15. In the Morning Light, Pt. I
Chapter 12 – In the Morning Light.
1400, July 19 – Rosamunda’s cottage and its environs.
When the last embers upon the hearth had died, the lovers had made their way to Rosamunda’s bedroom, fell upon the bed and slept. Frodo slept like the dead, but Rosamunda’s sleep was fitful and she dreamt.
She dreamt she stood on a hill under the waxing moon and a black sky blazing with stars. A breeze stirred the grasses around her feet. As she watched, one of the stars grew large. It fell to earth silently, trailing glittering light.
Suddenly, a woman like a daughter of Men but far more fair stood before her. The woman’s hair streamed and her raiment shimmered as she approached, her unseen feet whispering through the grass.
She was tall, so tall that she loomed over Rosamunda, making her feel a child again – yet she was not afraid. The woman stooped before her and gracefully extended her hands, holding one cupped over the other, then lifting the upper hand away. Heeding the invitation, Rosamunda peeked inside.
In the hollow of the woman’s palm glowed a small bead or pearl. Smooth-sided it was; moon-pale and iridescent with a dark swirl. No. It was not a pearl but a shell. A shell from the Sea.
As she gazed it seemed to become larger (or Rosamunda smaller, she could not tell), so that she could look inside. Leaning in, she stretched out her fingers but could feel nothing, only empty space where the shell’s side curved away. Yet there was something inside, she knew it. Something wonderful.
Straining to reach further, Rosamunda leaned so far she slipped and tumbled in. Down and down she fell, slowly spinning like the winged fruit of a sycamore, glancing lightly off the shell’s glossy sides until she found herself sprawled at the bottom in a noiseless crumple of skirts. She clambered to her feet and looked about.
She was standing inside a modest yet lofty chamber, illuminated by rosy light coming through the shell’s sides. Her heart beat fast while a sound like wind rose in her ears, but there was no wind. Everything was still.
Her excitement became very great, as it used to do when she was little, watching and waiting as the bright knife in her mother’s hand hovered over the Yule cake just before it sank into the first slice. In whose slice would be the secret prize?
Sensing a presence behind her she pivoted and saw peeping out from the innermost swirl of shell fingers; fingers of a tiny hand. She stepped nearer. It was not just a tiny hand, but a little arm, plump and soft. She stepped up all the way and looked. Cradled fast asleep in the last volute of shell an infant lay, pale as milk; a dark-haired boy.
She did not move; she did not breathe. She trembled and quaked as a flood-tide of unacknowledged yearning rose within her.
Had she said it aloud? She saw the words clearly in her mind, but there had been no sound of her voice.
She wanted to snatch the child up, but reached only tentatively, hoping to touch the little hand. Just inches away she stopped herself, blinking, startled and amazed.
The infant was gone and it was Frodo who lay there fast asleep, but very small.
What trick was this?
She rubbed her eyes and opened them. She saw an infant.
Bewildered, she stood and stared, all her thoughts in disarray, questions swirling. She sensed the woman still was near – around her or behind her – watching and listening.
She would ask.
Rosamunda whirled about only to find herself alone again, standing on the hill beneath the vast, starry sky as grasses hissed and sighed.
Long she stood and looked, dazzled and bereft, one hand upon her breast, the other clutched to her waist. She watched as the star faded and shrank until it winked, a tiny point, vanishing into the inky canopy above her.
Rosamunda bowed her head, but gasped to see she held the shell, small and white, cradled in her hand. It pulsed with secret life.
She awoke with joy, borne upon a crest of rising excitement. Her eyes flew open to see her bedroom flooded with light. But it was not the light of moon and stars, she saw with dismay: it was the light of the sun! They had overslept abominably. How would Frodo ever get away unseen?
The dream was forgotten as she lurched up and was prevented by the weight of Frodo’s limbs. Reassured by his solid warmth she relaxed, letting her head fall back upon her pillow as her alarm subsided.
As she settled, she became aware of birdsong coming from the copse below. The morning breeze plucked at the edges of the curtains and in the white shaft of light that slanted through the open casements, tiny motes swam.
The clouds had passed, the day was fair, and there was nothing to be done about their lateness. Well, they would think of something. They would have to.
Perhaps she could go back to sleep. No, there was little chance of that. She should get up. Yet, with no hurry for Frodo to be gone, she was loath to wake him.
When they had finally gone to bed, he had been utterly exhausted. She, at least, had got some sleep on the settee, but Frodo had not slept at all. Lying beside her, his breathing easy and deep, Rosamunda found his sleep as satisfying to watch as that of a stricken child whose fever has finally broken.
Still, she would very much like to adjust her position. Her arm was angled up sharply where his head nestled. She must have flung it back onto the pillows in her sleep. Frodo had tucked his head so snugly into the hollow under her arm she could not bring it down again. His head lay upon the pillows, but his cheek was pressed against her breast. His mouth was slightly parted, his even breaths drifting across her skin. His lower arm she could not see, thrust somewhere under the pillows, but his upper arm was draped across her, his palm curving over her breast like a shell.
Like a shell.
A dream. A dream about a shell….
Rosamunda drew her brows together as images flitted across her mind. She tried to bring them into focus but they slipped away. Letting them go, she sighed. It would come back if she did not force it.
She turned her attention to her sleeping lover.
Frodo was tucked up very close. As if she might bolt while he slept, not only his arm but his leg was stretched across her, his knee drawn up and his toes tucked into the space between her calves. The other leg was stretched out straight beside her.
She liked the feel of him so near, but, in truth, she needed to shift. Carefully she wriggled herself further up the bed until she could bring her arm down behind his back. Although sleeping, Frodo accommodated himself to her new position. He hitched his knee up higher, but dislodged his foot so that it merely dangled off her legs. He tried again to burrow his head under her arm, but he could not; her arm was in the way. With a little snort, he made do, settling his cheek more squarely onto the pillow. But, as if as to compensate for her slight removal from him, his fingers flexed possessively over her breast. Remembering her painful tenderness, she held her breath until his hand relaxed, curving softly once again.
Situated higher upon the pillows, she could see Frodo much better. It had not been since the days of Lithe, she realised, that she had seen him in the full light of day. Each morning he left the cottage in darkness, well before dawn. Even when he had brought the cherries the previous afternoon, it had been so bright outside it had made the inside seem dark. When the storm moved in, it had made the cottage darker still.
Now, in her bedroom filled with golden morning light, Frodo’s sleeping face seemed paler than ever, especially in contrast to her breast beside his cheek. Against the pallor of his cheek, his long lashes seemed like curving threads of jet, each one precisely delineated. Through the translucent skin of his eyelid she could see every tiny vein, each one a delicate tracery of blue. She thought of when Frodo had been a lad, sleeping beside her and baby Freddy under the trees of Brandy Hall, on the day his parents had died in the river. He had been dreaming then, she remembered, his eyes sliding restlessly beneath his lids. His mien was peaceful now.
The parts of his body that showed above the rumpled linens had seldom been seen by the sun, and were paler still. She had not noticed before, but faint freckles were scattered over the tops of his shoulders. One dark mole emphasized the whiteness of his inner arm. On his right hand, the nail on his thumb had been recently gouged, and the first fingers were slightly stained with ink. On his forearm, fine hairs glistened; hairs which normally were imperceptible. In places where his clothes did not usually cover him there were small scars, the marks of rough childhood play. They certainly had not come from manual labour, she thought to herself with a smile, thinking of his smooth hands.
There was one larger scar, however, white and thin. The end of it angled up from the outside of his forearm, just below the elbow. She remembered it at once; it came from a fall at Shady Bank during a summer visit, just a few years after Frodo had gone to live with Bilbo.
Directly below the Bolger home, willows leaned over the Water where it flowed past Budgeford. The biggest and oldest one the children called “the Jumping Tree.” It hung over a natural pool long since carved out of the high bank by eddies and currents. In spite of every prohibition, jumping from the tree was an irresistible local sport.
The pool was fairly deep and sandy-bottomed, but further out into the channel sharp rocks lurked. They were well-submerged in spring and winter, but in summer, when the river ran lower, the rocks jutted just beneath the surface.
Frodo, then a few years into his ‘tweens, was a much better climber and jumper than his little friends. He was not only stronger and more accomplished, he was more daring. Encouraged by their cheering (Rosamunda surmised afterwards), Frodo had climbed higher and jumped further until, in his zeal, the rocks found him.
“It is nothing!” he had protested, stumbling into the gloom of the Bolger kitchen. He dripped with river water and sweat, panting from the steep climb through the trees and brush to Shady Bank, his arm wrapped tightly in his shirt. Merry and Freddy had arrived ahead of him, half-dressed and breathless, elbowing each other aside in order to be first to tell the news and summon aid. Estella, still a very little lass, had come up behind Frodo, clinging to his sodden trouser leg. Frodo could not pick her up and carry her as he might have done, needing to keep his shirt pressed to his arm.
Inside the kitchen, Pansy, still the children’s nurse, shooed the admirers away, calling for room to work. Merry and Freddy were commissioned to fetch catgut from her home. They dashed away, each vying to be first out the door. Estella tried to follow but was too little to keep up. She soon trudged back and plopped down on the little stool by the kitchen hearth to mope.
All the while, Pansy issued instructions. Although Rosamunda dressed the children’s minor wounds, she deferred to Pansy for anything more serious. Pansy came from farm folk and accidents with tools were not uncommon.
After Rosamunda had put more water on to heat and had brought out her sewing box for needles, she lit a lamp. So surrounded by trees was the Bolger home, its wide windows did little to alleviate its perpetual lack of light. She hummed a tune, stealing glances at Frodo while she tore up extra strips of linen. From the size of the stain that had spread through Pansy’s compress, they would need more than what she had ready.
As Pansy pressed the cloth to Frodo’s arm, he scowled. He seemed more embarrassed and angry than hurt. He could hold the towel himself, he complained testily. Pansy silenced him with a look. She could always manage her favourite lad. Although she teased Frodo terribly – especially about his growing up – and although she gave his ear a good pinch when she thought he needed it, she loved him and he knew it.
When the cloth was lifted away, they all leaned in to look. The sight of Frodo’s wound so alarmed Estella, she began to wail and Rosamunda had to send her out. Charged to stand at the garden gate, her task was to watch and bring word as soon as the lads returned.
Once all the children were out of the way, the real treatment began.
The rock had cut Frodo’s arm at an angle. Thankfully, it was not dangerously deep. Still, it gaped in an ugly way, flecked inside with grit and river slime. He flinched and could not restrain a gasp when Pansy began to sluice the wound with soapy water, but he did not cry out.
Rosamunda forgot to hum. She occupied herself with pouring bowls of water and washing out bloody cloths, providing Pansy with fresh ones.
Between winces, Frodo looked daggers at Pansy, muttering complaints at every step. Finally Pansy stopped work, gave his sweaty cheek a smacking kiss, and grinned.
Frodo struggled to maintain his thunderous look, but his chin quivered and the familiar smile broke through.
“Now, that’s my bonny love,” Pansy smiled, giving him a sweeter kiss. Then she gave his nose a rub with hers. He grimaced, but his blush disclosed his pleasure. After that, Frodo behaved better.
Merry and Freddy returned, bursting through the door, their chests heaving as they argued over who would deliver up the coil of gut, Estella dashing in behind them. Estella hung back at first, but the little boys came as close as Pansy would permit, planting themselves at Frodo’s side opposite her. Further away than that they would not go. They even leaned against him.
Whether intended to lend him bodily support or whether they did it for their own comfort, Rosamunda could not decide. But, either way, the friends were determined to stand by their fallen captain. Unwilling to be long left out Estella crept closer but stayed behind her mother’s skirts, peeping round when curiosity would overcome her fear. The two lads did display some concern over their hero’s injury, but their faces shone with the confidence they felt as Frodo was put to the test. And they wished to witness every step of it.
Pansy finished sluicing the wound. Then, twisting the corner of a soapy rag, she used the point to coax and flick away the stubborn bits. Frodo’s face became very white indeed, and Rosamunda feared that he might faint. She nearly reached for him but checked herself, lest she mortify him.
He did not faint but held himself very still, staring straight ahead, his jaw set, making no sound as Pansy poked and prodded. But when at last she began to stitch, Frodo turned away, letting the tangled mop of his curls obscure his face. He appeared to be studying the floor near Rosamunda’s feet, but she saw the fat drops fall and splash, staining the flags dark.
As if she were cleaning away a bit of dirt from Frodo’s face, discreetly she wiped the tears away.
Rosamunda longed to provide Frodo with some relief from the lads’ adoring scrutiny and tried to send them away on a pretext, but they would not budge. He was made to endure it throughout the stitching up.
Freddy’s soft eyes she remembered especially, so large and dark; they shone with an almost worshipful admiration. When Freddy had been very little, he frequently had been teased for weeping over hurts. Merry, although the younger, had stuck up for him each time. Freddy had got much better at hiding his pain and fears, but shows of valour continued to impress him terribly.
As she remembered these things, Rosamunda looked down at Frodo’s sleeping face, nestled sweetly by her breast. She thought of Freddy’s face, so open and adoring, and felt a tiny stab. How might her son regard his older friend now, she wondered darkly, if he knew of their love? How might that face look if he could see his hero, naked in his mother’s bed, lying in his father’s place?
She did not like to think of it.
Rosamunda studied the scar on Frodo’s arm. It was no longer noticeable, not really, since grown pale and faint. Pansy’s neat stitches and Frodo’s youthful constitution had worked their healing magic. That such a wound could have healed so well, leaving barely a mark, gave her comfort.
Well, she thought, rousing herself. She might loll about gazing at Frodo for hours, but, really, they should be getting up.
Breakfast would do very well. The smell of sizzling rashers could pull Frodo out of any slumber in the best of spirits. They could take their time over it for a change, too. Yes, a breakfast would do very nicely.
Slowly Rosamunda rolled herself out from under Frodo’s arm and leg and began to inch herself towards the edge of the bed. She had not got far before a languid arm snaked around her waist to draw her back. Frodo, making an array of waking noises, had not yet opened his eyes but held her securely, snuggling up behind her.
Inwardly she rolled her eyes. His merest touch aroused her, and she wanted him.
“Mmmm ...” he droned, snuffing into her hair, now a heap of tangles piled upon the pillow behind her. Nosing it away, he pressed a few lazy kisses into the back of her neck as he let his hands wander over the front of her. Her risen nipples attracted his fingers and he toyed with them sleepily, but she was wide awake. Her skin swarmed with prickly heat.
He let her go and stretched, arching his back and wagging himself against her, rubbing pleasurably as if he were a rutting buck and she were a young tree. Clasping the tops of her shoulders, he yawned and mumbled into her nape, “What is the time, Rosa?”
“Morning, I am afraid,” she said. Still on fire from his touch, she awaited his response. She did not wait long.
Frodo lurched up on one elbow. So abrupt were his movements she felt a draft. She twisted about and saw him gape, aghast.
“That’s torn it!” he declared and fell back onto the pillows with a smack. After a moment, he turned onto his side to face her back. Brushing the rest of her hair aside, he began to trace her contours with his fingertips while he considered. “I don’t know what is to be done, now,” he muttered, brooding. As she felt his hands shifting over her skin, she imagines the furrow between his brows and the pout of his lip.
“I shall never get back unnoticed,” he said, continuing to fret. Pensively he began to knead her arms and shoulders; lightly at first but then more deeply. Rosamunda thought it delicious.
“Well, there is no use in worrying about it, dearest,” she soothed, smiling at him over her shoulder. Supremely relaxed, she could not muster any serious alarm. “We shall have a good breakfast, and then we shall think of something. You will see.”
“Oh, I suppose you are right,” he agreed, sighing.
Frodo fell silent and, turning her head again, she watched as he gazed towards the window. Through the open casements the sun still poured, the birds still sang, and the curtains fluttered. Then he glanced at her and smiled, this time in earnest, as if now resigned to make the best of it.
She settled again into the feel of his hands.
“Well,” he said more cheerfully, “I suppose I really needn’t hurry off, need I?” After a significant pause he added, “And I am hungry, now that you have mentioned it.”
He stopped kneading and Rosamunda glanced back at him. He was looking at her from beneath his lashes, his eyes sparkling darkly.
“In fact, Rosa, I am quite starved,” he said. A slow smile spread across his face.
Beginning at the angle of her neck, he made a show of feasting upon her. Low, rumbling sounds of relish vibrated between her ticklish shoulder blades that made her giggle. But she caught her breath when he brought his hips closer, drawing the tip of himself across her lower back and leaving a trail of sparking heat.
Rosamunda had prepared a witty rejoinder but forgot it, wrapped in the warm silk of his arms and belly and chest and thighs. Slipping a hand under the narrow of her waist as she lay on her side, he twined the other around from the top to hold her tight against him. He rolled back against the bank of jumbled pillows and pulled her partway on top of him, leaving his hands freer to do what he willed.
While he nipped and suckled the lobe of her ear and made a shivery trail of breathy kisses over her shoulders and back, he ran his palms all over her front, down her sides and up her belly. Over and under her breasts they went until she was sighing with fervour. Urged on by her excitement, Frodo forgot she could not bear right now the deeper strokes she loved so well, and she winced. He released her breasts at once, but before he could lift them away, she clapped her hands over his and held them captive.
“No, don’t stop. I like it,” she said. “But, more carefully, Frodo, love.”
Frodo paused for a moment then took her nipples each between a thumb and forefinger. With exaggerated delicacy he began to tweak them, his little fingers extended daintily.
“Now, that doesn’t hurt, does it, Rosa?” he asked, his chin perched over her shoulder.
Rosamunda began to laugh but moaned when he pressed more deeply, rolling and squeezing the swollen nubs in an easy manner, the pulsing rhythm striking up such a blaze between her legs it spread to the tips of her fingers and ears. She squeezed her eyes shut and nearly squealed at the exquisiteness of it.
She imagined his rejoicing smirk as she breathed her reply, “No, Frodo, it doesn’t.”
Overcome, her head wilted back upon his shoulder. She rolled her face away, inviting his mouth, and Frodo courteously obliged. Already her hips were moving in time with his hands and mouth, pressing wanton circles against his groin, frankly begging to be delivered.
Frodo did not deliver her. Rather, he shifted slightly, as if to avoid the perils of that dark, warm valley that plunged between the hills, repairing instead to the safety of the heights.
But the heights were not safe. With her pulled back upon him so, Frodo had pinned himself against his own belly, held there by the round cheek of her buttock. No, he was not safe at all, Rosamunda rejoiced, feeling the flex and release of his hips as he began to move, letting himself be rolled and pressed in the way she knew he loved.
In undulating ups and downs he drove against her springy softness; gently at first, but then more deeply, gasping and shuddering as the delicate skin was tugged and pulled until it was stretched taut. No longer were his kisses tastes and traceries. He devoured her with real hunger. Rosamunda struggled to turn around, yearning to return such kisses, but Frodo held her fast, unwilling to relinquish his present pleasure.
That his pleasure had become intense, she knew: again he forgot the tender state of her breasts, kneading them too deeply. But Frodo anticipated her protest and checked himself before she could speak. He released her breasts gently, but only to slide his hands down her sides until they met, one over the other, cupped over the juncture of her thighs.
Embracing the plump mound with his hands, Frodo made a sound in his throat like humming as he massaged and squeezed, rocking her with waves of pleasure. Deftly he unfurled her tender folds until, slicked with her own wetness, his fingertips had laid her bare to his subtle ministrations.
Frodo’s circling fingers were exquisite but Rosamunda ached for something deeper. That he might know it, she moaned plaintively.
“Oh, dear,” he breathed over her shoulder, all solicitude. “That didn’t hurt, too, did it?”
Even in the midst of such delight she chuckled.
“Do let me make amends!” he said, panting lightly. “There, my love. Is that better?”
He slipped his fingers inside and she groaned as he curled his fingers.
He really was very terrible.
Making a valiant effort, she answered pertly, “No. That did not hurt. And, yes, that is better.”
After that, no pert replies were possible as Frodo settled in to work his magic, weaving a spell with his fingers, inscribing her as if with runes of power. High, breathy wails, which signalled her last ascent, were rising from her throat. She kicked off the last remnant of sheets. She arched back and squirmed against him, no longer inviting or begging, but demanding that he take her.
Frodo’s groans had been rising, too, as she pressed back harder while he ground his hips against her. Then all at once he clasped her tightly round the waist and yanked her up, pulling her onto her hands and knees. Between her shoulder blades, she felt his warm huffs of breath as, quickly, he positioned himself. She nearly swooned, beside herself with anticipation, when his damp curls spilled across her back as he kissed the top of her shoulders. When his kiss became a bite, she whimpered piteously. She dropped to her elbows and reached for a pillow to clutch in her hands. Her breaths came in hitches. She spread her knees and dipped her back, flexing her hips even more deeply, presenting herself to him as brazenly as any beast in season, ready to be taken.
He crouched over her, his breathing slightly faster (more from exhilaration than from passion, she suspected, flushed as he must be from the triumph of having brought her to such a state). She laid her cheek upon the sheets and watched his hand reach down beside her, just touching the bed for balance. The other hand he slipped under her waist. She thrust back, hoping to take him, but he parried easily. With a firm grip he kept her still as he teased her, lightly running along her most sensitive places with his moist, polished tip.
“Frodo, please,” she cried, part protest and part plea. She did not know whether to laugh or to weep.
As if to console her, Frodo bent forward and traced the shell of her ear with his tongue. The sound and feel of his breath sent such a wash of heat over her she felt faint. When he seized the flesh at the angle of her shoulder in his teeth, she went up in flames and lunged back. She almost caught him.
“Ah, Rosa, Rosa,” Frodo almost crooned as he gripped her hips, subduing her while she panted beneath him. His voice was soft and musical, like a young bullock’s lowing under a hedgerow at noon.
“Always, your body is wonderfully frank and outspoken,” he extolled, “yet, words you withhold. Can you not say these things to me?”
He had spoken in a playful way, his manner light, but she felt the gravity behind his request. A husky edge to his voice betrayed his depth of feeling.
“Come, love,” he cajoled, “Humour me. Tell me in words.”
He wound his arms around her waist and laid his cheek against her shoulder, speaking from just behind her ear.
“After everything you told me last night,” he said in a more subdued manner, “is it still so difficult to speak? Surely, it cannot be.”
His voice was almost hushed as he urged, “Come, Rosa. Tell me you want me. Tell me to stay.”
Why was it that she did not say these things? He observed aright, now that he pointed to it. Why did she shy away from lovers’ speech? Why did it seem when she opened her mouth to say such things, she felt as though she were falling, slithering another level down into she knew not what … a chasm or vortex … something with no bottom.
Yet she had wanted to fall, hadn’t she? In any event, it was too late. She had fallen already. There was no recalling herself, not now. All the more, then, should she not withhold the words he so hungered to hear, especially when they were true.
“Forgive me, Frodo,” she said, striving for a bantering tone. “You are right. I have been stingy with my words. I had not meant to be, truly. I shall do better….”
Abominable. She sounded like the newly-elected mayor standing on a stump at Michel Delving at his investiture. Why should Frodo listen to such drivel?
Suddenly she longed to see his face, craving the reassurance she would see in his eyes, but she could not.
Frodo noticed her efforts and, while he did not release her, he leaned over her and placed his cheek beside hers as he waited.
She had meant to proceed in the same playful manner as his, but Frodo was so near … his warmth and scent surrounded her. He hovered so close she could sense his expression even if she could not see it. How high his heart was; how open and expectant his manner. She opened her mouth but no bantering word came forth. Silently, love had coiled around her entrails until every last bit of evasive mirth had been squeezed out – as well as her breath.
When at last she gave utterance, her throat was dry and her voice rasped.
“Don’t go,” she began, but faltered.
As if he understood her distress, Frodo smoothed a velvety cheek over hers, making soft nickering sounds, like a pony might, encouraging its balky mate over a difficult place in the road.
So moved was she by Frodo’s gesture, Rosamunda could not go on. The love that had been twining about her heart struck, sinking in its honeyed fangs and flooding her with such tenderness it made her weak. Her arms quivered and her ears buzzed. The warmth of his skin against her back, the sound of his breathing, the feel of his cheek, the brush of his lashes, the pulse in the base of his throat as it throbbed next to hers made her feel as though she might expire from sweetness.
How inexpressibly dear to her he had become!
“Stay,” she began again. “Don’t go. Stay with me, Frodo – or I shall perish from want of you.”
As if content at last, Frodo sighed into her nape and dropped his forehead into the dip between her shoulder blades. His breaths were even, warm and moist.
“You shall not perish, Rosa,” he said, lifting his head. With a soft chuckle he added, “At least, not from want of me.”
He smoothed his hands along her ribs and down her sides, seized a lungful of air, grasped her firmly and, with a deliberate push, entered her. He moaned low as slowly he eased himself inside, filling her with himself to claim her completely.
It was so exquisite, and she had waited so long, Rosamunda thought she might perish on the spot. But Frodo did not begin at once. Curling himself over her back he rested for a moment.
“If you should die, Rosa,” he whispered merrily, “it shall be from too much, not too little of me.”
Although his voice was mirthful it was husky, too. Restrained excitement shuddered through him; she could feel it. In sudden recognition, Rosamunda saw that his mirth, unlike hers, was not a cloak for something else, but arose from only joy.
“After all,” he added cheerfully, his breaths accelerating, “you shan’t die alone.”
Rosamunda glanced up and saw that his arms trembled as they reached past her for the head of the bed. He grasped the wood of the rails; she caught her breath. But as he held himself poised, every muscle and sinew tensed and ready, he lowered his face towards hers. She pushed up on her hands to offer him the side of her face, arching her neck and turning her head.
Frodo smoothed her face with his, just grazing the corner of her smile with his lips. He let go one hand from the bedstead to give a tender squeeze about the waist.
“You shall die, Rosa,” he said, his voice rich and mellow in her ear. “But I shall be dying, too! We shall die together. And, if we die together,” he concluded reasonably, “what can be sad in that?”
Frodo gripped the wood tightly, his knuckles white. Exulting, he surrendered himself to his certain death, taking Rosamunda with him.
They were still locked together when Frodo tumbled them onto their sides, both of them thoroughly spent. Still hanging on tight, he spooned up behind her.
Rosamunda could feel his heart hammering like thunder against her ribs but gradually the thumping slowed, assuming a strong, steady beat. She nestled herself more deeply into his embrace, tipping her head back for a kiss. Then she reached up behind her for a handful of curls, which she twisted and coiled between her fingers.
Freshly exhausted, Frodo murmured fragments of endearments as he kissed the throat so plainly offered. Then, even the murmurings dissipated. They lay together for a time content to be silent, listening to the song of birds outside.
“I know what I’ll do,” he said at last as if he had been thinking of it all along. “I shall cut across field and go home by way of Overhill.”
This remark recalled Rosamunda to the gravity of their situation, but she could feel no serious alarm, so secure and comfortable was she in Frodo’s embrace. Leaning back against his chest, she merely nodded.
“People are used to seeing me tramping back from Folco’s after a late night,” he said, as if convincing himself of the wisdom of his plan.
“But what of all the Boffins?” she asked, turning on to her other side to face him. She wriggled up closer and hooked a possessive leg around him.
“Someone is bound to see you, Frodo,” she cautioned once she had settled. “Folco, at least, will see you and speak to you, surely.”
“I am sure he will,” Frodo answered, “In fact, I wish that he may!” Then he studied her face, and, stroking her cheekbone with his thumb, he said rather darkly, “I had meant to speak to him, anyway.”
Frodo’s mood from the night before came to mind, making her wonder.
Slightly alarmed she said, “Not about …”
Something flickered behind Frodo’s eyes before he dropped his gaze. His thick lashes veiled whatever else she might have discerned.
He drew his face across her breasts then burrowed his cheeks between them where he impressed a kiss.
“No, Rosa,” he answered, lifting his head. “Not about us.”
More brightly, he said, “I only meant to speak to Folco about the party. Bilbo is planning a dinner. Did I not mention it? Forgive me, Rosa. I forgot, I had so much on my mind.”
Rosamunda smiled. “Yes, you did,” she said, stroking his cheek. “But a dinner party? Just before haying? That is awkwardly timed.”
“No, after the haying, now that the weather has cleared. Nothing grand; just a few friends and neighbours.”
“Who?” she asked, stroking her palms over his chest. “Which neighbours and friends?” She slipped a hand behind his neck to lace her fingers in his hair.
“Why, you, of course!” he cried, pleased by her demonstrativeness. He squeezed her just under her ribs, making her giggle.
“My, that will be a small party,” she quipped, eliciting his smile. So enchanting did she find it, she brushed his lips with a light kiss.
“Am I to be the only guest, then?” she asked.
“No, indeed!” he grinned, taking her chin between his thumb and forefinger and wagging it back and forth. “There will be more than two Bagginses to ogle you, Rosa, be assured,”
He gazed at her a moment before returning her kiss, over which he lingered.
Then, a little breathless, he clarified, “Bilbo has asked the Boffins – Marco and Folco will be there.” He swept his hands over her while he spoke, stroking her like he would a Shire mare. A smart pat on her rump reinforced her impression. She smiled. He did not seem able to keep his hands still; running them everywhere, or else gesticulating as he talked.
“He is inviting Delphie Brockhouse, too,” Frodo said.
Rosamunda quirked her brows.
“Do you not know of her? I have forgotten you aren’t here most of the year; you do not know every bit of gossip. Delphinium is Folco’s secret sweetheart,” he explained. “Well, not very secret,” Frodo laughed. “Everyone in the West Farthing must know! But she’s not yet of age, so they go through the motions of discretion.”
Rosamunda smiled her understanding. She knew all about such discretion from the year Odovacar had courted her. She had not been of age, either.
“Bilbo announced it at the Ivy Bush last night with a good deal of fanfare,” Frodo continued.
“Announced what?” she asked, recalled.
In a grand style, Frodo orated, imitating Bilbo in his cups.
“‘Delphie must come!’” he proclaimed, sweeping an expansive hand through the air. “‘Delphinium must come, and her dim brothers, too!’”
“Why the dim brothers?” Rosamunda asked. She had heard Bilbo make rather cutting remarks about Marcho and Blanco Brockhouse with regard to their lack of social charms.
“Why?” Frodo blustered, still in mid-performance. “Why? For the sake of appearances, of course, my dear Mistress Rosamunda!”
“Oh, yes!” he said wryly, dropping his impersonation. “Bilbo is so noble and generous he is willing to suffer even Delphie’s dull brothers – in aid of Folco’s cause, that is.” He gave her a conspiratorial smile, saying, “Bilbo loves his bit of mischief. Well, you know all about that, Rosa. Only think of Lithe!”
She smiled, recalling the Mothers and Sons dance. Bilbo had been very naughty.
“I think Bilbo does what he does for the fun of it,” Frodo went on. “At least, in part. He simply likes to see how people behave in various situations. He would never admit it, of course. If pressed, he would insist he was inviting the Brockhouses out of sheer, hobbity kindness.”
“‘Delphie and the dim brothers must come!’” Frodo said, reassuming Bilbo’s tipsy oratorical style. “‘We must not to waste a chance to strengthen Folco’s suit!’”
Frodo’s mirth suddenly dried up and she heard him mutter, “As if Folco needed any help strengthening his suit!”
Rosamunda looked her question. Frodo coloured faintly and glanced away.
Then he pulled her close, touching his forehead to hers.
“What I mean is,” he said a little gruffly, “Folco is quite able to do his own courting. He doesn’t need any help from Bilbo!”
Following this speech, he assailed her with moody, aggressive kisses. They seemed passionate but she felt that his mind was elsewhere. When he pulled his lips away, Frodo stared past her shoulder and was silent.
“Oh,” he said, as if suddenly remembering, “Did I mention? Rollo Boffin is coming, too. He is down from the North, visiting.”
He cleared his throat.
“No, you did not mention,” Rosamunda replied, “But Folco told me when he brought my last order.”
Frodo recoiled – or had she imagined it? She must have done. At that moment, he had begun to knead her shoulders and neck in a very pleasing manner. She relaxed into it, luxuriating in his soothing touch.
“Folco is such a friendly soul,” she continued amiably, picking up her train of thought. “And so kind – or else he is very pitying,” she said with a laugh. “I imagine he thinks I live a very dull sort of life out here with the sheep!”
Frodo made an indecipherable sound.
“When the Boffins send their delivery, Frodo,” she went on, glancing at him now and then, “did you know that Folco usually brings it himself? He might easily send it with Mal instead. I think it very neighbourly of him. He always stays to chat, too, yet I am sure he must be very busy. And his conversation is always so agreeable! I am always sorry to see him go, you know. No wonder you like him.”
Frodo grunted. He did not look at her but kept his eyes on his work.
“In any event,” Rosamunda concluded cheerfully, “Folco told me that Rollo has four children now. ‘Very lively,’ he said they were.”
More silence ensued as Frodo worked on her arms and hands. So satisfying was it Rosamunda turned over, offering him her back.
“Yes, very lively,” Frodo replied once she had settled, digging in deeply. “Or so Marco said last night. So lively, in fact, the children are not being asked. They will be stopping at the Boffin’s with Nana and Grandad.”
“What? Not coming? Oh, that is too bad!” Rosamunda exclaimed, chagrined.
“Tina their mother will come,” Frodo countered smoothly, but faltered a little as he added, “Along with Rollo, of course….”
“But not the children!” Rosamunda’s disappointment was patent. Folco had mentioned that the youngest was still a nursling. She loved little babies.
“Bachelors can be so intolerant!” she remarked testily, but recalled herself and qualified her statement.
“Not Bilbo, I didn’t mean. He always has been very welcoming to little children.” She glanced back to say, “Which makes me all the more surprised – that Bilbo would agree to such a plan, I mean.”
Frodo made no comment but carried on with his work. His fingers (which always seemed to her too delicately made for any real labour) were quite strong, and the rhythmic pressure they exerted was profoundly satisfying. Her relaxed state, coupled with his continued silence, encouraged Rosamunda to speak more freely than she usually might.
“I am sorry about the children,” she said, “but Tina is to come you say? I should like to see her very much. We have barely seen each other since she married. She used to come down from the North every summer to the Smials, you know – she and her younger sister along with their cousins. Not that we were friends – I thought her too babyish then.” Rosamunda laughed sheepishly at the memory of her ‘tweenish prejudice.
“Tina was a very charming, lively sort of lass,” she enthused. “And very pretty, too, when she had grown up.” Turning to give him a sidelong grin, she added, “Even for a Took she was much sought after. In fact,” she added confidentially, leaning into his stroke, “I wondered how Rollo ever persuaded Tina to marry him!”
Frodo’s rubbing suddenly tapered off.
Immediately embarrassed by the looseness of her tongue, Rosamunda suffered mortification. What a thing to have said about the brother of Frodo’s best friend! But it was too late to unsay it.
Graciously, she added, “Of course, Rollo is very good-looking, like all the Boffin men….”
Frodo had stopped kneading altogether.
“Oh, don’t stop, Frodo! It’s lovely,” she cried. Glancing over her shoulder she saw that Frodo’s face was stony.
“What is it?” she asked, taken aback.
“Nothing,” he hurried to say, blushing. With an abashed smile he said, “Please, do go on. I am interested to hear what you would have to say about Rollo; truly.”
He took up the stroke again.
Inwardly Rosamunda chastised herself, but very cordially she began, “Rollo is a very good sort of fellow, but he is so …”
Her intended frankness failed to materialize. She said only, “But he’s so … quiet.”
Frodo made no reply, kneading steadily.
She twisted round to glance at him, hoping to gauge his mood. Thankfully, she saw that his face was no longer stern. His brows wore an interrogative lift. She turned away relieved, but resolved to speak more plainly.
“What I mean is, Frodo … Rollo is not at all like his brothers, is he?”
Frodo’s kneading slackened as she sensed him leaning closer.
At the last, she found she could not say a hard thing without Frodo’s reassurance. Twisting slightly, she lifted a hand to touch his cheek. She was encouraged when he clasped her hand and held it there.
“In what way?” he asked, attending closely.
“Rollo is your friend, Frodo, I know,” she ventured. “But …”
She took a breath.
“Well, he hasn’t very much to say for himself, has he, Frodo …? Oh, bother!” She blurted. “Honestly, Rollo is awfully dull, don’t you think?”
She was astonished as Frodo gathered her up and tumbled her over himself, landing her onto the other side of the bed. Pinning her to the sheets he inundated her with ardent, laughing kisses and squeezed her until she was breathless.
“Ah, Rosa, how I love you!” he cried, rolling onto his back and pulling her onto his chest. “And how I love that you are mine!”
Rosamunda joined him in his happiness. Pushing herself up to look at him, she swung her hair aside.
“Oh, Frodo,” she laughed, exhilarated. “How you make me laugh – and how I love it when you do!”
He pulled her down then for a searing kiss, as if taking her compliment as a challenge, his passion burning every bit of laughter away.
Things were moving towards a second postponement of breakfast when Rosamunda rallied, recalling her earlier resolve.
“We really should be getting up,” she insisted, struggling out of his embrace.
He attempted to coax her back.
“Just one more kiss!” he said.
She laughed and thrust him away, rolling herself to the edge of the bed.
She was about to rise but glanced back to see Frodo’s silent plea. He had perched the point of his chin on the pillow he held plumped under the hollow of his throat, his face an importunate triangle tipped slightly to one side. His eyes beseeched, but it was the merriment that sparkled in them that almost won her back.
As she leaned upon her elbows, she looked at him with fondness that could not be hidden.
How lovely he was, sprawled upon his stomach in the midst of the rumpled linens, his arms hugging the pillow under his chin. She followed the line of his back, letting her eye linger over the way it sloped between his hunkered shoulders to dive gracefully into the dip of his waist, before springing over the rounded muscles of his buttocks.
This would never do.
“Oh, Frodo,” she sighed, “I would throw myself upon you, really. But we must be getting on.”
To show her resolve, Rosamunda swung her legs over the bed and stood, snatching up the thin nightdress to slip over her head. As it dropped down over her hips, she felt a gush of warmth and wetness trickle down from between her legs.
She and Frodo must have been exceptionally effusive, she thought to herself, amused. She should have thought to bring a towel.
She glanced towards Frodo, about to suggest he fetch one when she saw his face. At the sight of it she froze.
He was sitting bolt upright on the edge of the bed, his face white as he stared aghast at the vicinity of her feet. Dread pricked her spine and the back of her neck as she followed his gaze.
It had not been only the usual flow from their lovemaking. There was blood, too. Red blotches stained her gown. Streams trickled down her legs. As it snaked down her ankles and over her feet she understood at once the reason for Frodo’s horrified look. He would be thinking of the night before, when she had told him of that time at Shady Bank….
“No,” she said at once. “It is not what you are thinking. It must have been pooling, Frodo, while I was lying down.”
Frodo gazed at her, uncomprehending.
“The blood, Frodo,” she said more plainly. “It isn’t a baby; it is only my menses.”
It isn’t a baby … it is only my menses.
Suddenly visions of night and stars and a tiny shell bloomed in her mind.
Rosamunda began to weep.
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.