10. A Delivery of Cherries, Part Two
Although it was not very late the sky had grown dark by the time the lovers had risen from Rosamunda’s bed, feeling the need for other refreshments.
The house had grown much cooler, Frodo noticed. Peering out from the bedroom casements he saw a looming lead-grey sky, but from the south and east big clouds of a lighter grey, piled and heaped upon themselves, were rolling in. Though up above the clouds were moving, the air on the ground seemed still. A sheep bleated in the copse below, but otherwise the sounds outside were few. There would be rain after all.
Rosamunda led the way into the parlour, pulling her shift on over her head. Frodo followed close behind her, laughing as he stole a last armful of warm bare flesh before the garment had fully descended. Pulling her back against him, he nuzzled her neck and the shell of her ear. Relaxed and content, Rosamunda let him do so, leaning into his touch and luxuriating in it. Languidly, she turned her face to the doorway to gaze through its round at the lowering sky outside. Interrupting her reverie, she straightened and took a few steps towards the open door.
"Where did those come from, Frodo?" she asked, turning to him. Curious, she studied the generous basket of cherries still sitting upon the bench where Frodo had left it, just inside the door.
Good heavens! Frodo had completely forgotten the very purpose for his visit. Striding past her, he scooped the basket up and swung it onto the kitchen table.
"They’re some of what we had from the Boffins," Frodo remarked, plucking out a deeply-coloured cluster and nibbling the fruit off the stones. "These are the last of the summer, Folco says." Convivially, he held out a cluster to Rosamunda, saying, “Here, try some. They’re really very good.”
Rosamunda took the little bunch and was about to speak her thanks but Frodo continued.
"The order came today. Bilbo says he is going to have another go at making cherry wine – with better success than last year – he hopes,” Frodo laughed. Picking up another cluster, he went on to explain, “I thought I would bring a basket along with me, just in case, should anyone be looking. In case they should see me coming over, that is…."
Frodo's voice had faltered to a stop delivering this expository speech, on account of Rosamunda’s response. He was surprised, then inwardly alarmed, to see Rosa's eyes darken as he spoke, her brows coming together in a small but decided frown. He couldn't be sure in the dim light but he thought her eyes suddenly glistened, as if from rising tears.
She stood very still, pressing the fingertips of one hand into the furrow above her lips, as if this would make the frown disappear. After a moment, it did. She looked away from the basket and spoke, her voice steady, but even softer than usual.
"That was a good thought, Frodo. To bring them. In case anyone should see."
Frodo did not think she sounded very convinced. He dropped the cluster of cherries back into the basket.
A silence followed which hung in the air between them. Frodo did not know what to think. Following her example he stared at the cherries. Surely he had done the right thing! He looked from the basket to Rosamunda. She produced a faint smile, but Frodo thought it a poor attempt. The sight of that smile plucked at him; he could see she was disturbed but did not know why. He felt very ill at ease indeed – and naked. Glancing about he spotted his shirt and breeches where he had left them to dry, draped over a couple of kitchen chairs.
Rosamunda watched in silence as he slipped on his shirt, pulled up his breeches and fastened the buttons. As he looped the leather of his belt, she maintained her smile but still said nothing.
Frodo’s heart and mind began to race. He should not have come over in the day, he chastised himself. The feeling of anxiety growing within him had become acute, pressing up against his diaphragm, crowding out the air in his lungs, till words began to tumble out.
"I am sorry, Rosa. I suppose – no – I know I should have waited,” he said. “For the night, I mean – I should not have come here in the day."
Frodo hesitated in case she might say something, but she did not. He forged ahead.
"You see, Folco came by – with the fruit. He brought it himself, not Mal. He came, he said, just to ask me, where have I been? And, why didn't I stay longer down at the Ivy Bush these days; and, where was I always rushing off to? He just wouldn't leave it alone, Rosa. I felt – I felt backed into a corner. Folco wasn't trying to insinuate anything, I don't think. That is, I don't imagine he was. Well, nothing specific."
Frodo took a breath and studied the fateful basket but, hearing nothing from her, he went on.
"I don't think Folco suspects anything, Rosa,” Frodo said decidedly. Turning his eyes to her, he concluded, “I think he's missed me, that's all."
He waited, but there was nothing.
"I promised him I would join him down at the Ivy Bush. Tonight. Of course, I wanted to tell you that I wouldn't be coming, Rosa, so I came straight away."
Frodo dropped his eyes, but raised them to add, "I am sorry I forgot to say so, Rosa, until now."
To his surprise, Rosamunda's wan smile had blossomed into a warm one, full and radiant. Relieved and encouraged, Frodo went to embrace her, but she held him away in order to speak.
“Frodo, I am happy for you to see Folco – I want you to see your friends!" she exclaimed. “You’ve no need to think I would dislike that. I confess, I hadn't really thought of how you’d be missed, before. But, of course, you would be. You are loved by many, Frodo."
Frodo’s heart leapt at her use of the word, and he waited to hear if she would say more upon it.
Rosamunda did say more, but not about love, as Frodo would have liked.
"I would not wish you to cheat your friends of your company, Frodo, on account of rushing here to me.” In a reasonable tone she continued, “You needn't always come so early – truly. Or, even, every night."
This was not at all what Frodo had hoped to hear. He opened his mouth to protest, but Rosamunda stayed him with a gesture. As she paused her face became grave. When she spoke again, her tone was thoughtful and her words hesitant.
"You perceived rightly, Frodo, that I was … troubled. Before. It was just that – it made me unhappy that –"
She appeared to be getting herself into a tangle, trying to choose her words and walked away. Squaring her shoulders she turned around to face him.
"You see, Frodo, it grieved me, all of a sudden, when I saw it – and heard why it was brought. I was sorry, you see, that you had to invent an excuse. To come here to see me, I mean."
Frodo was mystified.
She went on, as if to clarify, "The cherries. You brought the basket of cherries."
Frodo was still perplexed and let her know it.
"Yes, I did. Should I not have done? I couldn’t think of anything else, at the moment. I needed to come to see you, right away. So, I thought of the fruit, as a reason, in case anyone should be looking. Was that ill-judged? I thought it would do."
"It was very sensible, Frodo," Rosamunda readily agreed. Yet, having conceded that, she seemed unhappier still.
What, then, was wrong? Frodo persisted.
“Is it that it wasn’t a real gift – the fruit?” Frodo saw her vigorously shaking her head, even as he suggested it. No, he hadn’t thought it could be that.
"Is it the hiding – the covering up – that you mean? Is that it, Rosa?” Frodo asked.
She bit her lower lip when it trembled, but her eyes were welling up with starting tears. That was it, then.
Gently, but firmly, Frodo took her by the shoulders and studied her face.
"Rosa, what is it, especially, about the cherries? I brought them, certainly, as a pretext for coming here. I needed one. I could not hide myself, could I? Yet I could hide my purpose. But what is new in that, in the hiding? We have been hiding, after all – all along.”
She looked away.
Frodo waited for her glance to return before asking, “Haven’t we, Rosa?”
Rosamunda looked very miserable, but Frodo felt he needed the clarification.
“You think I do not notice, but I know what is expected of us and I know we have not done it. We have done otherwise than what the Shire expects. I know you fear Freddy or Estella might learn of us, and suffer from it.”
“Therefore, we must be discreet – and we are discreet, Rosa. We meet only at night – precisely so I shan't be seen when I come here. Isn't that hiding? Isn’t that ‘covering up’? When I leave the Ivy Bush, and someone or other asks me, why don’t I stay? I make my excuses. I don't lie to them, not outright, but neither do I tell them the absolute truth. Isn’t that concealment, Rosa? Yet, I know you would not have me tell them where I really mean to go – would you?"
Rosamunda shook her head.
No, plainly she would not want that.
Then, what was it? Frodo asked himself, thoroughly puzzled.
"I am sorry, Rosa. But, truly, I do not understand what is special about the fruit. Considering everything else, what is the difference?"
Rosamunda gazed through the open doorway, labouring to form her answer.
"You are right, Frodo,” she said finally. “There is no difference.”
The tension in Frodo’s shoulders dissipated but only for a moment.
Rosamunda appeared to be studying the floor near his feet, her expression darkening. When she raised her eyes to him again, the look in her eyes was so disconsolate, fresh anxiety seized him.
"Frodo, everything you say is true; I was wrong. There is nothing different about bringing the cherries for an excuse. Not really; you have argued well. I suppose, it’s just…. It is just – I never felt it before – the hiding, that is. I did not see it, not clearly, until you explained – about the basket.”
As her feelings rose her voice became choked, nearly to a whisper, but she forced herself to go on. “I have not felt it – the hiding – but you have felt it, Frodo. You are the one who has had to make the excuses. You are the one who has had to do the covering up. I – I had not thought of what it has meant for you, not truly. Not until you told me, just now."
"I’m so sorry, Frodo,” she whispered, utterly wretched. She hung her head.
Frodo watched dismayed as a tear rolled down Rosamunda’s tawny cheek, and then another. He could not bear it, just to stand and watch. Pulling her to him he held her tightly, rocking her back and forth to comfort her.
"Rosa, Rosa," he chanted into her hair, but the tension Frodo felt in her did not dissipate. She had not finished.
Staunching her tears, Rosamunda pressed him away to say with a burst of feeling, "I hate that you must lie! I hate to lie, myself! But that is how it would be, all of the time, if we were to keep on as we have done.”
Rosamunda then fell silent, recovering herself, but remained poised as if preparing to say more.
Prickles of apprehension crawled up Frodo’s spine.
“I have not wanted to think of it, Frodo,” she began. “But, now, I suppose I must. Of the end, I mean.”
Frodo gasped but Rosamunda did not seem to notice.
The end. She had said it.
Rosamunda still was speaking. Frodo made himself attend.
“….seeing that basket and hearing why it was brought – so plainly spoken – it made it real to me, Frodo, all of a sudden.”
Curse the basket! Why had he brought the wretched thing? Frodo fought down the sense of panic rising in him. It muffled her words till they only seeped in through the growing web of fear spreading all through him.
"…hadn’t realised you weren’t seeing your friends. You should not have been doing that.”
Frodo still was thinking, “the end.” And, “if.” If they should keep on….If they still should see each other….
His heart pounded in spite of his efforts to subdue it as he heard in his mind these words repeating, the words he had dreaded. Grasping Rosamunda’s arms Frodo almost shook her, trying not to raise his voice.
"If we should keep seeing each other. “If.” What do you mean, “if,” Rosa? Are you planning to send me away? Is that what you have meant to do? Do you mean to do it now – already? Is that it?"
Rosamunda stared back at him, her stricken expression seeming only to confirm the things she said.
"Oh, Rosa, I am sick at heart! You cannot mean it! Rosa, you would not – I should die if you did!"
Frodo shocked himself at his own outburst.
When he had quieted, Rosamunda came to him and took his hands in hers, holding them against her breast.
"You shall not die, Frodo," she told him very gently, for she saw his distress.
His heart sank and his eye followed hers as she turned to gaze through the open door where the sky loomed low and threatening. Isolated patches of distant landscape were sharply illumined by light streaming through rents in the western sky where they could not see.
Letting go his hands, Rosamunda stepped to threshold, surveying the scene outside as she spoke. Her voice was flat and toneless.
"In less than a fortnight, Freddy will be back from Buckland; Merry, with him,” she recited. “When they go on to Tookland, you and I shall go with them, as we have done every year. Estella will be waiting for us, too.”
Turning to Frodo, she said, “We cannot not be at Great Smials, Frodo, what we have been to each other here. Nor can we be so here, at the cottage, once the children have returned.”
Frodo said nothing. He could not.
“You have seen that, Frodo, have you not?" she asked him, her voice subdued.
Frodo did not answer but showed that he was listening while her words washed below him, like a brown river, bearing him slowly but relentlessly away from her.
Rosamunda began twist and press her fingers as she spoke, as if to govern her feelings. The sight of it gave him a flicker of hope, in spite of what she was saying.
"I – I have thought it would be best to end things before the children returned. That is what I have meant to do, well before this.” Looking outside she said, almost bitterly, “But I was weak."
Her words were like brackish water eddying round him, threatening to pull him under. Frodo struggled to keep his feet, however disheartened he felt.
Rosamunda turned again to Frodo and looked into his face. He saw her feelings quicken – it seemed she had to look away to master them. She could feel pity for him, then, he thought. Suddenly he felt an overwhelming impulse to simply grab her, while she was weak, to cajole her – even to beg her – but he fought it. Instead, he waited, in suspense.
When she turned back to him her face was wrung with unhappiness, but she looked decided.
"I know what I should do," she declared, her chin firm and her hands clenched by her sides.
As she took a breath, Frodo trembled inwardly, his entrails tightening.
"I know what I should do,” she repeated – but there was hesitation this time. Noticing her hands twitching open and shut, Frodo’s hope began to surge though he tried to keep it down. She hadn’t finished.
"I know what I must to do, Frodo,” she said, clenching her hands again. But this attempt to make her declaration was marred by a trembling of her lip. She bit it but could not subdue it.
“I know what I ought to do – but I cannot do it,” she conceded miserably. “I said I was weak. I find I still am so.”
Frodo’s relief was enormous. Waiting no longer he pulled her close. A powerful but curiously undirected gratitude welled up within him, to what or to whom he did not know, and he wept – though he was unaware of it until he felt Rosamunda stroking away his tears.
“It seems I shall make you unhappy, either way,” she said, her smile sad.
“I am not unhappy, Rosa, not now,” Frodo averred, but the joy he felt was almost painful. He kissed her in testimony of his happiness.
Rosamunda did not resist Frodo’s embrace, but after he had withdrawn his lips she spoke earnestly, making sure that he was attending.
"When Freddy and Merry return, you shall not begrudge them your friendship, Frodo. Not these two who have loved you so long. Nor Estella. She will be longing to be with you, too, when she sees you."
"I know how much they care for me," Frodo reflected, contemplating her words. Between delicate kisses upon her cheeks and neck – more appreciative than amorous – he said, "I care for them, too, Rosa; you know that I do.”
Looking at her directly he assured her, “I know what you are saying. I shall master myself, Rosa. I shall do better than I have done and behave as they deserve. You will see."
Frodo sought to seal his declaration with a better kiss, the kiss he had felt building up within him. But she withheld her mouth.
“No, you had better not, Frodo,” Rosamunda softly said, kissing his ear instead.
Though she held him away from her, he saw that she yet bore a grin, her good humour restored. “You know I can’t resist you,” she explained.
Glancing outside she said, “It is nearly sunset, even if we cannot see it with all the clouds. You should be leaving soon.”
Frodo, too, had observed the deepening colours outside. But he had no desire to be gone.
“Won’t you have something to eat before you go?” she asked him.
At her mention of it, Frodo realised that he was terribly hungry. Remembering Folco’s admonition not to come down to the Ivy Bush on an empty stomach, Frodo smiled.
“I would love that, Rosa,” he answered. “Here, I will get things started.”
While Frodo brought out things to eat, Rosamunda dressed. Together they cut it up and laid it on plates. Once seated, they both found they were ravenous.
“We’ll have the cherries for our afters,” Frodo heard Rosamunda remark, lightly.
Instantly alert, Frodo wondered if she was being ironic. He glanced at her with apprehension. But Rosamunda smiled, he saw, and her eyes burned bright.
Taking from Frodo the knife he held poised in the air, she set it down upon the table. Then she covered his hand with her own and pressed it.
“I have done with all that, Frodo. I am willing to do what we must, to be together, while we still may.”
It was not the declaration Frodo would have preferred to hear, but it would do. For now, it would do.
When they had finished, the overcast sky outside was darker still. They lit a lamp. After a moment’s awkwardness during which much was meant but nothing was said, Rosamunda offered to walk out with him.
“I love it before a storm,” she said once they stood outside, inhaling the smell of its approach as she glanced in every direction and taking in the scene. A breeze had arisen, lifting the leaves of the little bushes. It soon would be turning to gusts, they could see, from the bending of the grasses off in the distance. The light outside was almost eerie – golden-greenish with a hint of verdigris. The colours of the land around seemed saturated even though there was as yet no rain to make it so.
“Soon it will break. You will be wet through, Frodo, I am afraid,” she said. “I know! There is a good oilcloth cloak hanging up –”
Rosamunda did not finish making her suggestion and Frodo did not enquire further. The cloak, Odovacar’s, would be noted and remarked upon should he be seen wearing it. She smiled at him ruefully.
“I shan’t need a cloak, Rosa, honestly,” Frodo offered, quite cheerfully. “It’s been so hot, I could use the soaking in lieu of a bath! I can always change again at home, on the way there.”
“That’s a good thought, Frodo,” she answered, raising her voice a little against the wind that was beginning to rise. It plucked at her hair, swirling strands across her face and neck.
She was achingly beautiful to Frodo in the lowering light, her dark eyes gleaming black, her clothes swirling and rippling all around her. He did not want to go. He wanted to stay. He reached for her waist but she clasped his wrists and prevented him.
“No. Go,” she ordered, frowning. She added, with a grin, “It will be good practice.”
Frodo laughed, but twisting his wrists free, he took hers instead. Bringing her hands to his lips, he kissed her fingertips, still cherry-stained. At the smell and taste of them, the love Frodo felt began to crowd his chest.
“I –” he said. Swallowing, he tried again. “I –” It was no good.
“I shall miss you tonight, Rosa,” Frodo murmured finally. Almost, he thought, almost. The next time, he would say it.
“I shall miss you, too, Frodo. Terribly,” she answered.
The intensity with which she said this made Frodo want to venture more, but Rosamunda had stepped back, glancing up at the sky, frowning.
“Really, Frodo. You should be going,” she said, insistent. “There might be lightning, by the look of it.”
Frodo acquiesced and, taking his leave, turned to go.
Rosamunda watched him as he walked down the hill through the waving grass. Once or twice he stopped and turned to look at her, walking backwards for a few steps, but soon Rosamunda could see him no more amid the greens and golds against the violet grey.
Staring off into the direction he had gone, she stood listening to the wind as it shook and sifted the grass. Two sheep emerged from over a hill and hurried for shelter in the copse. A bird wheeled and fell, joining the sheep in the little trees and scrubby brush.
When the slanting rain began to come down in earnest, Rosamunda went back inside. She watched from the open door as the lightning and thunder began their show. The display was only brief, the sky clearing in patches, letting in the last of sunset’s deepest pinks and gold to glitter on the wet. Then the rents in the clouds closed again and the rain came down, soft and steady. Long she stood and looked, until it was full night.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.