13. The Fire Upon the Hearth, Part I
Chapter 11 – The Fire Upon the Hearth
1400, July 19, the middle of the night ~ Rosamunda’s cottage.
As he drew nearer the cottage, Frodo was surprised to see light shining up ahead. So late? It was not just a flicker but a steady patch of warm light shaped like a half-moon. The door must be standing partly open. That was odd, too. It was not like Rosamunda to leave it open once she had retired. Perhaps she had gone down to the privy – but she almost never bothered going down there in the night. Furthermore, she would have taken a light if she had and there was none.
Rosamunda hated to go down to the privy in the dark, even when the moon was full.
“I always think there might be something down there,” she confessed one night early on. “It is silly of me, I know.” She had laughed, but Frodo could see she felt ashamed to admit her fear.
Frodo descended the last hill and stopped in the little dip below the cottage to listen. The privy was not far off, but other than the sound of frogs that hid in the wet tussocks around the well nearby, Frodo could hear nothing.
At Rosamunda’s open door, Frodo stood on the step, cocked his head and listened. Inside it seemed quiet. No, there was a sound. It was very faint but familiar. As he stepped into the spill of light just inside the entry, Frodo caught a glimpse of the sound’s source.
From the hearth, which was on the interior wall of the parlour opposite the entry, light glimmered. Rosamunda had lit a fire. That was curious. A fire on a summer night. The house felt cool compared to the oven it had been that afternoon, but it certainly was not cold. Why had it been needed?
Shaking his damp cloak out over the step, Frodo congratulated himself for thinking to stop to fetch it on his way down to the Ivy Bush. The real rain had stopped while he was at Folco’s, but the swirling mists were wet enough. He gave his hair a good shake before he checked his feet. They would do; the wet grass must have cleaned them off.
Back inside the little hall, Frodo hung his cloak up over a hook then stopped to consider as he looked into the parlour. Rosamunda could not have gone to bed very long ago for although the fire was low, it was lively enough. The settee had been moved, too. It partly obscured the hearth. Had she been cleaning in the middle of the night? Rearranging the furniture?
Drawn by the fire, Frodo walked towards the hearth, but it was not until he was abreast of the settee that he noticed Rosamunda lying there fast asleep.
This was more curious still. Why should she be sleeping here, in the parlour? Barely long enough for two to sit upon, the settee obviously made a very poor bed. And her own bed was so lovely! Yet here she was, apparently content, curled up on her side with her knees drawn up, all tucked under a coverlet. She was breathing softly with her cheek against the plumped pillows, the backs of her fingers curved into the hollow of her neck. Her other arm was extended out over the parlour rug, her hand suspended, the long fingers dangling like catkins.
It was her hair, rippling slightly in the draft from the fire that captured Frodo’s attention. Over the arm of the couch and down its front cascaded the fall of deeply waving hair, shimmering gold-brown in the firelight. He had never seen it this way before, for Rosamunda never wore it loose. Disliking the feel of it upon her neck, she preferred to put it up. Even in bed she wore it pinned or tied, although it tended to come loose during the course of their exertions.
“It is such a bother, Frodo,” she would complain. “It only ends up in your mouth or in mine – or gets wrapped around my neck.” But her eyes had borne a tiny twinkle when she added, “It is a nuisance in other ways, too.” Seeing his eyebrows quirk, she had elucidated. “Well, Frodo, you know how you love to see….”
He smiled at the memory. She was quite right, of course; he did love to see absolutely everything.
And then he frowned. The settee. Lovely hair or not, the settee would not do at all. Frodo’s cherished hopes for crawling into bed with her would never be realised if she were to continue sleeping here. All the way across the sodden fields, Frodo had been picturing her asleep, but in her bed, not on a settee.
He would need to wake her. He must wake her in any event if he meant to have his say. And he did mean to have his say.
But first he would look – and touch – while he may.
Frodo had withstood the allure of her dangling fingers, but Rosamunda’s hair was not to be resisted. Tentatively Frodo reached out and touched it, letting glistening strands trail through his fingers like waving lengths of fine silk. It was slightly damp underneath; she must have washed it. Bending closer, Frodo confirmed his guess. Lavender soap. But something else, too. Rosemary? Whatever it was, it was lovely and fresh.
In contrast, the smell that wafted up to him from his own person was rather unpleasant. Good heavens! Frodo thought, wrinkling his nose. Everything about him reeked, and not just of pipeweed, either. He might have dipped his shirt in ale and stuffed his pockets full of fried potatoes. There was a great deal of dogginess about him, too. And under his clothes, although he’d had a bathe (of sorts) earlier when he’d sluiced himself down at the spring, all that sweaty rolling about they’d done afterwards was telling its tale on him. They had got drenched in their little wrestling match, and Rosamunda’s bed had been a tangle of sopping sheets by the end of it. But it had been a pleasure.
At the thought of the bed (and the pleasures he had enjoyed there) Frodo began to wish he had not decided to speak his mind to Rosamunda, after all. He wished her back into bed instead, as if he might simply transport her there by the power of wishing alone. Then there would be no anxiety, no confessions; no words at all – just him filling his arms with sleepy warmth to snuggle against until the dawn.
Frodo sighed. Straightening up, he took a candle and carried it into Rosamunda’s room, just to look. The bed was quite restored to order, he saw. Freshly made, the linens were spotless, beautifully smoothed and tucked, and the pillows plumped just so. He thought it looked exceedingly inviting.
He sighed again. He really must bathe. It would be good to feel cleaner, too, he told himself. The wash might him feel more ... prepared. Prepared for what?
The more he lingered over it, the more he felt his courage seeping away. He tried to rouse himself. What had happened to his zeal to make a clean breast of it? Where had his enthusiasm gone? Had it fled before his returning sobriety?
He really was feeling a bit anxious. Tramping over the hills, he had felt confident that Rosamunda returned his feelings. But now that he was actually here….
A bathe. Yes. Followed by a frigid sluicing-down. That should buck him up again.
In the kitchen, Frodo tested the kettle on the stove. It was barely warm but it would suffice. The metal washbasin would be too noisy; a crockery bowl would do better. Next to the oil and soap, Frodo noticed Rosamunda’s little pot of tooth powder. Now that he came to think of it, the taste in his mouth was rather like the bottom of the grate at the Ivy Bush. With the moistened corner of a small thin cloth kept for the purpose, Frodo dabbed up some powder. Thoughtfully, he began to rub his teeth.
Rosamunda’s powder was not nearly as nice-tasting as the sort Bilbo made up for their use at Bag End. Frodo had always meant to bring her some of theirs, but he never remembered, content to make use of hers. Well, he would bring some along the very next day. Then he remembered Folco’s remarks about Rosamunda’s increased grocery orders. Running his mind’s eye over the shelves of Bag End’s pantries, Frodo began to consider what he might bring. A ham would be good, he thought as he rubbed. Some rashers and a round or two of cheese, too. And the plump and juicy sausages that he and Rosamunda both loved – she might indulge him by eating them in amusing ways. But he mustn’t think of those ways just now.
Frodo swilled water around in his mouth as if to cleanse the image away. What else? Butter. Plenty of butter. And wine. Rosamunda had nothing left in store but a dreadful sweet wine Odovacar had enjoyed after his meals.
Stooping to rinse and spit, Frodo’s hair fell forward into his face and made him grimace. It must have soaked up every odour from the evening like a wad of wool. Dog, especially. Tip loved the parlour sofa.
Dunking his head as quietly as he could, Frodo lathered up his hair.
Then, covered in a soapy film, Frodo strode down the hill to brave the spring water from the well. He poured buckets over himself, no longer making any effort to be quiet. Around the spring the songs of frogs had risen to a din; so loud were they, Frodo could hear nothing else. But the throbbing waves of sound seemed to bear him up and were as encouraging to him as the chilly water had been bracing. He looked up to see a slender slice of moon peeping out, and the stars shone in great open patches of the night sky. The sight heartened him more than he could have explained. He took a great breath of night air, swung up his pail and climbed back up the hill.
In the kitchen, he took up one of the towels from the sideboard that Rosamunda kept for baths. Unlike the fat, fluffy towels at Bag End, these were grown quite thin from years of use, but they were large enough to do the job.
Frodo had just begun to blot himself dry when the glimmer of the fire from the parlour proved irresistible. Silently he crept into the parlour and, standing before the crackling fire, he let himself drip. Summer or not, the fire’s warmth felt wonderful; the cold water that ran from his hair grew warm by the time it trickled over his legs and feet.
Bother. He was making a puddle on the rug. Laying down the towel he had carried in from the kitchen, he used it to stand upon. Yes, he thought. Rosamunda had been wise to light a fire after all. It felt so satisfying. Very satisfying, indeed.
Frodo stood, letting his skin toast while the rivulets snaked their way down all around, tickling him now and then. He let his head drop back and stretched out his hands to either side, soaking up extra warmth. He sighed at the loveliness of it.
It was then that Rosamunda stirred.
Opening her eyes she beheld a vision of Frodo, whether real or part of her dream she could not tell at first. Partly turned away from her, he stood upon a swath of cloth before the fire. His arms and hands were extended, his palms angled towards the blaze as if to catch the wafting heat. Stars winked between his outstretched fingers. His eyes were closed but his lips seemed parted, his head tipped back, his hair falling in dripping coils stretched long and loose as if soaked with water or rich oil, glistening with jewels that fell from the ends like rubies or like topaz. Like liquid fire the water drops fell until his whole body ran with gleaming rivulets, streaming down like molten metal, ruddy-gold in the firelight.
She did not speak; she did not move, lest the apparition vanish.
“Ahhh…” the apparition sighed blissfully.
It was no apparition; it was Frodo himself, living and real. She was awake.
Stooping, he picked up the cloth he had been standing upon. She saw it was one of her towels. She watched as gingerly he patted and blotted himself, as if trying to make no sound. Then, squatting beside the hearth, he took up one of the last sticks and stirred the fire about, laying the rest on top. They kindled at once and the flames blazed up with much popping and snapping, scattering shards of fiery light all about the room. Reflected light danced over the front of his body as Frodo knelt on the rug before what he had made. Then, settling back onto his heels, his hands spread over his knees, Frodo stilled himself and stared into the flames.
Rosamunda was enraptured.
“Frodo,” she said. She had meant to lift up her voice in a joyful cry but what she heard sounded pitifully wan and thin. But Frodo had heard, and his head turned at the sound of his name.
“Rosa,” he cried, and his eyes blazed up, just as the flames had done on the hearth. Instantly, he was beside her, crouching down upon one knee as she pushed herself up from the pillows.
“I hadn’t meant to wake you,” he said, lightly kissing her cheek, “but I’m very glad you have woken.”
He gave her another kiss, this time on the lips, but very lightly again, almost as if he did not wish to linger. Then, as if reading her thoughts he nuzzled her cheek near her ear, pressing it against the side of her face. His breath was soft and warm, and he was so close she could sense the pulse in his throat, as into her ear he whispered her name on a sigh, “Rosa....”
It lasted only a moment, but her name and the breath that carried it seemed to enter into her like a physical thing, threading its way like a slender golden serpent, which, striking, wounded her with inexpressible tenderness. Or, it was like a dollop of creamy butter dropped into her heart – hissing for an instant – but melting and spreading throughout her, rich and warm.
Frodo had said her name many times before; he’d whispered in her ear and given her every sort of kiss. Why should this time be different? The answer was obvious. Now, she loved him.
No. That was not it. She loved him and she knew she loved him. There. She had said it, if only to herself. She loved him.
It was to Frodo, however, that she should say these words. She would say it now.
But Frodo had turned away and was gazing into the fire, as if he were gathering his thoughts. His eyes glinted as his pupils widened and contracted, alive with reflected flames. When he turned back to her he spoke; but haltingly, as if he were suddenly shy.
“On the way home tonight, I – I was thinking, Rosa …”
Of what? she wondered. Frodo appeared to be very happy to see her yet he seemed edgy, even anxious; a mood she would not expect after a night spent drinking. Even at this late hour he was more than usually animated but, in his naked state, a discreet glance told her his animation was not of an amorous nature.
“You were thinking ...?”
“I was thinking of you, of course,” he said with a quick smile. Then he stood up and took a restless step towards the fire. When he turned back to her she saw his smile begin to spread, but then he let it fade. Shifting his focus to somewhere behind her he stared, as if he were making an effort to concentrate. He spoke slowly, saying, “I was almost to the garden gate of Bag End … but when I thought of going in –”
Suddenly looking at her, he said, “It is awfully late, I know.”
Perhaps because she did not reply at once to this non-sequitur, he looked away and fell silent.
Rosamunda watched a swift succession of thoughts and feelings play across Frodo’s face before he glanced back and said, “It was all right to come back, wasn’t it, Rosa?”
She almost laughed, she was so astonished. How little he guessed! She would have died if he had not. Knowing Frodo would only misinterpret such a response, Rosamunda reached out to where he stood and touched her fingers to the slender hand that hung by his side. Evenly she said, smiling, “It is always all right for you to come here, Frodo. I am very happy you have returned.”
Frodo took her hand between his own and, kneeling beside her, pressed it to his chest. But he released it and stood. Then, as if by an act of will, he spoke, watching her intently.
“The thing is, Rosa, once I thought about it, I couldn’t bear the idea of sleeping there, in my own bed, on my own. So I came back here to be with you.”
Having spoken, he looked at the rug near her feet, apparently studying the rumpled towel he had dropped there.
Every sort of feeling swept over Rosamunda at his words; his thoughts were so like her own. Yet she felt awkward trying to converse from a recumbent position, especially while he was standing so close – and so naked. Moving the pillows she pushed herself further up into the corner of the little couch. When Frodo came and crouched again by the settee, his eyes were more nearly level with hers.
His eyes ...
“I could not sleep, either, Frodo,” she began with difficulty.
Well, that sounded perfectly silly. There she had been, after all, sound asleep. Frodo seemed encouraged, though, obviously waiting to hear more. She must speak more plainly.
“That is not what I meant ...”
Rosamunda stopped, disconcerted, when Frodo plucked up the towel and, standing, wrapped it around his hips, tucking one end over the other to secure it. He never covered himself in front of her.
Flipping back the edge of her coverlet, Frodo appeared to be looking for a place to sit.
Perhaps he was worried about getting the cushions damp. But he was usually unconcerned about such things, just as he was about most household matters, leaving his clothes strewn about.
A bit of seat cushion had been left vacant when Rosamunda had pushed herself higher up into the corner, just in front of her stomach and thighs. Insinuating his towelled buttocks into the spot, Frodo perched there. Then he swivelled round a bit and leaned closer, one hand upon the back of the couch and the other upon the edge of the seat. Half lit by fire he bent towards her, his face framed by his dark tumble of curls. So unbearably lovely and desirable did Rosamunda find him at that moment, it hurt her to breathe. She felt she might cease to see or hear, so intensely did she feel his proximity, and so greatly did she desire his kiss.
Frodo did kiss her, but the kiss he offered was disappointingly cool and light, like a leaf brushing over her face on a woodland walk. She had closed her eyes but opened them again; he was watching her. But his demeanour was attentive rather than ardent, as if he were waiting to hear more.
What had she been saying? Oh, yes.
Rosamunda swallowed and made a little cough, but, glancing up at Frodo, she realized at once she would not be able to look him in the face and continue. Instead, she let her eye be drawn to the satiny oval that surrounded his nipple, which, burnished copper in the firelight, stood out from the paler skin surrounding it. The dark patch shifted slightly as he breathed, moving with the rise and fall of his ribs. She would focus her attention there.
She began again.
“What I meant, Frodo, was that I couldn’t sleep in my own bed, either. Somehow I – I just couldn’t bear it.”
The dark oval she had been watching twitched, as if the underlying muscles had suddenly flexed, and the breaths that lifted it came a little quicker.
He leaned a little closer.
“You found me sleeping on the couch because ...” Rosa said, “Because it didn’t seem as bad as sleeping in my great empty bed….”
Frodo’s chest tensed very visibly, then.
“…That is to say,” she said, emboldened, “It was not as bad as sleeping in my bed … without you in it, Frodo.”
The pupils of Frodo’s eyes had widened to velvety darkness but, suddenly, they glittered with reflected fire, sending a corresponding shower of sparks all through her, just as if pine resin had caught and burst into flame in the grate.
Leaping up from the settee, Frodo looked as though he were about to shout in exultation. He didn’t, but the sinews in his neck and shoulders stood out, belying his excitement.
“That is how I felt, Rosa!” he cried.
His tone of voice was moderate, but he might have hallooed it to the hills, so filled with enthusiasm did he appear. Poised before her, he almost seemed to dance, although he did not move. Every nerve seemed stretched taut. She thought he might have sprung up off the floor, had he not restrained himself. He brought his hands together in front, as if he had meant to clap, but he stayed his hands in time, letting them come together silently. His fingers, though, were tightly twined.
At the sight of such elation, Rosamunda wished to stand and speak. She would make a full confession. But her feet were so wrapped about by the coverlet, she took too long to free them, and by the time she was ready to rise, Frodo had turned away and stood looking into the fire.
“I must say, Rosa,” Frodo remarked brightly, glancing her way, “I was very surprised to see you had lit a fire. A fire in July! But, dripping wet as I was, I thought it a splendid idea.”
Rosamunda opened her mouth to comment, but he was already striding off into the darkened kitchen. She stood, then, but too quickly, swaying a little on her feet. Her hair, now dry, fell all around her shoulders and down her nightdress in a billowy swath. Without thinking, she gathered it in her hands and began to twist it into its accustomed coil. She stooped, collecting the pins she’d dropped beside the couch, and began to put it up.
It was then that Frodo returned, bearing a fresh armload of sticks from the pile beside the stove.
“Oh, don’t pin it up!” he cried when he saw what she was doing.
Rosamunda’s hands hovered at the back of her neck, arrested by the urgency of his plea.
“Leave it down, Rosa, please. Just this once. It’s so beautiful!”
Frodo dropped the stack of wood by the hearth with a clatter, brushed his hands off on his hips, and came up to her. Taking her hands in his he smiled and said, “Here. Let me, Rosa.”
After a moment of hesitation, Rosamunda relinquished the coiled mass into Frodo’s custody. She felt a little breathless, standing so close within the circumference of his arms, yet not actually embraced.
Carefully, Frodo began pulling out the pins, gathering them one by one between his teeth before dropping them onto the mantel piece. He unwound the length of her hair in silence, intent upon his task. Standing so close in the quiet of the hole she could hear the frogs outside, but even more she could hear his breathing. She could hear it and could feel it upon her skin.
Closing her eyes, she gave herself up to the rhythm of his fingers as Frodo worked her hair, the occasional tug rocking her gently on her feet. The electric heat of him excited her while, at the same time, it had a pleasantly soothing effect. When she opened her eyes, his head was bent over a skein of hair that he held in his palm as he tried to tease out a tangle with his fingers. His hair, only inches from her nose, smelled lovely and she breathed deeply. It looked wet, still, she noticed.
Reaching up, Rosamunda squeezed a handful of curls in her hand and warm water trickled down her forearm to be wicked up by the edge of her sleeve, staining it with damp. Her touch must have tickled, for Frodo scrunched his shoulders and wriggled his neck where her wrist was touching it, but she left her wrist where it was, to feel the heat coming off his skin.
“I thought the rain had stopped,” she said, very relaxed but more and more aroused at the same time. Cupping a handful of curls she said, “You must have got drenched.”
With a giggle Frodo seized her hand, giving the tips of her wet fingers a kiss before he released it down by her side.
“I wasn’t wet from the rain, Rosa,” he explained. “I bathed while you were sleeping.” He picked up another lock of hair.
“Ah, that explains it,” Rosamunda remarked dreamily, as if glimpsing the answer to some mildly interesting puzzle. “When I opened my eyes before,” she said, her attention drawn to his fingers as they worked (and very alive to the thought of them moving over her elsewhere), “When I woke up, you seemed covered in wet, Frodo, glistening with it. But in the firelight, it looked all ruddy and gold. You looked covered in liquid fire.”
“Liquid fire,” Frodo murmured, “That would be painful, I should think.” He seemed to have become more relaxed as he handled her hair. They swayed as they stood so close together before the fire.
“No,” he said, “It was only water. And I am dry, now. Well, nearly dry, not counting my hair,” he said, glancing at the water marks on Rosamunda’s sleeve. “It needed a wash.”
Frodo caught Rosamunda’s questioning look. “It smelled,” he explained. “My hair. Of pipeweed and ale and taverns. And dog, from lying about on the Boffin parlour sofa,” he added, amused.
“I would not have minded,” Rosamunda said lazily, leaning into his touch; his hands in her hair felt very lovely. “Odovacar often came home smelling of taverns and dogs.”
“Then, all the more would I wish to smell differently,” Frodo said, his manner rather clipped.
There was an awkward pause.
Frodo appeared relieved when Rosamunda spoke first. “You were at Folco’s tonight?”
“Yes,” he said, resuming his work. “Did I not mention it? When the Ivy Bush closed, Folco invited me over.”
“That was very good. He seems to have missed you.”
“Yes, he said as much.” Frodo fell silent, and she wondered why.
“Did you enjoy yourselves? Or had you drunk too much to be able to tell?” Rosamunda chuckled, but Frodo, she noticed, did not.
“We were a little drunk by the end of the evening, at Folco’s house,” he said, keeping his eyes on his work. “Well, Folco got quite drunk. We lay about in the back parlour drinking and talking ...”
Frodo paused again, and his expression clouded. His eyes went opaque as he stared past her shoulder. Rosamunda could see nothing in them.
“… Did something go amiss?” she softly asked.
She hoped not, but Frodo’s look was very dark. His hands had stilled, while he stood looking at the hair he held in them.
“No, nothing went amiss. Not really,” he said at last, “Not in the end.” But, looking up at her he quietly said, “Things were said – things that ought not to have been said.”
Suddenly he turned from her and bent to tend the fire, laying on a few more sticks. When he had straightened up he said, as if concluding the discussion, “I believe it was the drink.”
Wiping off his hands, Frodo took up Rosamunda’s hair again. He said no more, but as he relaxed he began to hum a little tune under his breath, something she had heard Bilbo singing many times. Sensing the release of tension, Rosamunda once again gave herself up to the pleasure of his closeness and touch.
Finally, he appeared satisfied and, fanning out the strands of her hair, he spread it over her shoulders into a shining, undulating shawl that rippled down her arms, her breasts and back. Adjusting his stance this way and that, he appraised what he had done, refining it, all the while shifting closer and closer until Rosamunda’s skin began to prickle from his nearness. Stroking and smoothing her hair down all around, Frodo seemed to take great pleasure in the look and feel of it; but for Rosamunda, the pleasure was in his touch. The feel of his hands moving over her, through the veil of her hair, was a very great pleasure, greater with every passing moment. It vexed her, however, that Frodo seemed so unaware of the feelings he was creating. His thoughts seemed somewhere else entirely.
When he glanced at Rosamunda’s face, Frodo started a little, as though he had suddenly been reminded who it was that stood before him. This seemed to confirm her suspicions. He smiled at her. While his smile was very warm, she felt there was something apprehensive in it. She was perplexed.
“Rosa,” Frodo began, “I …”
His voice trailed off, but his eyes were fixed on her so intently, Rosamunda began to feel uneasy.
“Yes?” she asked, smiling. Thankfully, her voice sounded pleasantly neutral.
She waited for him to continue, but he did not. His face continued to show a mix of feelings, all of them intense, which she could not sort out. What was he thinking? What was he feeling?
Whatever else he might be feeling, he felt desire. He wanted her now, she could plainly see. The thin towel, thin and damp, concealed little. Yet Frodo’s mind seemed far from her. How could this be? His nearness was only increasing her desire for him, but his strangeness towards her made her fearful of showing it.
Frodo still said nothing, but now he began to gather up her hair in his hands, moving it all back over her shoulders. The touch of the edges of his fingers and thumbs against her skin as they chanced to brush her ears and neck sent such shivers through her. She felt her knees begin to tremble.
“You are not cold, still, are you, Rosa?” Frodo asked. His hands were poised on either side of her head as he held her hair.
Rosamunda glanced at him with suppressed wonder, and doubts fretted her. Her desire for him was so great – could he not tell? Did he not know? Frodo could not be seeing her at all. She knew how she must look. The hair he seldom got to see was flowing loose; it streamed from his fingers! The golden colour of her skin he so admired glowed an even richer colour in the firelight. Her breathing, now become very deep, would only accentuate the rise and fall of the breasts he loved, and her nipples, hard and erect, must show forth prominently through the delicate stuff of her nightdress. But clearest of all would be her eyes. She never could veil from him the desire she felt. Surely, he knew!
He did know; she could see that he did. Apart from the disarray of his towel, all the marks of desire were there for her to see, marks that mirrored hers. His arms were trembling, too, she noticed, held as they were so close to the sides of her face. Surely it was not from the weight of her hair. Why, then, did he not take her to him?
His reticence filled her with misgivings that went against her reason. He had come here for her. He had said so himself.
“I am not cold, Frodo,” Rosamunda answered in a wavering voice. The nearness of his hands and wrists had created pockets of warmth beside her head. She felt herself beginning to flush until she felt hot all over. Her ears hummed with rising blood, yet her teeth nearly chattered. The shivering increased.
“Are you ill, Rosa?” Frodo asked, peering at her more closely.
“No, I am not ill,” she said, forcing herself to speak in a moderate tone.
She smiled inwardly at herself, and Frodo saw her smile. He must have thought it was for him, for he looked encouraged, but still he did not touch her. Rather, he remained poised as if he were listening; waiting. Waiting for what? she wondered. Why was he keeping himself so tightly reined?
Suddenly, Rosamunda thought she understood. The shivering stopped as soon as the thought broke into her mind.
He was waiting for her. She had given him signs; plain ones, she had thought, but, apparently, not clear enough. Or, perhaps Frodo waited not for clearer signs but for clearer speech. It occurred to Rosamunda – was this what Frodo had experienced all those times he had tried to speak before? Had he been feeling like this? If so, he did not deserve to be put through it again. She should say it. She should say it now.
Why was it so difficult?
She would force herself.
“I am not ill, Frodo,” she began. Having drawn herself up to speak, she began to stammer. With a little smile, she checked it and began again.
“I – It is only –” Her tongue cleaved to the roof of her mouth and words refused to come. The sight of Frodo’s face; so anxious, so expectant; smote her terribly. To be rendered speechless now! She fought back the feelings that choked her, but panic was consuming the air in her lungs.
Desperate, Rosamunda determined she would show Frodo how she felt, if she could not speak it. Throwing her arms about his waist she pulled him to her, but so precipitately she threw him off balance, making him stumble back before he caught himself. She saw alarm flicker across his face, but she pressed against him nevertheless, lifting her mouth, asking him with her eyes for the kiss she so wanted. When Frodo did not grant the kiss at once, unnerved, Rosamunda strove to take it from him, lurching against him. Sweeping her hands up over his chest she was reckless, heedless, making him wince when the edges of her thumbnails scraped across the tender bits of raised flesh.
“Frodo!” she cried – or meant to do but the sound of her voice was more like a strangled breath. Frodo heard, however, and let her pull him nearer. With a struggle, Rosamunda mastered herself and managed to offer her lips to him with greater delicacy. More gently she slid her hands up over his back and, pressing against his shoulder blades, urged him to come to her. Frodo brought his lips to hers, but hesitated, so she kissed him first. Although she clasped him to her with fervour, she kept her mouth gentle in order to woo him; not demanding, but inviting him with little flicks and nips to return her kiss. Finally, as if unable to do otherwise, Frodo returned her questing kiss, using his fingers to tip her head just so. But he kept his body held away, which fretted her. This would not do.
As Frodo’s kiss became deeper, Rosamunda stepped closer, letting her body melt against his. She dropped her hands down the inward curve of his back and slid them over the towelling that draped his buttocks. Grasping him firmly she pulled his reluctant hips closer until he touched her. He whimpered, but when she felt the hard ridge of him pressed up against her she nearly reeled. She steadied herself by clutching him tighter, but the feel of cloth under her fingers, instead of skin, was exasperating.
If Frodo had been in some other mood, Rosamunda would have torn the towel off him with a laugh, but he was in a mood that was strange to her. So she slipped just the tips of her fingers under the waistline of the towelling, drawing her hands around to the front. He was attending to her now, she noticed, with every particle of his attention. The kiss was forgotten as he watched her every move, riveted. She splayed one browned hand over the creamy white of his chest, then let the other glide down over his stomach, stopping where the towelling overlapped just below his navel. She hesitated a moment, her ears thrumming. Then, looking at him, she summoned his eyes to hers and held them as she let her fingers move lightly over the thin towelling. First she swept them over his thigh but, returning, she let them find him where he sprang up high and hard under the light, loosely draped cloth.
Then, as she continued to hold his gaze, Rosamunda let her fingers delicately trace his contours. Frodo was breathing quickly now but he sucked in his breath when she let her fingers slide down the length of him to cup him in her hand. His expression was one of suffering but his eyes and nostrils flared as, gently, she lifted and squeezed, as if he were summer fruit – tender and yielding under the press of her fingers. She lingered; then, trailing her fingers up higher, she closed her hand around him.
Frodo’s shuddering sigh was terribly gratifying to hear. More gratifying still was the feel of him pressing closer, easing himself higher into her hand in spite of his mysterious reluctance. Then, grasping the back of her head, Frodo kissed her with such ardour, Rosamunda knew it was an outlet for what he was feeling below. The more deeply she massaged him, the greater was the profundity of his kiss.
She had been gentle at first, but her own desire made her more urgent, and soon she was clasping him tightly. A thrill of triumph ran through her as Frodo began to drive himself up into her gripping fingers, until she could think of nothing other than the feel of him doing the same things inside her. It was bare flesh she craved now, but, when she released her grip, Frodo instantly pulled his lips away. He stilled himself as he felt and saw her fingers searching for the towel’s overlap. He was excited, obviously, but almost wary, she thought; she could feel it.
Her fingertips brushed the skin of his bare thigh and he started, as though he might pull away. Surely, he would not! But when she touched him even more intimately, Frodo ell back. He grappled her wrists, and, snatching her hands away, he held them tightly.
For a moment, Rosamunda stared at him amazed.
“Rosa,” Frodo panted when he had found his voice. “Stop. Don’t –”
Rosamunda recoiled, stung. Blood rushed to her cheeks and the back of her neck burned. Her hands went limp in Frodo’s grasp, and he let them drop. As she averted her eyes she saw him reaching for her, as if to call her back, but she could not look at him.
Whatever was the reason he had spurned her, she had no heart to hear it.
He grasped her nearer wrist and tried to pull her round.
“Rosa, please. Look at me. I didn’t mean it the way you think.” Trying to turn her face towards him, he pleaded, “Please, Rosa, look at me. Only listen.”
She looked at him, but she felt listless and disengaged as he held her in his arms.
“Are you thinking I don’t want you? Of course I do! I have thought of little else since I left here this afternoon. It’s just that I had wanted –”
Abandoning words, Frodo embraced her, pulling her close.
Rosamunda looked past his shoulder, trying not to feel, but when he crooned her name and kissed her cheek, she obliged him with a look. Struggling, she restrained an unseemly bout of tears.
“Rosa, I came back here tonight because I wanted you!” he said. With a chuckle, he added, “You saw that, surely.” But Rosamunda could not smile.
Pressing on, Frodo said, “I did come back because I wanted you. But even more, I came back in order to talk to you. I wanted to tell you something, Rosa.”
He smoothed her hair as he spoke, and she looked at him, listening, now.
Looking for comprehension in her face, Frodo asked, “Can you not see, Rosa? When you start touching me like that, I cannot speak – I cannot even think! But I must speak.”
Rosamunda’s heart had quieted, but at his words it began to pound again while Frodo forked his fingers through her hair, urging it back over her shoulders. Putting his hands on her shoulders, he took a deep breath and began.
“Hear me out, Rosa. It is – it is difficult for me. Help me, if you can.”
As if he meant to bore a way into her mind and pour the contents of his into hers, he stared at her hard, but the effort seemed to fatigue him, and his shoulders drooped. Resting his forehead against hers he closed his eyes, but, as if he had gathered fresh reserves, he looked up and spoke.
“When I left Folco’s earlier tonight, I really had meant to go straight home, Rosa. I only wanted to throw myself into bed. The evening had been very tiring towards the end, and I was still a bit drunk. But once I was outside Bag End, when I really began to imagine going to bed, I just couldn’t face it – spending the night without you. That is why I came back here.”
Frodo paused to take a few more gulps of air. He gave himself a tiny shake, and, releasing her, began to move about as he spoke.
“All the way here, as I was walking, I was thinking of what I might say, and of what I have been wanting to say to you, Rosa, for weeks. But once I got here – once you were here before me – somehow, I haven’t been able to say it.”
Frodo stopped pacing and turned to face her. But, as if the discipline were too great, he began to move about again until the words came.
“I had to come here, Rosa. Because – I feel I belong here – deep down. More than anything, what I want is to be with you. But here is where you are. You won’t come to Bag End – I have known that without asking. So, I come here. I must come here, or not see you at all.”
Wheeling about, Frodo reached for her, but plucked his hands away before he had touched her, as if he had thought better of it.
Before Rosamunda could ascribe a darker meaning to this, he had begun to speak, but with even greater zeal.
“Rosa, have you any idea how much I would love for you to come to me at Bag End? Every day since Lithe, I have wished you there with me. Even Bilbo would not mind – not really – for, more than anything, he wants me to be happy. I know it in my heart. Bilbo is not blind; he knows how I feel about you.” Softly, Frodo added, almost as if he did not wish to be heard, “In my dreams you are there with me, Rosa, but as my wife.”
He glanced at her but flinched visibly when he saw her doubtful little smile.
“You needn’t mock me, Rosa,” he shot at her, obviously hurt. “It is unkind of you! I know very well I cannot have my wish.”
Rosamunda had not meant it that way. She hated to think he might regret sharing such a confidence.
“You may come to me, always, Frodo,” she ventured, hoping to soothe his affront.
Frodo was not soothed.
“You let me come here,” he parried, “But only as your lover – your visitor. I don’t want to be your visitor, Rosa. I want a home – a home with you. If it can’t be at Bag End, then I want one with you here.”
Rosamunda was shaken by this speech, and thought before she spoke. “Frodo,” she said, feeling her way, “You must know you cannot live here.”
Frodo rolled his eyes.
“Do you think me foolish, Rosa? I know that!” He laughed, but his laugh was bitter. “I do not mean it literally – as if I might come and live with you here in the cottage – or at Budgeford – or anywhere else! I mean, I want a home with you, yourself – a home inside you, not a building. I realised the difference tonight.”
He let her go, but only in order to go on with greater animation.
“Ever since my parents died, my only real home has been with Bilbo, when he brought me to Bag End. But that home isn’t the smial, Rosa. It is Bilbo himself – because he loves me, and because I love him. But, now –”
Rosamunda thought he seemed almost to vibrate, as though he might fly to pieces before her eyes. She watched him, mesmerised. She wished to speak, to interject, but dared not; not while he was in this state. He had asked her to hear him out and he must have his say.
“I have a home with Bilbo, but isn’t enough any longer. I want one with you, Rosa.”
As he paused, Rosamunda did venture to speak, saying, “And you are welcome here, Frodo. You know that.”
Clearly, Frodo was not satisfied. “But what do you mean by that, Rosa – that I am welcome? I come here every night, and you make me welcome but, still, I am your guest . I don’t want to be a guest, Rosa. I want a home.”
“But haven’t you a home in me, Frodo? You know how I love it when you are with me. Why, every time I hold you in my arms –”
Rosamunda was not able to complete her thought. Frodo had pulled her to him roughly; not as a show of passion, she thought, but as if to ground himself in the intensity of the contact. He held her for a few moments, then, pushed her away to look her in the face.
“Rosa, I know that I have a home in you – like that – in your arms. And I love it. I barely am able to give it up each morning when I leave! But, don’t you see? That is not enough; it is not nearly enough.”
Grasping her skull, Frodo held it tightly. “I don’t want a home only in your body, Rosa,” he answered, nearly shouting. He lowered his voice at once but his tone remained fierce. “I want a home inside you.” Squeezing her head between his fingers, he said, “I want a home in here, in your mind. I want a home in your thoughts. When you think of the future, I want you to see me in it. When you remember the past, I want you to see me there. For that is how it is for me, Rosa. That is how I love you.”
Frodo released her. When he had calmed himself he said more quietly, yet emphatically, “That is the sort of home I want, Rosa. I am asking you, do I have one?”
He drew himself up to stand before her. Holding his hands close to his sides he seemed to be resigning himself to whatever was his fate.
“I have never said that I loved you, Rosa,” he said, “although I have tried to tell you many times. But I do. I love you. I have told myself that you love me. I have believed that you do. But now I ask you – I do not beg you, but I ask you – Rosa, do you love me?”
Rosamunda was speechless, but with awe; she thought him wonderful.
But, when she did not speak up right away, Frodo gave a little snort of exasperation. With the flat of his hand he began to smite the side of his thigh, slowly but deliberately, as if to subdue himself.
“For heaven’s sake, Rosa,” he cried at last. “Say something!”
Before he could glance away, she saw his eyes beginning to grow very bright. Not tears! She could not bear to see them knowing she had caused them.
“I do love you,” she said.
He took a sharp breath. Eagerly he took a step towards her, his face shining.
“I think I have loved you all along, Frodo.” Warmly, she added, “Perhaps ever since you were little.”
Frodo’s ecstatic expression collapsed into a look of such anguish, Rosamunda’s heart lurched at the sight of it, her own concerns forgotten in an instant. What had she said amiss? When she reached for his hand, he snatched it away, but she took him by the shoulders, holding him firm and fast. He sank to his knees, and she sank with him. He tried to turn away, but she did not let him.
“What is it? What have I said?” she asked, trying to keep her voice steady. “I said that I loved you, Frodo. Perhaps, that I have loved you all along. What is terrible in that?” She tried to remain calm, but seeing tears begin to flood his eyes twisted everything inside her. Fighting down panic, she cast about for what she might say next, but Frodo spoke first.
“I do not wish to be loved as you have loved me all along!” he flung at her. “I don’t want such love – as if I were a child you could dismiss and then forget once I was out of sight!”
How near the truth he had come, she thought, alarmed. How long had he sensed this? Longer, it would seem, than she had known it herself.
“That was not what I meant, Frodo,” she answered at once. “Look at me. That is not what I meant at all. I have cared for you, yes, since you were a child. And you have cared for me, I am sure; and not just for me, but for all of us; for Odovacar, too.”
At Odovacar’s name, Frodo glanced away.
“When I said, ‘I love you’, I was not speaking of the way I loved you when you were little. Not even the way I loved you when you were a ‘tween, in Bilbo’s kitchen.” In spite of his dismay, she saw a smile peep out at that, and she felt him relax enough to be gathered to her, just a little, as they knelt together on the parlour rug.
“The love I have confessed is a new thing, Frodo. It is different from what I felt before.” She felt tension leaving him. No longer was he straining to pull away.
He looked at her again, and she began to proceed with her own confession, but with difficulty.
“It is true, Frodo, that I did not want this new love. I did not wish even to know that it was – not in me or in you. You sensed it, I think – that I did not want it – and that has caused you pain.”
Frodo’s unhappy look confirmed her guess, but he did not resist when she cradled his head against her, stroking his hair as she spoke.
“I did not see it, Frodo. I only saw it when you were gone away tonight. Before tonight, I think I simply could not see it. Or, I would not – neither that you loved me, nor that I did not want to love you back.”
Tenderly she kissed his face and said, “I am sorry, Frodo. I have made you suffer. That was wrong of me.”
Frodo dropped his eyes and was silent. When he looked at her again, his eyes were full of sorrow.
“Is it so terrible, Rosa, to love me?” he asked.
Rosamunda’s heart seized with anguish.
“Oh, no!” she cried, but she blinked back tears. “You are a joy to me, Frodo! I was silly and frightened.” Feeling from deep within her surged up, stronger than any she had known. She felt almost choked by it, but she made herself continue. He needed to hear it.
“I do love you, Frodo,” she declared. “I love you so much, I love you more than –”
Frodo lifted his face, expectant. His eyes began to shine. At the sight of them, Rosamunda nearly faltered. Her heart began to hammer and blood throbbed in her neck and ears. Gulping for air, she made another effort.
“I have tried not to love you, Frodo – the way I knew you wanted to be loved. But thinking of things tonight, I could see – I could see – ”
Rosamunda hid her face in her hands and said, “Oh, Frodo!”
Gently, Frodo took her hands away. Something flickered in his eyes, something besides the flames reflected from the fire.
“What could you see?” More softly he asked her again, “What could you see, Rosa?” He pulled her up so that she was kneeling, drawing her closer until their bodies were just touching. He circled her waist and gave her a firm tug, pulling her close enough for him to feel her heart beating in her chest.
“You said you could see something tonight, Rosa,” he said, “You said that you loved me. You said you loved me more than – more than what”?
More softly still, Frodo repeated it, “More than what, Rosa?”
The beginnings of a smile had spread across Frodo’s face, until it bloomed into a smile so radiant, so filled with joy, Rosamunda wanted to look away, but could not. In its light, the last shadows of her resistance were driven away.
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.