me for a time. Though I really will miss talking to you."
Lily sighed, and kicked at a pebble on the ground.
Frodo put a companionable arm across her shoulders. "You're a pretty child, Lily," he said, "and as you get older, you'll have no trouble finding lads to court you. You should do as the other girls do, and pick some fellow your own age to be fond of."
"I'm not going to have time for any of you for quite awhile," Lily said, attempting a smile and gesturing with her journal for emphasis. "This is going to take me forever. Ten whole years. And I bet I won't even be done with it then."
"No one is ever done learning history."
Lily settled back into the crook of his arm, contented that the uncomfortable subject had been dropped so easily. He was very handsome. She supposed she wasn't the only hobbit maid who thought so, and he'd probably had this conversation before.
They spoke about her project, and where she might want to go. She finally remembered to tell him about the bow and arrows, and he told her other stories about Bilbo. After awhile, he squeezed his arm to hug her a bit, then kissed her forehead and bade her good afternoon.
It took her nearly two years to master the Tooks. Uncle Paladin said that was quick work, but to Lily, it felt like forever. She journeyed throughout Tookland, and finally made her way up to Long Cleave. Pippin accompanied her on this trek, as he had some curiosity about the people he called the Un-Tooks. Lily was inclined to agree with his assessment, though they certainly lived in a fine hole and offered hospitality to rival the Brandybucks. Pippin got particular pleasure out of devilling his eleven-year-old cousin, Diamond, by standing all her dolls on their heads and cutting her hair while she was asleep. He got considerably less pleasure out of finding his pony with pink ribbons braided into his mane and tail and bright paint on his hooves, but Lily personally thought it served him right, and refused to help him undo the damage, even though it delayed their departure for a day. Diamond's older sister, Malva (who Lily thought was aiming to re-unite the houses of the Tooks), came out at noon to help and to complain about recalcitrant children. Pippin suffered her presence bravely, and Lily showed no mercy in teasing him about it on the way home.
She spent a few months compiling the information she'd gotten -- including the auxiliary branches of the family and the primary in-laws -- and creating a chronology, then a narrative of the history of the Tooks. There were almost no families in Tookland who hadn't connected to the Tooks at some point, so that amounted to a rather complete history of Tookland. Gandalf had been right. It was a surprisingly effective way of keeping history, if anyone took the trouble to put the pieces together.
After she'd finished this first phase of her project, she rewarded herself by spending a year studying other subjects.
Her mathematics had never been dropped, and numbers were scrawled down the sides of most of her history notes -- puzzles she designed for herself, problems she'd been given by various Tooks who had discovered her other interests in the course of her questioning, equations that occurred to her to solve for no reason other than to solve them. There were very few people in the Shire who could teach Lily Withypoll about numbers, though she'd heard that if she went to the elf-city in the west, she might find mariners with a lot to tell her.
Uncle Paladin helped her study the stars -- he had a prized chart, sent back by his great uncle Isengar Took, who had gone to sea and studied such things, and he showed her how to read it against the night sky.
Shortly after her seventeenth birthday (celebrated by a small party, during which she gave away some polished-up family trees, but little else, as she'd forgotten until only a week before), she decided to defy Gandalf, and return to Hobbiton to learn more about plants from the Gaffer. She marched right up to Bag End, as if she'd never left, and he showed her quite a bit about roots, and the insects that threatened them. Sam seemed to have stopped taking his lessons from Frodo -- the Gaffer wasn't overfond of education, and had Sam working full time now -- but still spoke of him as if he were the wisest hobbit who ever lived. He showed Lily how to heal a broken stem, and Lily began to understand somewhat how a plant operated.
She visited with Frodo often, and they discussed what poetry he knew, but it wasn't enough for her to consider herself properly educated in the subject. Mainly, the visits occurred because she enjoyed his company, and found, after two years of constantly talking to people older than herself, that she barely noticed the age difference between them anymore. As she seemed to have left behind her tendency to moon about over him (much to her surprise; she didn't know where or when she'd left it), this made for a perfectly delightful friendship. Gandalf came across her on one of his unexpected visits, and lectured her soundly about getting on with the business she'd been set to. Afterward, he took her (with Uncle Paladin's blessing and allegedly at his request) to the Grey Havens at Mithlond to study mathematics for a few months while he met with elves about something or other that was of interest to him.
While she was there, Lily met an elf named Celdar who sat atop a wall and draw pictures on vellum. She took a break from mathematics long enough to learn the craft, and Celdar declared her quite good at it. Three days later, he announced that he would be traveling and could no longer teach her. She drew his ship as it pulled away into the sunset, and tucked it into her satchel. Something about it disturbed her deeply, but she couldn't place it. Gandalf collected her early the next week to go home. He gave her a gift of charcoal sticks to draw with, but admonished her to use them sparingly, as travel to obtain them might become somewhat difficult soon.
Lily didn't pay much attention to him. It was time to get back to work, and she needed to make plans.
Seven years later.
Lily was displeased with herself. She had failed to learn music or dancing to any degree, had only a cursory knowledge of geography beyond the Greenway, and still hadn't questioned several of the smaller families. The history she had put together was decent -- certainly more complete than anything that already existed -- but she knew it wasn't exhaustive. She'd stayed here in Buckland for nearly four years now (to her delight, she'd been allowed to stay by herself in one of the Brandybucks' guest houses), going back and forth to Bree when she could find some kind soul to travel with her (it was usually Estella Bolger, who was the first female friend Lily had ever had, and her father), but she knew she had barely scratched the surface of the far history. As to Gandalf's idea that at any other time he'd tell her to go further afield, she didn't think she'd ever have time to do that, even if everyone told her the roads were perfectly safe. Every time she thought she was coming to the end of the road, it curved and took her someplace else entirely. She'd never get to open the school Uncle Paladin had built for her in Michel Delving if she didn't bring her own studies to a close, and soon. Her twenty-fifth birthday was closing in on her, and she'd made a promise.
And she still didn't have her answer about the archers.
That displeased her most of all, because if she was going to go to Fornost, she would have to do it quickly. By all reports, the roads were becoming more dangerous by the day, and it was already something of an adventure just to get to Bree. Fornost was three days north of Bree, at the far end of the Greenway, and Lily didn't think much of the Big Folk who traveled that road. She had kept up practice with her bow, but she wasn't sure she could really shoot anyone, if it came to that. Still, at some point, she had decided that Fornost would be the last step, her final exam.
She would finally win that old argument with Frodo. She didn't know why that was so important to her, but it was. She had only seen him a handful of times she'd come to Buckland -- though Merry Brandybuck kept her apprised of all the happenings he knew of in Hobbiton -- and she fancied the idea of proving to him, once and for all, that there had been hobbit heroes. He brought her ideas on the occasions when they saw one another, and they played with them, but she was bothered by the fact that all of those ideas came from outside the Shire. It was one thing to look outside one's own borders for new turns of the mind. It was something else altogether to never look within them. And he never wanted to talk about the history she was learning. She'd resolved at some point to prove that something in Shire history might be worth his attention, other than the pretty countryside he claimed to love.
Pippin had agreed to go with her, but he'd gotten distracted by something (or, more likely, someone; ever since he'd entered his tweens, he'd become an incurable flirt, and had stolen a great many kisses from maids who no longer seemed dull-witted to him) and had sent word to her that he wouldn't be able to come for another three months. Annoyed by this and unwilling to wait, Lily had stormed over to Estella's home and declared that they could take this trip bloody well without male help. Estella was shocked at the suggestion (and the language), and suggested that Lily simply wait for Pippin to arrive. "Perhaps I'll come with you," she offered with a smile. Estella secretly enjoyed adventures, Lily knew, but she should have known that she didn't even secretly enjoy being thought of as odd. Any hobbit-maid who wandered off into the world without even as poor an escort as Pippin would certainly earn that tag.
So Lily went back to the guest house (which had a name that she could never remember), filled a pack with camping gear, and left under the cover of night, without a soul to accompany her. She felt odd, but quite daring.
She began the third day of her trip north from Bree with great anticipation. If her figuring was right, she would reach Fornost by noon. She had been walking for an hour when she heard the yell.
"Ho, there! Lily!"
She turned to the west, and saw a pony coming across the fields. Pippin was waving his arm wildly. Lily stopped at the side of the Greenway, her hands balled into fists, which she planted firmly on her hips. She waited, but didn't return his greeting.
He approached her, and slid off the pony. "Well, isn't that a piece of luck. I knew I'd hit the road sooner or later, but I thought I might have to search for you along it."
"I thought you had business elsewhere," Lily said primly, starting back up the road.
"And I thought you were going to wait for me. At least until I was reminded by another very annoying cousin that you weren't likely to do any such thing. So I rode across the north downs to catch you. There are strange things about, but I didn't take any time to look at them, for fear you'd managed to get yourself killed or carried off or worse."
Pippin rolled his eyes in disgust. "Lily, you are old enough that I don't need to explain the world to you. A lady should not be traveling alone."
Lily shrugged with practiced nonchalance, but was profoundly disturbed by the implication of what Pippin had said. She had seen many Big Folk in her travels -- there were more in this direction than there were in any other -- and the thought of... worse... frightened her badly. Still, she figured, she couldn't imagine that Pippin would be all that great a help. "Well," she said, "let's let your pony walk for awhile. We're not far away now."
He pointed ahead. "I'd say not."
Lily looked up. They had crested a small hill as they walked, and, to her surprise, the ruined stone walls of Fornost, the far north end of the Greenway, were settled only a mile or so away, in a shallow valley (made as much from the weight of the stones, she supposed, as from any natural curve of the land). It filled her heart with a cold dread. Deadman's Dike. She was suddenly very, very glad that Pippin had found her before she reached it.
They made their way to the great archway without speaking, and entered what had once been a great hall. Moss and lichen grew on the walls, and the ceiling was open to the sky. Lily felt a prickle in her skin, and knew without knowing how she knew that she was standing in a haunted place.
"What are we looking for?" Pippin whispered. The fact that this place could push Pippin into a whisper unnerved Lily even more.
"I don't know..."
"I was told that there would be an answer here. I wasn't told what it would be."
"Marvelous," Pippin said dryly, moving further into the ruin.
Lily followed him, eyes scanning the crumbling walls from top to bottom, seeking anything that wanted to offer itself to her. There were carved tiles with pictures on them winding around the top and bottom of the room. Many showed scenes from a war, and Lily's eyes were drawn to these. "The story pictures," she said quietly, and pointed to them for Pippin. He nodded. He was only about half as brainless as he pretended to be.
There was a sudden screech from above.
A vulture had been waiting patiently on top of the wall, looking for all the world as if it were made of stone itself. Pippin and Lily were trapped between it and the back wall of the structure. It swooped on them.
Lily jumped away toward the east wall. She saw Pippin diving for the north. The vulture circled back up to the ceiling, and swooped again, this time going straight for Pippin.
Lily reached for her bow, willing her hands not to shake. Time seemed to slow down. The trembling sense she'd been fighting disappeared.
The great bird hooked its talons onto Pippin's shoulders and started to drag him upward. He flailed vainly, trying to dislodge himself.
Lily fitted an arrow, and raised the bow, feeling preternaturally calm. The vulture had risen perhaps ten feet when she loosed the arrow.
The bird and the hobbit fell to the floor with a thud, and a curse from the latter. Lily ran over to the north wall, where the vulture had fallen, her arrow straight through his neck, with Pippin beneath him. She pushed the corpse away. Pippin sat up dizzily, rubbing his head. "Nice shot," he muttered. "But next time, do you suppose you could make it when I'm closer to the ground?"
The crisis past, Lily's hands were shaking again, but she tried to hide it. "I see you're going to be all right," she said, moving toward the vulture again to keep herself occupied until she felt steady again. She pushed at it, and it rolled against the wall, one talon scraping along the line of tiles. One of them pulled loose. She saw Pippin reach for it, and assumed he meant, for some obscure reason, to put it back.
"Lily?" he said quietly.
"I think I have your answer."
He held out the tile. It was broken in half, which was why it had been dislodged so easily, but it clearly showed a group of Men in battle. Stationed in the trees above them, four hobbit archers could clearly be seen.
She'd passed her final exam.
Pippin took her back across the North Downs to Long Cleave, where he'd been visiting when he left, and she sent for her things in Buckland to be delivered back to the Great Smials, where she met them a few days later. She had work to do putting things together, and getting ready to open her school. She was beginning to feel a sense of anticipation for it.
"Well, I suppose everyone has to anticipate something," Pervinca -- Pippin's next oldest sister, who was planning to marry soon -- told her.
"What does that mean?"
Pervinca gave her a condescending smile. "Nothing, dear. I'm sure it's all very important to you." She sighed. "But Lily, sweetheart, you haven't given any thought to your courting. It's generally thought that you will be an old maid. And if you start occupying yourself with this just when you ought to be occupying yourself with finding a husband, that's exactly what will happen."
"Why is it that Frodo Baggins is considered a gentlemanly bachelor, while I would just be considered a miserable old maid?"
"I think you overestimate Mr. Baggins' reputation," Pervinca said.
Lily didn't bother to argue, though she was relatively certain that Frodo had never been lectured by his cousins about doing something so much less important than courting as pursuing an education.
Nevertheless, she was sufficiently knowledgeable about her home by now not to bother objecting when Uncle Paladin and Aunt Eglatine planned a dance for her twenty-fifth birthday. It wasn't the sort of birthday where one came of age -- a much more important date -- but it was unusual. It was the only one where a girl wasn't expected to give out any presents; it was, instead, the birthday that announced her as old enough to be formally courted. Unlike Lily, most had been informally chosen by one lad or another (and danced with and kissed by several) prior to it, but twenty-five marked the day that adults officially recognized that this was going on.
The day came, and the party was set out on the flat field beyond the Smials' gardens. Took relatives came from all over the Shire, even though Lily was not technically a Took at all. Some Brandybucks came from Buckland, including Merry and his mother, though Merry was known to be more than casually attached to Estella Bolger. Estella's family didn't come. Her mother and brothers didn't care for travel, and her father was otherwise occupied. Lily was sorry to miss her. Frodo came from Hobbiton; Lily was surprised to see that he looked not a day older than he had the last time she'd seen him, or, come to think about it, the last time she'd seen him at a grand party. He looked no older than Merry now. The Mayor and his family came from Michel Delving. Lily had insisted on inviting the Gamgees, but they had not come. Pervinca sniffed that at least one side of the invitation knew who belonged where. Pippin had doused her with a vase full of flowers and water. Lily didn't really miss her at the party.
The dinner went quite well, and Lily was glad to find herself seated beside Frodo, though she was politely mindful of her other dinner companion (whose name she could not recall, though she thought he was one of the Proudfoots). The small band began playing when most of the main course had been consumed, and people began to couple off and dance. It had been going on for nearly an hour before Lily noticed that, no matter who's party it might have been, no one except Pippin had asked her for so much as a spin. And Pippin had literally spun her around only twice before being swept away by a bevy of girls from Tuckborough, who claimed he'd been away far too long. Lily smiled ruefully, and faded back toward the edge of the crowd. When she was sure no one was looking at her, she slipped back to the garden.
It was blessedly quiet, and she drew her oldest journal out of its hiding spot in a hollow beneath a statue. She used it now mainly to organize her notes; the bulk of her work was in other places. She also used it to draw. The last of Gandalf's pencils was down to a nub. For now, she just wanted to look at what she'd already drawn. She opened the book into a shaft of moonlight, and flipped forward to the pictures she'd drawn as she traveled the Shire, the dear old faces of the gammers and gaffers, the little children who pestered her "Draw me! Draw me!" She'd drawn Pippin, and Merry, and Estella. There was old Gaffer Gamgee. And --
"Hello, Lily," Frodo said.
She smiled. "We should stop meeting here. Has Sam been missing me again?"
"Quite a lot." He sat down beside her. "You're missing your own party. What are you doing out here?"
"I'm afraid I'm escaping it."
"I thought you might be."
"I found something for you," she said, reaching down into the hollow where the journal had come from. She drew out the broken tile, and pointed to the hobbits in the trees. "You see? I was right."
Frodo laughed heartily at it. "Yes, you were. Paladin told me about your little adventure. I didn't believe him."
"Well, it's true."
"It was very foolish, Lily."
She shrugged. "I wanted an answer. And I wanted you to see that there is something in the Shire other than pretty gardens."
His shook his head. "Lily, you silly child. I know that. But the pretty gardens, the kind hills... I am quite in love the Shire for those more than for the sake of heroes centuries old." He pointed to the pictures in the journal. "These are the faces of the Shire that I love it for. I wish you had understood me when I told you that in the first place. Perhaps when you're older..."
Lily sighed. "I was so happy about finding it. I thought you'd be pleased."
Frodo looked at it. "I am pleased. It's good to know that some of the old stories are true, though I still doubt most of them. But be honest Lily. You did it because it pleased you to prove yourself right."
"Perhaps. A little."
"Perhaps a lot."
She laughed after a moment, realizing that he didn't think this a weakness (as Pervinca undoubtedly would). "Just perhaps," she said, leaning into the arm that had appeared comfortably around her shoulders. Her eyes wandered back to the party.
"What are you thinking about?" Frodo asked after awhile.
She shrugged. "Nothing of great import."
"Tell me anyway."
"Well, I... " She laughed self-consciously, not knowing whether or not she wanted to bring the subject up. "Honestly, it's nothing. I was just thinking that -- well, that I was probably the only girl my age in the Shire who's never had a kiss stolen from her. It's probably because Pippin is responsible for most of the thefts, and he's my first cous -- "
She stopped abruptly, feeling Frodo's lips brush across hers. "There," he said. "Now, you have had a kiss stolen."
She blinked owlishly in surprise, then surprised herself further by saying, "Well, I want it back" -- and taking it.
They laughed uncomfortably at one another, and it might have ended there. It might have ended if Lily had spoken first. She might not have developed any number of odd ideas that occurred to her first that evening. But Frodo spoke first, and her doom was sealed by it. "Perhaps we could share one," he said.
They had shared three before Frodo stopped suddenly, and stood and walked away, his fist closed around something at the end of a chain that he always wore but never took out. "I'm sorry, Lily," he said. "That was quite improper. You should return to your party. Share your kisses with someone more appropriate." He disappeared into the night.
Lily did return to her party, and danced with several of the lads. She felt she could easily have danced for hours. But she never considered sharing kisses with anyone else, though Frodo was gone from her life for four years, and a lifetime of the world. She knew where they were most wanted.
Lily opened the school after the late September harvest in 1417, by Shire Reckoning, when she was almost twenty-seven years old. She'd spent two years putting a text together and practicing teaching by tutoring Pippin's nieces and nephews (the children of his older two sisters, Pearl and Pimpernel; Pervinca was still planning her wedding). Pippin himself was spending most of his time in Hobbiton and Bywater, with Merry -- who frequently visited from Buckland -- and Frodo (neither Pippin nor anyone else had any idea what had happened at Lily's party, and had not thought to comment on his complete withdrawal from her life). Lily herself was so busy that she barely noticed the passage of time.
Uncle Paladin had built the school in Michel Delving almost as soon as Lily had informally announced her plans to open it, hailing it as a grand idea whose time had come. Gandalf's name did not come into it. The building itself resembled a house, with a large, round central room that had a large fireplace at one end. A small room opened off the front, where she could work in privacy (though she doubted she would use it for anything other than storage), and another bubbled off the side through a large archway. She didn't know what that was meant to be used for, but perhaps sooner or later, she would have a helper who could use that room to teach smaller groups.
She was not surprised that the number of children attending on opening day was not at all high -- twenty-three, all told, from Bywater, Hobbiton, Michel Delving, and Tuckborough. The Thain may have declared it a grand idea, but that didn't mean that the Shirefolk had much intention of going along with such Tookish nonsense. She endeavored to see to it that those who did come proved a good example to those who did not.
For the most part, she was successful that first year. All of the children had learned to read by spring, and could recite the histories of their own families and villages. More parents now spoke tentatively about sending their children the next year, after harvest. On a day in late April, 1418, while the students were doing recitations, Lily looked up and swore she saw Gandalf looking sadly through the window, but when she went outside to find him and ask what he thought of their project, she found nothing but a print in the mud that might have been the tip of a staff. Soon thereafter, she adjourned classes for the summer, so that the farmers' children would be able to help their parents in the fields.
She wandered over to Bag End, but found no one at home except Sam Gamgee (if it could be called being at home, and she supposed it could, as he seemingly spent more time at Bag End than at his own hole on Bagshot Row). Sam was as customarily friendly as ever, and offered her tea in the garden, if she cared for it, but he gave no information about anything, and consistently steered the conversation back to matters of the school and Tookland and anything that did not involve himself or Frodo. Lily found this odd, but said nothing. She was not as surprised as the rest of the Shire when the rumor went around at midsummer that Frodo was selling Bag End, and Sam would be going with him to Buckland, though it was a bitter thought for her, as Buckland was quite too far for any sort of casual visit, and she'd still harbored hopes that once her own life was settled and she came closer to coming of age, he would ask for her. The Shire was already beginning to speak of her as Pervinca had warned -- a hopeless old maid in waiting -- but she considered herself spoken for, in some obscure way, though if anyone had suggested it to her in so many words, she would have hotly denied it.
The summer sped up, and the August harvest passed quickly. The late September harvest was marked with a larger festival, and after it, Lily reopened the school. About this time, Frodo left Bag End, and Lotho and Lobelia Sackville-Baggins moved in. Lily had thought to go see him off, but Pippin had told her that it wasn't such a very good idea, and that he had plenty of help already. So while Frodo moved east toward whatever it was he hoped to find there, Lily unlocked the school doors, and set up for another year.
To her surprise, there were forty children this year. To her even greater surprise, there were six adults, sitting uncomfortably on a short bench in the back of the room. Two of them were fairly big fellows, and she asked them to fetch a bench from outside -- with Mayor Whitfoot's permission, of course -- where they could be more comfortable. The rest of the adult students were women, one of them Rosie Cotton, who came forward while the children played at recess, and confessed that she wanted only to learn how to write, "So's I can write something to my Sam now and again," she explained. "He was going to teach me, seeing as old Mr. Bilbo taught him, but now he's up and left with Mr. Frodo, and I still don't know the art of it." Lily promised to teach her.
Within a week of moving to Hobbiton, Lotho Sackville-Baggins tore down the old Mill, leaving many people wondering what would happen next. He had great plans, he said, to build a mill that would work better, and he had cold drawings of what the thing was supposed to look like. He paid Lily a visit at the school during the first week of October, asking her scientific opinion of it. Giving it a cursory glance, she shrugged. He told her that he expected her to teach her students something useful about how to live in the world, and gave her detailed lists of things they would need to know to work in his mill. She told him she would teach as she had always planned to teach, and if he wanted to train mill workers, he could do so on his own time. He was unhappy with the answer, but she thought he would leave it at that. What else could he do?
Winter drew near. Most of Lily's adult students had learned to read and write (at least to their own satisfaction, which meant they could generally puzzle things out), and all but Rose had gone back to their lives. Rose stayed on, having become interested in some of the history lessons the children were getting. Lily had sent for Estella Bolger in Buckland to help with the large group, and she'd come, bearing the disturbing news that Sam and Frodo, along with Merry and Pippin, had lit off for parts unknown. Strange men had been seen, and her own brother, Fredegar, was frightened nearly witless (not a long trip, Lily thought privately). Her father had been only too glad to see her leave Buckland for the safe haven of the Shire; he said strange things were afoot in the lands to the East, and Buckland was too close for comfort. She was not to return until sent for. Lily was delighted, and invited Estella to live with her in the small house Uncle Paladin had seen fit to buy for her in Michel Delving.
Worry was high, but as was common hobbit practice, those left behind found ways to cover it and keep themselves busy. "I can't very well sit about staring out the window waiting for a sign, now can I?" as Rose put it. "My Sam will be all right. He's a clever lad. Though I suppose I shall have to keep my letters to him as a journal, which he can read when he comes back to me." She would go on for an hour in this vein if Lily let her, which she sometimes did, because she found it comforting, and tried to learn from it. Her own worries for both Frodo and dear Pippin (whom she teased so unmercifully, but loved quite extraordinarily for a cousin) often threatened to overwhelm her. Estella wore a necklace that Merry had given her, and twisted it so often that a link in the chain broke. She took it as an ill-omen, and cast herself into mourning until Lily found a way to fix it.
There were new worries as snow set in, and it became clear that Lotho had sold too much produce out of the Shire, trying to finance his mill (an ugly thing that had gone up almost as quickly as the old one had gone down), and now there weren't enough handy provisions for Shirefolk to buy. The complaints were normal gossip at first. Then Lotho brought in the Big Folk to back him up. Mayor Will Whitfoot was arrested just before the New Year, and Lotho named himself Chief Shirriff. Some of the older boys in Lily's school were recruited into the ranks of the shirriffs.
A bad case of speckled throat went through Michel Delving in February, and Lily caught it from one of her students. It came and went quickly enough -- miserably, because Lotho had sold too much honey and there was none left to soothe the infection, but quickly -- but it did force Estella to teach by herself for a week. Lily didn't know whether to be pleased or disappointed that her students were happy to get their regular teacher back. Estella was fine one on one, but she'd become frightened teaching the entire group. Lily finally settled on being disappointed, as she'd hoped in a corner of her mind that Estella might create a school in Buckland, if things ever settled down there.
In early March, Lotho paid her another visit at the school, and told her that he wanted the changes he'd mentioned made in the curriculum -- they were learning far too much nonsense that wasn't going to do them any good. Lily gave the same answer she'd given in October.
Lotho closed the school.
He tried to have Lily and Estella taken to the lockholes, but the guard the day they came was one of the big fellows -- a former mill worker by the name of Delgo Goodchild -- that Lily had taught to read earlier in the year. He marched them into a cell, then straight back out of it as soon as Lotho turned his back. They insisted that he leave Michel Delving with them, before he ended up in a cell himself. He agreed.
They went to the Great Smials.
The Took rebellion began the next day.
It was only a coincidence, as such things go, not brought on in any way by Lily's appearance. It was also not entirely unexpected -- Uncle Paladin had been saying for ages that if someone were going to be bossing the Shirefolk around, it ought to be the Thain (and most thought that he privately thought someone really ought to be doing it). But it did come from an unexpected direction.
Pervinca Took began the rebellion by taking a walk in Tuckborough.
She'd wandered casually to the hole where her husband-to-be was supposed to be finishing the final decorative details, and found him occupied with the charms of a local milkmaid. Being more Tookish than ladylike when pushed to the wall -- despite her pretensions to the contrary -- she'd thrown a vase at him and stalked off. This was all reported back to the family before she returned from her walk. Deciding to walk off her rage instead of letting her family see her uncomposed, she'd stormed down into the Green Hills, where she'd met one of Lotho's ruffians. Thankfully, a few of the Took lads and Delgo Goodchild had agreed to go find her (as Aunt Eglatine had sensibly reminded them that it was no longer safe to be wandering around), and one of the Tooks shot the ruffian before he carried her off. She had a bruise on her arm and a black eye, and was shaken enough that Delgo had to carry her home, but she'd come out of it unscathed.
It was the last straw. Even if shooting one of the ruffians hadn't been enough for Lotho to declare the Tooks in rebellion, Uncle Paladin himself would have, and did. He called a war council, and every male in the vicinity was called to be at it (with the exception of Pervinca's now ex-fiance, newly declared about as welcome in Tookland as the ruffians). Many of their sisters and wives showed up as well, and Lily elbowed her own way in for a seat at the great table.
"P'r'aps we ought to send the ladies away," a local boy suggested, glancing chivalrously at Lily. "This being talk that might upset them and all."
"It's going to be more than talk," Uncle Paladin said, "and they'll hardly be able to miss what's going on right around them. So they may as well hear it now as see it later."
"Furthermore," Lily said, "we've as much stake in defending our home as you do. I once shot a vulture out of the air at twenty paces. I think I can still shoot straight enough to do it or the like of it again."
"I hope it shall not come to you fighting, my dear," Uncle Paladin said. "I have lost enough that I cherish to outlanders this year."
No one spoke. Lily hadn't realized that her uncle thought Pippin lost, but it was immediately clear that he did, and that so did the vast majority of Tookland. Old Adelard, Uncle Paladin's cousin and next in line as Thain if Pippin fell, looked down at his feet.
"You've lost nothing," Lily said firmly in the silence. "And I won't allow anything or anyone to be taken from the Tooks without your leave as long I have breath and strength to stop it. Peregrin will return, and he will find us here -- safe and free." She hoped she sounded more convinced than she usually felt; her heart wavered between a fierce (and oddly frightening) conviction that her friends would return, unscathed and heroic, and miserable musings that they had gotten themselves killed before getting a mile out of Buckland.
"Hear! Hear!" someone called out (Lily never did find out who), then there was a solemn tapping of wooden canes on the flagstone floor of the great room. It began slowly, one or two of them, then rose to a positively thunderous volume.
Uncle Paladin let it go on for a minute, washing over him, and when he looked up, Lily could see that at least at some level, he'd taken heart from her statements and their support. She was glad of that.
"I want everyone into the Smials," he said quietly. "That means wives, children, siblings, any animals in your care that you want to remain in your care, *everyone*. There is a great deal of room. We'll form troops, and set them to guard the perimeter. Archers will be stationed in the two oak trees, where there is a wide view of the countryside. Parties will occasionally make their way into the fields to forage for fresh food, but provisions may get tight."
"What about -- " the local boy who had originally spoken looked guiltily around. "Well, what of the ladies?"
Uncle Paladin sighed. "I dislike it, but it is rather counterproductive to refuse to allow them to fight. They will not accompany the parties into the fields for foraging."
Lily considered arguing, then glanced over at Pervinca, with her fresh-swollen eye, and thought better of it.
The whole business might still have sputtered out, as so much Shiretalk did, had Lotho's men not decided to press the issue at that moment. There was a crashing sound, as the front door of the Smials, the bastion of the Took family itself, was kicked in, two rooms from where over a hundred Tooks were gathered to talk war.
The two ruffians who had done it didn't stand a chance.
They were tied to the back of an ass, and sent back up the road.
The watch began.
The Rebellion became habit quickly. Lily's watch from the south oak tree was at noon every day, then again at sunset, as her eyes were sharp. There was no attempt to kill approaching ruffians -- even enraged, hobbits largely dislike such things -- but there was no hesitation to injure, and if killing absolutely couldn't be avoided it would be done. It hadn't needed to be so far. Lily had shot two men who were approaching with battle axes and torches, both in the arm. They wouldn't be wielding their weapons very quickly, if at all; she'd gone for a tearing wound. Another archer had gone for a man's knee. One of the guards had nearly cut a hand off of a ruffian who'd dared to come onto the grounds at sunrise.
Provisions ran low quickly, and foraging was not as easy as had been thought. Some of the younger lads were able to slip in and out, but finally a large armed party had been sent to commandeer supplies from the town of Tuckborough, and fight anyone they needed to get them. On March 25, the day the Ring went into the fire (though of course no one in Tookland knew it on a conscious level), the party fanned out into the town, and found little resistance. The crowded Smials were relieved, and the perimeter guard grew to encircle the whole settlement.
In early April, Lily fell ill again. At first she thought it was the speckled throat come back to haunt her for another week, as it began with the same cough and aching joints, but her fever suddenly jumped, and a bumpy rash appeared on her stomach. She was pulled off her watch.
Over the next two weeks, the fever raged, and she found her arms and legs weak, swollen, and prone to twitching beyond her control. Most frightening, she had an occasional pain in her chest, and sometimes she felt as if her heart were beating much faster than normal. Estella Bolger sat with her, making her drink many glasses of water and trying to cool her fever with cold cloths. Aunt Eglatine stopped her any time she tried to get up. Uncle Paladin even came in one evening, putting a cool hand on her forehead. She thought he and Aunt Eglatine were talking about her, but she couldn't quite make out what they were saying. Of course, she also thought that Frodo came to see her, and talked about how gardens were much better than archers after all. And she thought, at one point, that her own parents, dead more than twenty years now, came to visit. She had a very nice chat with them.
The fever spiked suddenly mid-month, and burned itself out. Lily awoke from her delirium to find Tookland still at war and the routine of Rebellion still ticking itself out around her. She wanted to take her post again, but Aunt Eglatine put her foot down and refused. Lily was just as glad this time. She was herself again, but she felt as weak as a kitten, and her heart still seemed to beat too quickly now and again. She didn't tell anyone this part. She told herself it was because she didn't want to worry them, but she knew, where it counted, that it was because she didn't want to hear what it might mean.
She took to working with several girls in the Smials' kitchen, joking with them about the boys in their lives. To everyone's surprise, Pervinca Took had fallen madly in love with Delgo Goodchild, the simple mill worker who had come in with Lily and Estella. Uncle Paladin was still trying to settle out whether or not to give his blessing, but it was generally assumed that he eventually would. He always did.
Estella saw to it that Lily continued to eat properly and drink a lot of water, and, toward the middle of May, declared happily, "Why, you're practically as good as new."
Lily laughed, purely happy. "I feel better," she said, and it was true. The weakness seemed to have gone away, and the fluttery heart had only happened once in the past week. Maybe it would pass altogether after all.
She took her post again in June, and stayed it throughout the summer. Lotho seemed less interested in sending his men to Tookland just lately, and it was frequently a bit of a lark to stand watch. Lily joked with the boys, and some of them even flirted with her, to her great surprise.
There were several weddings during the summer, conducted under guard for fear that the merrymaking would attract the ruffians. Uncle Paladin gave his permission to Delgo and Pervinca in July, and they were married in August. Everard Took finally married Melilot Brandybuck, who had come to Tuckborough a year ago expecting an imminent wedding (more than a few jokes were made about how loose-fitting dresses seemed to have come into style for brides, and in fact Melilot was not the only bride who had suddenly found such a style convenient). The ruffians only invaded one marriage -- Pervinca's, of course -- but they were dealt with swiftly and soundly.
By September, the Rebellion was considered a rousing success. The ruffians had taken nothing for over two months, the area outside the gates of Tuckborough had been reclaimed, and the most serious injury to any hobbit of Tookland remained Pervinca's now-healed black eye (though dark rumors had come from an unknown source, and were now flying among the womenfolk, that several girls in other parts of the Shire had died suddenly, having babies inside them that were far too big to carry; no one ever saw such a thing, but Lily did learn later, from Rose Cotton -- by then Gamgee -- that at least one such story was true, of a girl in Hobbiton). The ruffians occasionally had bows and arrows, but none of the could shoot well. Except for the man who almost lost his hand, none had gotten close enough for hand-to-hand. There was talk of raising an army and marching on Michel Delving.
But as September drew to a close, a fell wind blew a change to all of the Shire. The ruffians ceased their petty annoyances, and started to destroy the countryside in earnest. The Tooks knew little of what was going on elsewhere, but the archers in their high perches could see trees being felled and black smoke rising into the air to the northeast. Bare, desolate patches appeared in the stretches of woodlands. And at the end of October, an organized, regimented band of ruffians marched west with their chief at the head, to put an end to the Took Rebellion.
Tookland collapsed into the Smials again as soon as Lily sounded the danger call, and the guards surrounded the entrance.
As soon as the ruffians entered range, the archers -- Lily included -- fired a line of arrows into their path. They landed straight as a fence across the road, but the chief ruffian, whom Lily heard them call "Sharkey," just plucked one out of the dirt and broke it. "Come now," he said, "surely we can find a better way to reason with one another."
Uncle Paladin stepped forward. "I don't know you, sir, and I don't know your business. But whatever it is, it will not be conducted in Tookland."
Sharkey flicked his hand, and two of his ruffians came forward, toward the oak trees, with axes. Lily started to take aim, but the arrows had already landed from other archers. An ax flew through the air suddenly, and broke the branch on which young Isembold Took (a distant cousin) was balanced. He fell to the ground, and Lily heard his bow break beneath him -- along with another breaking sound that might have been his arm. The ruffians started to close on him, but Lily let fly an arrow into the one who'd thrown his ax. It caught him in the leg. She knew he was planning to do murder, but she wasn't, unless it was forced upon her. He limped away.
Suddenly, out of the east, a man came riding on a swift horse, carrying a message. Sharkey held up his hand, and the ruffians stopped. "It seems we have other business," he said. "We'll come back, though, sir," he told Uncle Paladin. "Your hospitality has been too warm to forget."
As they turned, the hindmost member of the ruffian band kicked Isembold. Lily let another arrow fly, and this one landed squarely on the man's backside. He yelped like a puppy and jumped at least three feet into the air.
Maybe it was that babyish sound coming out of the large man. Maybe it was just the release from danger. Maybe it was just something that was born into all hobbits as a last defense. Whatever it was, Lily threw her head back and laughed. The Tooks in the yard started to laugh with her. The battle was won again --
There was a horrendous crack. Lily hadn't been looking after the ruffians well, and another had thrown an ax, this time at her own perch. She managed to curl up and roll, so nothing broke when she hit the ground (though her heart raced again for a brief moment -- that was hardly strange at such a time). She came to a stop and stood up, reaching for her bow.
"I don't think so," Sharkey said quietly.
She looked up just in time to see him place his hands together. He was carrying some kind of powder. At that instant, she saw it very clearly, glittering in the sunset. Then it ignited in front of her face. There was a light as bright as if she were staring into the sun itself.
Then there was darkness.
And more darkness.
She heard Sharkey laugh. "How do you like it, schoolmistress?" he asked. "Are you still amused?"
Lily heard arrows falling around her, but realized that her roll must have taken her just out of range, and Sharkey was beyond her, by the sound of his voice. She could hear all of the ruffians retreated. She groped frantically for her bow, but it was lost in the darkness.
Estella was the one who came out to her first, and led her back inside. At first, they all expected the blindness to clear itself up in a few hours, after the shock wore off. Lily kept a cool cloth over her eyes, and Isembold's broken arm was set. They sat in a room in the Smials recuperating, and joking between them, just as they would on a watch. The blindness was frightening, but how long could it last, really?
Lily kept repeating that to herself as the sounds of the Smials faded into their night pattern. Estella led her to her room (now shared by several people), and asked if she'd like anything read to her. The idea sent the first wave of panic through Lily -- she couldn't read. She couldn't read her books, she couldn't write into her journals, she couldn't even make the corrections she needed to on her students' papers. Estella patted her hand and told her not to worry, that surely everything would be all right in the morning.
It wasn't better in the morning.
Lily could feel the sun on her face, but she saw nothing, except for jumpy sparks of afterglow from Sharkey's fire.
"So it may take a week," Aunt Eglatine said. "You need the rest, Lily. You've looked tired quite a lot. You'll rest. Your eyes will come back to you. All manner of things will be well." But her voice sounded edgy and unsure.
Lily let it go. A part of her thought she ought to be wanting to scream and cry, or perhaps lock herself into a room and pine away, as some of the young girls in the melodramatic stories sometimes did. But all she got was an occasional panic that she wouldn't be able to do her job, and an aching sadness at losing her books. She could live with that.
All day she lived with it. She made jokes at lunch about not being able to find her food, and asked one of the guards if he wanted her to take her watch.
"For all the activity on this road today," he answered, "you probably could."
Lily laughed. She didn't believe she laughed, but it came easily enough. Something seemed right in the world, though she couldn't quite place it.
It's probably because I know my eyes will come back and time to rest is good, just as Aunt Eglatine said.
The day seemed to last a long time, without a watch to post, but some of the old Tooks that she'd met during her studies came to tell her their stories again, and that passed the time. She went to bed early, and slept soundly until all the Great Smials awoke a few hours later.
"There's a soldier on the Road!"
"He's riding fast!"
"He's got armour! I can see it in the moonlight!"
"Well, get your bows ready -- we don't know who's side he's on!"
"Don't be an ass -- it's a hobbit."
"It's a tall hobbit, and whoever heard of one of us in armour!"
Lily awoke to her dark world -- she'd been dreaming a bright dream, and it surprised and frightened her for a moment upon waking -- and rubbed her face. Estella was sitting beside her, and quickly helped her to dress. "I owe you quite a lot," Lily said, as the other girl laced the back of her dress. "I shall need to learn to do this myself."
Estella muttered a distracted "okay," then pulled Lily out into the hall. Preparations were being made, in case the traveling soldier turned out to be unfriendly. Lily asked to be taken to a window, even though she couldn't see. She wanted to hear what was happening.
At first there was only the sound of the guard milling around the dooryard. Then a whisper gradually worked its way through the crowd. Lily could hear only word clearly, and she barely believed it until Estella grabbed her arm and said, "It's Pippin! Oh, Lily, Pippin's back!" Her grip tightened. "Merry isn't with him. I need to find out -- "
And she went off, leaving Lily at the window, listening to the rumors of the raising of the Shirefolk.
Pippin came inside for a scant moment, and Lily turned toward his voice. "Lily!" he called.
"Hullo, Pippin!" she answered. "Welcome home!"
"Lily, what's wrong with -- " but he didn't finish asking his question, as he apparently saw his father enter the room. There was a silent moment, then a strange, funny hollow sound.
"Well, you make quite the noise when your Mum hugs you these days!" Uncle Paladin said, and then there was laughter.
Armour, Lily remembered. For some reason, Pippin was wearing armour.
There was a great deal of confusion for the next hour, as the larger part of the family was mobilized to deal with the ruffians on the south border of Tookland, and a smaller -- but still significant -- part was given to Pippin to lead toward Bywater. A messenger was sent ahead. Lily faded into the background, not wanting to waste anyone's time explaining what had happened to her eyes, and afraid she would have to if it occurred to Pippin that he could use another archer.
By sunrise, both armies had ridden off. There was a great battle directly at the south side of the Smials, and many ruffians died. They had made the mistake of taking the Tooks' reluctance to kill as a refusal to do so. No hobbits were killed, though Lily was joined by the ranks of the injured. Estella tended them, and Lily helped by holding some of them still while their broken limbs were set or their wounds cleansed and cauterized. She didn't need to see them to do that.
By the end of the day, word had come back -- the ruffians were defeated, and Sharkey was dead, at the hand of his own henchman. As it turned out, Lotho was dead as well. Pippin had returned with Merry, Sam, and Frodo. The three younger fellows had apparently led the whole fight back in Bywater. Lily wanted to ask what Frodo's role had been, but no one was listening to anyone's questions at that point, just jabbering happily about every rumor that came their way, from plausible sounding stories to ridiculous tales of Merry and Pippin having become giants.
The next day, Lily went with several relations to Michel Delving, as it was understood that prisoners would be released. Lily heard Frodo's voice giving the commands, but she didn't speak to him that day; things had a way of pulling her in a different direction. Estella was flabbergasted to find that her brother, Fredegar, was among them -- she'd thought him safe in Buckland all this time, but he'd come to Michel Delving looking for her and wound up in a rebellion of his own in the hills of Scary, toward the north. The fighting didn't surprise her all that much, but it had never occurred to her that he would actually come so far from home. Lobelia Sackville-Baggins and Mayor Will Whitfoot were released, and a rumour went around that Lobelia returned Bag End to Frodo.
Estella disappeared somewhere -- Lily had no idea where, though a fairly good idea with whom, and it wasn't her long-incarcerated brother -- and Aunt Eglatine was helping poor Lobelia get her things together. Lily had been instructed to sit quietly and not get herself lost. She felt about five years old.
Suddenly, there was a tug at the back of her head, and the ribbon holding her hair in place was pulled away. She felt the weight of her curls tumble down over her shoulders. "Hello, Pippin," she said.
She turned toward his voice, then felt a pair of strong arms around her, picking her up and swinging her in a circle. "It's good to see you, Lily!"
He put her down, and she reached for him, only to find a breastplate of armour where his face belonged. "Goodness, Pippin! You really have grown!"
"That's a long story. Now I want to know about your eyes."
Lily told him briefly.
He was quiet for a moment, then said, "It's a good thing I didn't know that yesterday. I'd have cut the miserable old man to shreds no matter what Frodo wanted."
"I'm sure it's temporary, and I'm glad you didn't."
"He had a lot to answer to me for, too, but I could live with that. I can't stand that he hurt you."
"It's not for you to stand or not stand." She smiled broadly. "Now, as long as I'm in Michel Delving, I wonder if my heroic cousin might not be good enough to take me to my house. I left most of my things here when I ran back to Tookland."
He told her his long story -- and quite a bit of Frodo's long story -- as they walked to her house (he had helped his father find it for her before he left) and gathered up her things. Lily felt intensely glad that she had been here, where it was relatively safe. And she was glad she hadn't known how powerful Sharkey was when she saw him; it would have frightened her too badly to have made a decent shot at anyone. Pippin sniffed when she told him this, and said that it should have been a safer haven still, and apologized for not taking care of Saruman at an earlier date.
They returned to the Smials with the rest of the family, though Pippin said he had a mind to live in Buckland for awhile before moving home permanently. Aunt Eglatine insisted that he stay at least a few weeks, and he didn't fight her too hard about it. He ate ravenously, and laughed frequently, and the girls who had thought him handsome before were now positively in awe of him. He could have his pick of them, though to the best of Lily's knowledge, he didn't take advantage of it. Young Diamond would turn twenty-five next year, and Lily thought Pippin was planning on speaking for her fairly quickly.
Her eyesight did not improve, and Pippin, though kind and eager to help in any way he could, didn't have the patience to wait while she figured out how to get around in this new and disturbing condition. With the initial shock blunted by the joy of winning the war, Lily's blindness had somehow become a condition she was accustomed to without really noticing that she was doing so. She'd learned to dress herself within a week, and learned her way around the Smials by herself by Yule, and could find her small garden bench. She discovered, quite by accident, that the carvings along its edge were intricate and rather beautiful to trace, though the ice patches sometimes got in the way. The small statue where she'd kept her journal for years was still there, and the tile was still in its hollow. She took it out sometimes, and traced the shapes of the hobbit archers in the trees. She was fiercely proud of having been one of them. She was doing this on a day in late December, when a voice came out of the mists to speak to her.
Her head snapped up at the sound of the voice, one she hadn't heard, at least not closely, for so long that she couldn't imagine why she remembered it so well.
"Hello, Lily," Frodo said.
"Hello, Frodo. Would you care to sit down?" She moved over so that she only took up half the bench, but he didn't sit. She smiled, unable to judge what mood he was in without being able to see his face. "Has Sam been missing me again?"
"Oh, Lily," Frodo sighed, not answering the old joke. His voice was weary beyond the edge of the world. "Lily, I am so sorry. About your eyes, I mean."
"I wouldn't have had you kill that man in the woods just to avoid my eyes going bad."
"I wouldn't have done so. But I am sorry it happened."
"Thank you." Lily nodded. "I'm sorry about... well, about your poor hand, and everything that led up to it. Pippin's told me as much as he knows."
"Thank you," he said. "But I didn't come here to talk about that."
She smiled mischievously. "I know. You came to apologize for breaking my heart last time you were here, and promise never to do so again."
It didn't get the laugh she'd expected. Instead, another heartfelt sigh. "I wish that hadn't happened, Lily. Any of it. I truly do."
A long pause. "No. Not truly. But I will break your heart again, Lily, if you let me. I'm asking you not to let me."
She thought about it, then nodded vaguely, hoping he wouldn't press her for a meaning. He didn't. "Well," she said, "if you're not here to talk about what happened, and you're not here to sweep me off my feet and take me away from all this, what exactly have you come here for? I get the sense that this is not a casual visit."
"I think Gandalf can fix your eyes," he said. "I know where he is, and I can take you to him. I can't promise that he can do it -- I'm afraid everyone has lost a lot of power with the destruction of the Ring -- but I think it's possible."
"I see," Lily said, with a touch of irony.
"It is a rather long journey, beyond Buckland and into the Old Forest."
"Frodo, I've heard you have duties as Deputy Mayor. I don't want you to waste your time -- "
"It is hardly a waste of the Deputy Mayor's time to make sure that the schoolteacher can teach. I want the school opened again."
Lily didn't know whether to jump with elation or cry with grief. He'd remembered her school, and thought enough of it to want it opened again. But he wanted her healed for the sake of the Shire, not because he cared for her anymore. Judging by his voice, he didn't care for much of anything anymore. "All right," she said after awhile, her voice hitting a middle ground between the two extremes that made her sound almost as distant as he did.
"Your uncle insists that... well, before we travel any distance together... At least not without another escort, and nearly everyone else is quite busy... " Frodo was stammering a bit. "You are not eleven anymore, Lily, and... "
Lily raised an eyebrow.
"Your uncle insists that I marry you before we go," he said finally, then, before she had a chance to react, he went on. "It would be in name only, of course, and I would expect nothing of you. I want only to see your eyes healed. Then we can go back to being friends as we always have, and I'll annul it, and you can marry some nice young fellow who wants a big family and deserves such a beautiful wife."
Lily gave him the best smile she could muster. "Just what every girl dreams of hearing her whole life." She stood up. "Well, if we're going to do this, we may as well just get it done." She walked past him, toward the door, hoping that her face wasn't betraying her. She thought she felt the whisper of a touch on her shoulder, but she never was sure of it.
They signed the papers in Michel Delving that afternoon. Lily felt his hand cover her own as he guided her signature, the strange gap between his fingers arching over her third knuckle. He was self-conscious about it and hesitated at first, but it was obvious that she really did need this help, so he overcame it.
He took her back to the Cottons, where he'd been staying, and Rose cooked a nice luncheon that she called a wedding feast. Sam Gamgee was living in the newly re-excavated Bagshot Row with his father, but was, at the moment, in the Southfarthing repairing damage to several gardens. Rose scolded Frodo about doing such an important thing without his Sam being present, and Frodo explained patiently that it was not an important thing, just a matter of convenience, and asked Lily to back him in this.
"It's all quite convenient," she agreed dryly, and said no more.
The conversation repeated itself with Merry Brandybuck and Estella Bolger in Buckland, and with half a dozen relations of Frodo's on that side of the river. Lily's own relations there were distant, and didn't visit. Old Farmer Maggot happened by, and received a version of the tale, to which he answered only, "Well, young folks always need a story these days, don't they?"
They went into the Old Forest the next day, and Lily felt a slight chill in her bones. Frodo said it was nowhere near as bad as it had been before. After awhile, she heard the sound of running water. She had been following Frodo by the slight sound of his unguarded footsteps until now, and when they were drowned out, she became very disoriented. She told him she needed him to give her one of his hands.
He hesitated again. "One of them is rather grotesquely injured. The other is... unpleasantly cool to the touch at times."
Lily sighed, deliberately overdramatic. "I need help following you, Frodo. Just give me both of them. I promise to make no judgments." She smiled at him, and after a moment, he seemed to realize that she was joking, and rewarded her with a small laugh.
He gave her his hands. One was, indeed, cool and clammy. Lily squeezed both of them, then let go of the cold hand to keep the injured one that had held hers as they signed their marriage papers. No more was said, though when he reached out to pull her someplace from that point on, he generally asked "Do you want the cold one or the maimed one?" and she generally answered "The closest one." The noise of the water was getting quite loud and close when he pulled her to the top of an embankment of some sort and into a warm patch of sunlight. She stumbled into him, and it might have been her imagination that he held her there a second longer than he needed to, but then again, it might not have been.
An hour after that interlude, Frodo slowed down, and Lily began to hear a voice raised in song above the noises of the forest.
"Old Tom Bombadil is a merry fellow, Bright blue his jacket its, and his boots are yellow. None has ever caught him yet, for Tom, he is the master: His songs are stronger songs, and his feet are faster."
Lily squeezed Frodo's hand. "Is it all right?"
"It is quite all right," he said. "We have found the place I was seeking."
Lily suddenly recalled Pippin's tale of his adventures in the Old Forest, and the merry house of Tom Bombadil. No sooner had she remembered it than she found herself swept into the master's song. No longer needing the sound of footsteps or anything other than the jolly song, she followed Tom, this time pulling Frodo along behind her. They stepped over the stone threshold of Tom's house.
"Come now, Goldberry!" he called out. "Come out to your Tom, and see our little friend and his pretty new wife, with the sunset caught in her hair."
Lily was laughing at this when a more familiar voice entered her consciousness.
"Wife?" Gandalf asked. She heard him move closer. "My dear child, this is a surprise."
"It is a matter of convenience," Frodo muttered.
Lily was still laughing. Instead of quipping, as she usually did, that it was indeed quite convenient, she remembered what Farmer Maggot said, and winked. "The young folks always need a story these days."
She laughed louder, for the sheer joy of Bombadil's house. She wondered if it was a spell, and found that she didn't much care. She spun around, and fell directly into the old wizard, which cut her laughter back minutely. Another hand pulled her away, and a woman's voice lilted into the afternoon, "Welcome, little one! I am Goldberry, daughter of the river. I have pretty decorations for my friend's very convenient bride!"
Lily went upstairs with Goldberry, and was given a fresh dress. Her hair was combed and braided, and was fairly sure that Goldberry put flowers into it. By the time they came back downstairs, Frodo had apparently explained her plight to both Tom and Gandalf, as there was much less laughter.
"Well, little bride," Tom said, "let's see if the young wizard and the master together can't find a way to light the candles in your eyes again."
There was a brief examination, in which Gandalf's fingers held her eyes open for what seemed quite a long time. Then Gandalf asked for a full account of Saruman's trick. When Lily mentioned the powder, he stopped her.
"You are sure there was powder?"
"It was one of the last things I saw."
"That is good. You've been flash-blinded, and that is the sum of it. There is nothing magical about it. It should have healed by now, and I'm not sure why it has not, but I am quite certain I can heal it quickly. Frodo... no, Tom, come here. Put your hands over her eyes."
"Over my eyes? Why?"
"It has been a long time since you have seen light. Tom's curtains are drawn, but I expect even the dimness my hurt you at first."
Tom's large hand fell across her eyes. "Be easy child. No harm will come in the house of Tom Bombadil. He knows better than to cross the threshold."
Lily reached out into thin air, and after a moment, a cold hand wrapped around her own. She smiled.
Gandalf sighed, sounding not at all pleased. "All right, Lily," he said. "Tom is going to move his hands slowly, and I am going to put a wash into your eyes. Then Tom will clap his hand right back. You tell him when you think you are ready to see."
It was as Gandalf said. The wash was foul-smelling and it stung, and Tom nearly broke her nose putting his hand back too quickly. But after a few minutes, Lily thought she could see a bit of light coming into the corner of her eye that fell between his large fingers. She asked if him might just open his fingers a little bit.
Had light been so bright before? So blindingly white? It was as bright as Saruman's fire...
Slowly, the brightness faded, and Lily peeked out between Tom Bombadil's fingers.
Frodo was sitting across from her, looking much older than he had when she'd last seen him, and tired. He smiled at her wearily. Then he seemed to see something disturbing to him. He bit his lip.
"What is it, Frodo?" Gandalf asked.
"Oh," Tom said, "I imagine my little friend is remembering the last bright, pretty thing he saw dancing around my fingers. You've brought a better bauble this time. I think I won't make her disappear." He laughed.
"Well, I thank you for not making me disappear," Lily said, "but I'd prefer not to be called a bauble." She wished she could take back the last five minutes. Now she knew the connection Frodo had made. It would not be easy to unmake it.
They stayed the night at Bombadil's house. Goldberry put them in the same room, but Frodo slept on the floor. In the morning, outside, Gandalf saw them off.
"This is ill-advised, Frodo," he said.
"Thank you for your confidence," Lily said, still wanting to laugh. The morning sun was catching a bit of dew that was resting on the wizard's beard. He was now clad in white, and Lily thought there was a faint glow about him. "I built your school for you, by the way. I plan to re-open it."
"All you needed to do was send for me," he said. "I would have come for Lily's sake."
"It didn't occur to me," Frodo said.
"I imagined that it did not." Gandalf turned to Lily. "I say this for your own sake, Lily Withypoll: be mindful. Your heart is not as strong as you think it is, and there is no spell I know to make it so."
Lily sighed. "Frodo is telling the truth, Gandalf. We married only for convenience. When we return, we plan to live separately. But don't tell me what I may or may not be strong enough to feel. I don't like that from anyone."
"Very well, Lily. I consider this entire situation ill-advised. But I will trust to Frodo's wisdom in the matter."
"And another vote of confidence," Lily muttered. She no longer wanted to laugh.
The melancholy passed by the time they reached Buckland again, and Lily ran into town to greet Estella. There was a celebration of her returned eyesight at Brandy Hall, and another one when Frodo returned her to the Great Smials. He went back to Bywater.
After two weeks, Lily moved back into her house in Michel Delving, and re-opened the school. There was a very large crowd the first day, mainly to wish her well. The second day brought a manageable class of twenty-six. Frodo came at lunch hour, with sandwiches from the inn. She expected him to have annulment papers, but he said he'd forgotten them. She decided not to remind him again. He asked if she would be willing to help him with the notes for his book, and she was happy to agree. At the moment, she was reading everything she came across, from signs on inns to books of bad poetry. Besides, helping with it would mean a great deal of time spent together.
The new routine was simple enough. Every Wednesday, he came to Michel Delving to serve as Deputy Mayor, cutting down the shirriffs' numbers and helping the newly unoccupied to find new work. She left school at the normal time, and met him on the path. Then they went to her house, and installed themselves in her study. She read, and helped figure dates and smooth prose. He wrote and re-wrote, and kept the fire roaring, as Lily found that her hands and feet got cold very easily that winter. She asked him once about the annulment papers, and he said he'd forgotten to bring them again. She decided not to remind him any more. By March, they had gotten as far as Rivendell in the book, and Lily had sorted through Gimli's notes and Pippin's tale to find the threads of their stories for Frodo before he began the part of the tale that split apart. Frodo missed Wednesday the thirteenth, and made a vague apology the next week, saying he'd felt a bit under the weather. He didn't meet her eyes when he said that.
He moved back into Bag End a little after that, and Lily helped Pippin and Merry set up the old furniture again. No one happened to be looking at her after she'd pushed a particularly heavy chair across the room, and she was glad, because she'd suddenly gotten dizzy, and slid to the floor to gather her bearings again. By the time anyone looked, she had recovered, and just asked exactly where Frodo wanted Bilbo's old pipes.
Will Whitfoot declared himself well enough to by Mayor again, and Frodo's last act as Deputy was to perform the marriage of Sam Gamgee and Rose Cotton (it said something about the calm of 1420 that the event itself was nearly a month before he officially resigned). It was a grand affair, not so much in sumptuous appointments, but in joy and goodwill. Lily ate and drank quite a lot, and danced with nearly everyone -- except, of course, her husband, but she had expected that. Frodo was determined to see to it that no one "had the wrong impression." "Believe me, Frodo," Pippin said with a grin, "no one does."
Lily thought the Wednesday meetings would end with his time as Deputy, but he showed up on the school path as always the next Wednesday, and she decided not to ask any questions about it. She had balanced the events of Pippin's story and Gimli's while Gimli had been tracking, and she showed Frodo how it fit together. He smiled, and mapped it out in his own notes, which were in a growing pile on her desk. He had little for her to do that day, and much to do himself, so she asked if she might draw him, as Pippin had brought her new pencils and a bit of paper. He agreed.
"I can't very well keep my hands still for you while I'm working, though," he said.
"Quite all right."
She finished as the sun set, and gave him the drawing. He declared it quite good. "Though I think perhaps I look a bit older now than you've drawn me."
"You're only fifty-one, Frodo."
"Perhaps I just feel older."
"You don't feel any older to me," she said, rising up on her toes to kiss him lightly on the lips. He didn't return it, but he did smile at her, which was more than she'd expected. She didn't do it often as the weeks wore on, but sometimes after that day, if the humor took her, she would offer a kiss, and he would take it with good will, and though he did occasionally tell her that she shouldn't do it, he never once told her that he didn't want her to.
In August, it became apparent that there would soon be a new Gamgee in the world, and Lily went to Bag End to help Rose prepare the nursery, which hadn't been used since old Bilbo was an infant. Frodo seemed genuinely happy that the house would see a child again, and had many toys brought in from Dale.
Apparently the weren't the only things he sent for from Dale. On his fifty-second birthday that September, he gave Lily a perfectly lovely necklace of beaten gold, which caught the firelight and reflected it back in strange, muted colors. He also gave her a comb to hold her hair, with a decoration made from mithril, though he confessed that he had no idea how a lady was supposed to wear such a thing. She showed him, and he touched it lightly where it sat over her ear. "It looks nice against your hair," he said. He tentatively kissed her cheek, then, for no reason at all, said, "I should be going now," and left.
By morning, her bewilderment had faded into anger. She put the gifts into a box, went to Bag End, and stormed into his study. She put the box down on his desk, and he opened it. He looked up at her with a hurt and puzzled expression. "What is this?" he asked.
"You don't communicate well," Lily said. "You say one thing, you do another, and you imply... something else altogether. I'm weary of trying to puzzle out what it all means. Decide what you want. I can't figure it out for you." She turned on her heel and left.
When she got home from school the next day, he was sitting at her kitchen table, with the box between his hands. "For starters," he said, "I *want* you to have these things." He pushed the box across the table, and she sat down in the chair in front of it.
He breathed deeply, and reached across to take her hand. "Do you really want me to speak plainly, Lily?"
"I don't know how long I can be with you. Or with anyone else. I took a wound. It is killing me."
Lily looked up sharply.
"No," he said, "it's nothing you can see. But this jewel -- " He held up the white jewel he had worn since his return; until now, his only explanation of it was that it was a gift from Queen Arwen " -- is the only thing that makes it bearable sometimes. I do not want you to become attached to me."
"Don't you understand that -- "
He held up his hand. "Lily, let me speak. There were days, many days before I left, that I thought I might someday ask for you. And I knew you cared for me."
"If you wanted to ask for me -- "
He stood up, and buried his hands in his hair. "What I want is not the same as what I may have. If I've learned nothing else, I've learned that."
"But why shouldn't you... " Lily couldn't quite decide how to end the question. It didn't matter. Frodo knew what she was asking.
"You and I both know what it is like to live without parents. There are some things I will not risk." Neither of them spoke for a moment. Frodo sat down again, and took her hands. "I am sorry to have confused you. It will be better if I leave now. I've gotten my notes from your study -- "
"I beg your pardon?"
Lily sighed. "I understand what you said, Frodo. I am no longer confused. But I don't wish to give up our friendship before... before I am forced to."
He looked down at the table, seemed to fight some kind of inner battle, then looked up again, and smiled. "Thank you, Lily," he said. "I am glad of it and grateful for it."
He disappeared for two weeks, but this time, Lily did not doubt that he would come back. He did, in mid-October, and they resumed work as if nothing had happened. He came into Lily's school at one point, and told the children about the topography of the lands he'd traveled, including, to Lily's vast surprise, Mordor, about which the children had many questions, which he dutifully answered to the best of his recollection. If that recollection seemed to fail from time to time, no one blamed him for it. He taught them the history of the War of the Ring, and explained how the local heroes -- Sam, Merry, and Pippin, of course -- had earned their status. About his own task, he said only that it had been completed, with the help of an elderly hobbit named Smeagol, who had come from foreign parts.
As the birth of Sam's child drew nearer, Frodo asked if they might come up with a list of names from the Red Book, as he thought Sam might ask his opinion, and he wanted to have one ready to give (or so he claimed; Lily thought he just fancied the idea of naming someone). They found that they both favored some names -- Elendil or Dain for a boy, Galadriel for a girl. They agreed on the latter so strongly that it took an hour to come up with any other girls' names that Sam and Rose might be more interested in; at length, Frodo listed the names of several flowers in Lorien. He believed strongly that Sam's child would be a girl, so he thought this would be a more important list than the boys' names, even though there were fewer to choose from.
This unexpected game, and the unplanned agreement on its outcome, created an awkward situation for them when they realized how it might be viewed, but it passed quickly. There were other matters to attend to, and somehow, understanding what stood between them helped ease the awkward places. Lily still harbored fantasies that all would be well, but she recognized them as fantasies.
Sam didn't actually ask for a list of names -- Lily was not surprised, though Frodo was disappointed -- until after the baby came. He had expected a boy who would be named for Frodo, and it seemed that a girl had come after all. Frodo had jumped in with his list of flower names, as Sam specified not wanting a name that was too high for a child to wear, hoping that it didn't sound too rehearsed. He was pleased to announce to Lily that the new Gamgee was called Elanor. Lily visited, and cooed over the baby, and gave her two bright ribbons and a stuffed doll. Something about it made her sad, but she never let on to anyone.
After Elanor's birth, Frodo began to withdraw from many things. He left his notes at Lily's, but he had stopped working on his book. He claimed to be done with it, and didn't visit every week anymore. Lily went to see him at Bag End, and found him occupied reading to Elanor, and thought only that she'd found some competition. He certainly looked well enough, not as if he were dying of some grave wound. He just looked a bit distant. She asked if he would come visit her soon, and he told her he would try to. He did make it to the spring recitations at the school, and applauded the local children as they read their own papers on what they had learned of the War of the Ring. One little girl, Dora Brownlock by name, had taken the trouble to speak to Sam about it and get the rest of the story, and surprised everyone by reciting the ballad of Frodo of the Nine-Fingers. She gave him a flower after it.
Lily had thought he was touched by the gesture, but apparently it had offended him in some way, for he didn't return to Michel Delving all summer. She wandered to Bag End a few times, played with Elanor and talked to Rose, but never found Frodo at home. He had taken to wandering south frequently, toward the Road. Rose promised to bring him to the August harvest festival, by hook or by crook, and she was as good as her word.
Pippin and Merry had descended on Michel Delving in a rush of activity, and brought a great deal of gaiety in their wake (as they always seemed to). Uncle Paladin lit the bonfire, but it was Pippin who got the dancing starting, and Merry who struck up a band for it -- in that order. Away from the bonfire, it was an unusually cold August night, so most people were gathered in its light, dancing with one another and laughing to forget that another cold season was on its way in. Lily wound through the group, looking for Frodo, for she'd seen him in the company of Sam and Rose and Elanor. She passed Sam and Rose, who were dancing energetically, and nearly ran into Pippin (who was deliberately dancing with everyone except Diamond -- she had told him he could very well court her as the others did, and had not given any reason why he should ask for her early, and he didn't like that much at all).
"Where is Frodo?" she asked, lifting her voice above the general din.
Pippin pointed to the edge of the circle, where a small figure sat on the ground, with a smaller figure in his lap. "Over there having a conversation with his new best friend."
"Will you do me a favor?"
"Dance with his new best friend for awhile."
Pippin, who thought Elanor the most delightful invention since armour, was happy to oblige. He took her away from Frodo, and Lily went over to him.
"May I sit down, or am I too old and decrepit for you?" she asked with a wink.
He looked up at her, his eyes frighteningly distant, then painfully lonely. She thought she had never seen anyone look quite so deeply alone. "Please sit down, Lily," he said. "I welcome the company."
She sat. "Quite a party they have going on. Why are you out here?"
"I don't much feel like dancing. I think I shall miss everyone when I'm no longer among them." He looked at her closely. "Why aren't you out there dancing?"
"Well, it seems I have a small courting problem. I'm married, and someone kept forgetting to annul it."
"It shan't be a problem very much longer, at any rate."
"Frodo, I'm sorry I misspoke. I wish you wouldn't say such things. I don't truly consider it a problem. I rather enjoy our marriage, truthfully. Though sometimes..." She didn't finish the sentence.
"Yes, I know," he said.
She pulled her shawl around her shoulders. "I am not in mood for dancing tonight, either. But it is a bit chilly out here. Why don't you come to my house? We'll have a bit of pie and sit by my fire, and not dance together for awhile."
Frodo looked at her very carefully, as if trying to gauge whether or not she was planning to murder him. Something softened in his face. "I'd like that," he said.
They went back to Lily's house. She wasn't planning anything more specific than she'd mentioned. He lit the fireplace while she cut two slices of apple pie. They sat on the floor in her study eating and speaking about Shire business and other matters, as they often had over the past year, and Frodo told her that he thought he might be going quite soon. She was beginning to understand that when he said his wound was killing him, it didn't necessarily mean he was dying, at least by natural standards.
They finished the pie, and she took the plates to her kitchen. When she came back and sat down beside him, she noticed him looking at her oddly.
"What is it?" she asked. "Have I crumbs in my hair?"
"No. I just see something that you will never see, no matter how well Gandalf repairs your eyes."
"And what, pray tell, is it?"
"How beautiful you are in the firelight. It's extraordinary. You're truly lovely, Lily."
All at once, Lily understood what he had been deciding back by the fire, when he had looked at her so carefully -- and what she had decided before she sent Pippin to take Elanor from him. She leaned over to him, and kissed him. "I am also your wife," she whispered.
He buried his injured hand in her hair. "And I am your husband."
It was nearly midnight, but the festival around the bonfire was almost as loud as it had been when it was first kindled. Lily could see the shadows of movement along the cobblestones of her front path, which faced the street that led to the town square. The breeze coming through the window blew her loose hair lightly around her shoulders. It carried the cold sting of autumn with it.
"Lily, I'm sorry. I should not have allowed this to happen. I shouldn't have come here tonight. I am so very sorry."
She didn't need to turn around to see Frodo standing at the arch of the door to her study, a silhouette against the fire. "Please don't apologize, not for this," she said quietly. "Please."
"I promised. From the start I promised that this wouldn't happen."
"I never asked for your promise, and didn't want it." She turned to him, and found herself folded into his arms. "Do you imagine still that there is anyone else whose wife I would rather be? How can you imagine it?"
"I don't. But Lily, I -- "
"I know. You are wounded, and you are dying."
"That was a lie. I wish I were dying. But I seem not to be."
She shook her head. "I don't understand."
He led her back into the study, and held her, and explained the gift the queen had given him, and the illnesses he suffered. "They don't go away. They never will. I dread them when they aren't with me, and when they are, I cannot... Lily, I am going mad. I feel almost nothing most of the time. And when I do feel something, it is so strong and so overpowering that I can't resist it. I am afraid to stay. I am afraid of who I might become. I saw who I might become."
"Elvenhome would heal you?"
"It's the only chance I have. And if it doesn't work, those I care about would not be subjected to the madness. I would rather you all remember me differently."
Lily wrapped her arms around him, and buried her face against the shoulder of his jacket. She didn't cry easily, but she couldn't seem to stop it now. "They'll never let you come back to me, will they?"
"They aren't jailors. But no, I will not be able to return." He lifted her face to his, and kissed her cheeks. "Oh, Lily. I should never have let you love me. Not even for a moment."
"It was not your choice to make." She looked into his eyes, saw the terrible truth in them. He really was going mad, and he really did wish not to be burdened with her heart. She couldn't take it back -- it had belonged to him for so long that she no longer knew precisely how it could survive elsewhere -- but she hoped to make it a strength instead of a curse. She brushed her hand across the back of his cheek, then kissed him. "Be at peace, Frodo," she said. "All is well."
He held her for a while longer, then whispered "Goodbye, Lily," and left.
She never saw him again.
By the end of October, Lily knew she was in very big trouble. She had suspected her pregnancy almost immediately -- certainly, she had known by the end of September, only missing Frodo's departure by a few days -- but that wasn't the trouble, at least not in and of itself. She was glad of that.
The trouble was that old Gandalf had spoken plainly instead of in poetry, just when she hadn't expected him to. Your heart isn't as strong as you think it is, he'd said. He was right. The chest pains and frightening dizzy spells, which had let up somewhat in the past year, were suddenly back and worse than before. As October wore on, she noticed a slight tendency for her hands and to swell up. That was at two months. It didn't bode well.
Still, she thought she would be all right. She'd made it through the fever and the heart flutters before; she could do it again. She learned to simply work through the nausea and dizziness, using the same cool focus that she called on to shoot. It always passed. That was her thought as she began teaching a map of the north country on a day at the beginning of November. When she saw her hand slip south over the Lhun, she tried to simply will it back up, but instead found the map crumpling against the floor as her knees buckled. She heard someone shout, then a shadow reached out and caught her, lowering her gently into unconsciousness.
She woke up at Bag End, with Sam Gamgee's steady hand holding a cloth to her head. "There you are, Miss Lily," he said. "I knew you'd come back to us."
"How did I get here?"
"I was visiting with Mayor Whitfoot when one of your students came running in, saying that you'd fallen ill. I brought you back in the mayor's waggon. Rosie thinks you'll do well to be staying here for a bit."
A sudden fear gripped Lily. "The baby -- " she started.
Sam looked at her somewhat sharply. "Then Rosie's right. I know nothing of your baby, Miss Lily, and that's probably the best thing I can tell you. All that happened was that you swooned in school. There wasn't nothing else that happened to you. Now why didn't you tell about this?"
Lily took a deep, shaky breath. "I'm afraid," she said. "I might not... if something happened... I thought it best if mine was the only heart broken."
"Now you listen here, Miss Lily. I've had quite enough of people trying to keep me from knowing when there's trouble. The same goes for Mr. Pippin and Mr. Merry, and they've been sent for. I'll have no more of it."
She nodded, feeling properly scolded. "I need to go back to Michel Delving, though," she said. "I have a class to teach, and all my things are there, and -- "
"Your things will brought here. And Rosie says you're not to set foot outside this house unless she says it's proper for you to do so. Your school will have to go on without you for awhile."
"I'm the teacher!"
"Then it won't go on."
He was giving her an implacable stare, and after awhile, she acquiesced. She wanted this child to live, and she didn't want to take any more risks. "Perhaps Merry and Pippin will bring Estella. She isn't good with large groups, but she does know what she's doing. I shall have to teach her mathematics."
"Miss Lily -- "
"I can talk and write, can't I? Please Sam, I can't bear the thought of month upon month lying here like a tater in your Gaffer's garden."
"I'll ask Rosie, and she'll ask her Mum, I suppose. But I can't for the life of me think why you couldn't talk and write. You'll do no more of neither 'til I get their answers, though, mind you."
Rosie's mother -- whose name was also Lily, though Lily would never dream of calling her anything but Mrs. Cotton, if you please -- declared that writing, reading, and talking would do no harm to the baby, and had probably already done any harm they might do to the mother, and that long before there was a baby to be thought of. Merry and Pippin hadn't brought Estella with them on their first hurried visit to Bag End, but upon learning that Lily was not likely to suddenly disappear, they returned to Buckland to collect her. Pippin would have rather stayed, he claimed, but it wouldn't have been exactly proper for Merry to bring Estella all the way back without a third party. Lily reminded him that she was familiar with that concept. She also thought that Pippin had little inclination to be cooped up in Hobbiton, though of course he would coop himself if she asked it of him.
Estella agreed reluctantly to take over the school for the remainder of the year, and Lily suggested that she live in the house in Michel Delving. "Don't worry," she said when she saw the disappointed look in Estella's eyes. "I know your plans are in Buckland. This is not forever. I will begin again as soon as I am able."
By February, the baby was showing herself under Lily's gowns (Lily was quite certain, for no reason at all, that the child was a girl), and Mrs. Cotton came to have a look. She waited until the other young folk were out of earshot and said, "Well, little mother, you have some decisions to make. This baby inside you is a strong one, and it wants to be born. I think it will be, and I think it'll be perfectly all right."
"That's good news. Why do you look so bothered?"
Mrs. Cotton sighed. "I've done a bit of midwifery in my time, Lily Baggins" -- she was the only one who always used Lily's married name -- "and I have to tell you that you're not looking well your own self. You got deep roots in you, and you might fight it, but as you've naught but yourself for this baby, you might want to make some decisions, just in case at the end of it, you don't even have that. I'm sorry to say it, and I hope it don't come to pass, for I'm fond of you. But if it does, you'll not want the three of them fellows trying to figure out which one of them gets to keep Mr. Frodo's child."
The decision itself was not difficult for Lily. In Brandy Hall, with Merry, the child would have the advantages she and Frodo had both had of living in a great hall. Both of them had relatives in Buckland. Merry was steady and reliable, and engaged to Estella (well, practically engaged), whom Lily knew from experience to be a good caretaker. Old Farmer Maggot had tales to tell, and Buckland was a cheerful, lovely world to grow up in.
Pippin was... well, Pippin. Lily loved him as she always had, but he was still irresponsible, more in need of a guardian than prepared to be one. He was seeing Diamond fairly seriously by then, but she wouldn't come of age for several more years, and, honestly, she wasn't that much more mature than he was. She had also been haunted by Pippin's sincere wish that he had "cut that miserable old man to shreds" when he'd learned of Saruman's trickery. It was a strange undercurrent that she hoped he'd outgrow, but she didn't trust it. Pippin was not an option, and Uncle Paladin and Aunt Eglatine were too old to take a baby.
Sam of course would be seen as the obvious choice, as Frodo's heir and the only one already married, but she didn't want to exacerbate what was bound to be a sticky situation with the inheritance. She'd already told him several times that, to her own way of thinking, Frodo's wishes should stand. He somehow had it lodged in his mind that had Frodo suspected the possibility of a child of his own, the entire will would have been different. Lily reminded him gently that Frodo was well aware of the possibility, but that seemed not to soothe him. She didn't want her little girl -- Galadriel, she was already calling her -- to be treated as mistress of Bag End, while Sam and Rose's family grew around her. She also didn't want her set up on a shelf as a relic of the sainted Mr. Frodo, but she would never in a million years have said such a thing, except in the privacy of her own mind.
It was an easy decision to make. Finding words to tell them was less easy, but she did as well as she could. She knew that Sam took it hard, as did Rose, who was taking good care of her (though she suspected that Rose understood her reasoning better than Sam did -- even the private reason -- as Rose never offered an objection stronger than, "I know you have to do what's right, though of course I'm sorry the little one won't be staying here. I had hoped you both would. Elanor is getting lonely"). Pippin listened quietly, then stalked out of the room. He came back an hour later, as cheerful as ever, and asked if she needed anything next time he went out. "Oh," he said, "I did bring you this." He opened his hand, and there was a black insect crawling on his palm. "Seventeen years, Lily. They're back."
"His wings are wet. You should take him outside and let him go."
He smiled, and pulled the ribbon out of her hair. She laughed lightly. He started to, then bit his lip. His eyes blinked rapidly. "Don't go, Lily. Please."
"I can promise not to sail off on my own, Pippin," she said, squeezing his hand (the locust had settled on her shoulder at some point). "But conscription is not out of the question. I will fight. But I may not win."
"Of course you will! It's like firing an arrow, Lily. You just concentrate. Concentrate on getting to the target, and shoot right through it. Just like throwing stones in Bilbo's garden. You'll make it."
"But if I don't -- "
"Pippin, listen. I do not intend to give up. I will try to shoot through this, as you say. But I will have this baby, one way or another."
"It's not worth it. It's just not."
"It is to me. Promise me that you will think of this baby as someone I value and love, not as some monster who came and killed me. Do you promise me that, Peregrin Took?"
He looked away.
"Pippin, please. I need you to do this for me. I need you to be the one to tell her -- or him, I suppose -- about me, about what we did when we were children together. The tile from Fornost is in the garden under the statue; you must tell that silly story. I need you to do that. No one else can. And I want you to make sure this child laughs. Often. Will you do that for me? Will you think of think of this child as part of me?"
After awhile, he said that he would. She gave him the locust, and he took it back outside.
There were some days over the following weeks when she felt quite herself, and Estella brought her drawing pencils and paper to Bag End. She drew Elanor and Sam, sitting in the large chair by the door of Frodo's chamber, and she drew Rose standing beside Elanor's cradle. She wrote out the Baggins and Withypoll family trees -- backward style, with ancestors going back instead of descendants going forward -- with a space for the baby to join them on the top line. She almost wrote "Galadriel Baggins," then thought that she might be wrong, and that little Dain, or Elendil, might view it askance. She hoped she would have time to fill in that line. She was looking forward to seeing the baby. She asked Sam to fix her bow and an arrow over the door, so she could see it and remember how to fight.
The pains began at dawn, on the first hot day in June. Rose had suspected it was coming soon, and sent for Merry and Pippin earlier in the week. They had arrived only the night before.
Lily fought harder than she ever had. She tried to picture her life as a poised arrow, to shoot through this loophole she was trying to pass through. She thought she had made the shot -- she saw her daughter, and held her for a moment. She wrote Galadriel's name on the top of her family tree, and sang her a song.
But by sunset, the arrow had fallen short. Her heart raced, and her fever spiked. Her vision began to blur and redden. She reached into the darkening world, and Pippin grasped her hand. Sam was holding a cloth on her head, and Rose was trying to get her to drink cool water. Merry was holding Galadriel, and Lily held her in her mind as long as she could.
Just before the darkness came, she thought she heard the sound of a wave. She heard nothing more.
The story of Galadriel Baggins is told in "The Jewel of Brandy Hall."