Threshold: 8. The Rising of Bread

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8. The Rising of Bread

Chapter 8 – The Rising of Bread.

1400, June 26, Afterlithe ~ Bag End.

The next morning, Bilbo was able to make some headway in his work on Dwarves in the Second Age. After picking at his elevenses, however, he puttered around the house – casting an eye out the windows – when he couldn't help it. He took further sustenance an hour later, then went and sat outside on one of the benches in the gardens.

It was very fine out. The sun-baked flags radiated a comfortable degree of warmth through the bottoms of his feet. Pulling out his pipe, he prepared it while admiring the work of Sam and the Gaffer, in evidence all around him. The first flowers of summer were just passing their peaks. The oranges and scarlets and deep pinks of Bag End's high summer garden were showing their heads in the midst of the waning riot of purples, blues and yellows. From his seat, Bilbo could see the labourers striking the biggest tents of Lithe from the Party Field. Everything else had been taken away the day before. He had been closeted in his study, however, and had not seen it.

Bilbo smoked, paying only fitful attention to the gardens or the goings-on below. It was the Hill rising up behind him that drew his eye. The leaves of the great oak that grew there stirred and glittered in the light breeze under the brilliant sun. Although he tried not to, he caught himself glancing over his shoulder not once, but several times in the space of so many minutes. Confound it! Where was the boy? Not a boy, he reminded himself. It still took getting used to.

Looking at the garden dial, Bilbo saw that the sun was past its zenith. He watched the afternoon shadows stretch past the noon mark until his pipe went out. He might as well go back inside, he thought. Before he went in, he ventured one more glance back at the Hill and at the lane that curled around from Overhill behind it. There was nothing.

The interior of the house seemed dim after the glare of the midsummer sun. Bright spots swam before his eyes. On a whim, he walked back down the hall to Frodo’s room, which stood at the end. Bilbo cherished his own privacy and had hoped that Frodo would feel the same. Frodo had.

The door was part-way open, just as it had been when Bilbo had got up that morning and glanced that way. But, now that he actually stood in the threshold, Bilbo saw that Frodo’s clothes from the night before were strewn in a trail that led beyond his sight. Bilbo tiptoed in.

Frodo had been there all the time! Bilbo could have smacked his brow for a simpleton if it wouldn’t have made too much noise. Of course! Rosamunda wouldn’t allow Frodo to come sauntering back in broad day light. Bilbo gazed at his nephew, still fast asleep. A smile crept over his face, crinkling all the way up into the corners of his eyes.

Frodo hadn’t bothered with a night shirt, Bilbo could see, but it was warm enough without one. His nephew lay sprawled on his stomach beneath a rumple of summer linens, his arms and legs going this way and that, rather like a sprinter who had been stricken mid-race. His breathing was deep and peaceful.

Frodo would not be up any time soon, he guessed. When had the lad got to bed? Well, not to bed, but to sleep, Bilbo corrected himself, his eyes twinkling. When he tiptoed out and went to the kitchen, he was feeling very much improved.

Should he have lunch? No, he’d just have another little taste of something to tide him over until tea. Surely Frodo would be up by then. Bilbo didn’t like to admit it, but he had actually missed the lad, once he wasn’t there. But now that he knew Frodo was home and under his roof, he felt up to having another go at his book.

Yes, he decided, patting his waistcoat smartly with open palms. Just a snack would do for the time being, then a good-sized tea, later – with Frodo.

* * *


When Frodo did emerge, the afternoon was well advanced. He was dressed and looked as though he’d washed, the curls around his face showing the damp. Already busy in the kitchen, Bilbo restrained himself from staring at his nephew openly.

“Hungry?” Bilbo asked, with only the briefest glance at Frodo’s face.

“Starved!” Frodo answered, stretching.

Bilbo shooed his nephew’s hand away from the serving plate. “Just wait! Everything’s ready. I’ll take this. You tip those off and bring them with you.” Upon the stove, a batch of sweet rolls stood puffed up high upon a baking sheet. Heat was still rising from them.

Frodo fingered them gingerly onto a plate and carried them in behind, holding them up to his face to take in their fragrance. “Are these the honey ones?” he asked. “They smell like it, but even better.”

“Honey almond," Bilbo answered. "When I was at the merchant's last week he let me know he'd got some almonds in from the South, by way of Bree. He let me have a good-sized sack at a pretty price: a couple of bottles of my best. But I think these rolls are worth it."

Bilbo plucked up a warm roll, taking an appreciative whiff. Pulling it open, he spread it with a lump of butter and let it melt. Frodo dribbled his with honey, as well.

Nothing else was said until they had worked their way from warm rolls to the cheese and meat. Both of them seemed to want to say something, but neither knew where to begin.

Bilbo decided to go first.

“Will you be going back to Rosamunda’s?” he asked, keeping his eyes on the piece of bread as he piled it with alternating slices. He looked up only when he sensed Frodo’s eyes upon him.

“Tonight.”

A teasing exclamation was on the tip of Bilbo’s tongue. Already? he was about to ask with a wink and a grin, but something in the younger hobbit’s face kept it back. Frodo smiled, but the smile was soft and diffuse, more reflective than jubilant. Bilbo searched for a better tone before he ventured a response.

“You enjoyed yourself, then?” he asked, but was taken aback when Frodo reached across the table and covered Bilbo’s hand with his.

“Oh, Uncle,” Frodo replied, “It was – she was – I am so happy!”

The older hobbit averted his eyes from the spectacle of Frodo’s remembered rapture. It was something Bilbo himself had never felt in all his experience. He did not wish Frodo to see his own sudden regret.

“I hope you made her happy, too!” he twinkled cheerfully, instead.

Frodo dropped his eyes as colour mounted to his cheeks. “Yes – that is – I learned to.”

“Good! Well done, Frodo!” Bilbo exclaimed with hearty bluster, relieved to see the characteristic blush. Retrieving his hand, he gave Frodo's hand a pat and returned to his meal with zest.

That was more like it, he thought – much more familiar territory. Frodo, however, said no more.

Bilbo flourished the last roll before his nephew, the one that had been the largest. "Take it! Go on, I've had enough. You need it more, I think," he added with a quick grin.

Accepting the roll, Frodo smiled at Bilbo's raillery, but made no further remark.

Bilbo continued with verve, "Though I say it myself, these buns turned out exceptionally well, don't you think?"

Frodo's mouth was full but he nodded his enthusiastic assent. When he had swallowed he smiled again at his uncle, but said nothing. A very warm, appreciative smile, Bilbo thought, but the lad was doing next to nothing to liven up the conversation. He wished to rouse Frodo from this state or mood, but was not making much headway. The lad seemed…Bilbo did not quite know what Frodo seemed. Happy, certainly; attentive – yet – a little subdued, even removed.

Well, of course he was a bit removed! Frodo's mind was otherwise engaged, under the circumstances, Bilbo snorted to himself. Frodo would make better company once this first burst of passion was over and done with, he shouldn't wonder. It would all become routine – it was just a matter of time. But time was growing shorter for the two of them, just a little, was it not…?

Pish and bother. Bilbo would not think of that, not just now. He could indulge himself in such thoughts once Frodo had gone out. He wanted no shadow cast upon the time they had remaining.

Snapping the crumbs from his napkin, Bilbo rose. When Frodo stood to join him and began to clear away, Bilbo stopped him with a hand to his arm, saying, “Never mind these for now, my lad. It is so fine, let's go out and have a bit of a walk, shall we?”

"Yes, Bilbo, I should like that very much." Slipping on his waistcoat, Frodo joined his uncle at the door. The afternoon was well advanced when they walked out and down the Row: two hobbits, arm in arm, out for a stroll.

Bilbo didn't get much out of his nephew as they walked, but Frodo was companionable enough, joining in whenever the elder hobbit raised his voice in song. The shadows were getting long when they decided to round off the afternoon with a few mugs down at the Ivy Bush.

Back at home, they read until their dinner, which they brought outside to the garden. As they ate the sun began to sink behind the Hill. Frodo joined Bilbo in a glass of fine sweet wine to go with afters, taking it in little sips. With effort, Bilbo refrained from making a toast to Frodo's successful first night. Nor did he suggest a second glass. Bilbo could see the younger hobbit’s eyes glancing towards the north-west with imperfectly concealed anticipation. No, Frodo would not be staying. Bilbo did not need to ask.

* * *


Bilbo watched Frodo settle into a routine with Rosamunda, but not one that evidenced a subsiding of their mutual interest. After three weeks Bilbo saw his nephew no more than he had after the first night. Rosamunda dined with them at Bag End twice or thrice, but they had all been rather awkward together. Frodo had been unable to keep his eyes off Rosa and she, abashed by the attention paid her before his uncle, attempted to hold up the conversation for the both of them. It was just as well that Frodo saw her elsewhere (at this stage, in any case).

When it got dark Frodo would walk the hills to Rosamunda’s, coming back home by dawn. The mornings, and sometimes the early afternoons, Frodo slept away. Bilbo worked, closeted in his study.

Frodo slept through Sam's visits, too. Samwise long had been having lessons from Bilbo and still did, once or twice a week during second breakfast or elevenses, depending on the work at hand. Sam had learned his letters years before, but now it was the tales he wanted. He knew them by ear but longed to read them for himself. Frodo usually sat in on these, ostensibly to help, but more for the fun of watching Bilbo teach and embroider upon the histories as written.

Now Bilbo led his pupil through the texts without the extra listener. If Frodo continued to fail to appear, young Sam didn't complain – and didn't ask questions. An early riser, Sam had his own ideas as to what might be keeping Mr. Frodo so late abed.

When Frodo did get up, he would join Bilbo for luncheon or tea. Then they would do something together, whether seeing to business, going for a walk or a paying a call. Although it was unspoken they reserved their afternoons for each other. Even if they stayed in, if Frodo was working on a journal or deciphering a text, Bilbo made it clear he might be consulted without Frodo receiving a sense that he was interrupting.

After supper they would stroll down to the Ivy Bush or, less often, to the Green Dragon which was further off. These visits were a long-standing ritual of summer. High summer could be hot and the ale houses were dark and cool. Whenever Bilbo made an entrance he was always greeted fulsomely. He was an esteemed raconteur – as well as being good for several rounds. If Bilbo preferred to stay at home, Frodo would go on his own. He also was good for several rounds but was less accomplished as a story-teller. His arrival, therefore, was not greeted with quite as much popular notice. On his own, Frodo did not stay as long, leaving before sunset – not just that he might get back to Bilbo – but in order to get a good start on the night ahead.

In this way, Frodo was missed by some of his friends, the ones who came by after dusk.

* * *


July 14, the night of the new moon ~ Hobbiton.

It was not yet sunset when Frodo excused himself from all and sundry at the 'Bush. Even the Gamgees were not nearly finished, and they were usually the first to leave, on account of their early work day during summer.

Stepping out of the cool of the inn into the built-up warmth of the afternoon, Frodo ran smack into Folco and Marco Boffin, just walking up. This was a bit of bad luck. Frodo stopped, receiving their warm greetings. He cared for the Boffins, but inwardly he wished to be gone.

"You're not leaving, are you, Frodo?" Marco, the youngest of the Boffin brothers exclaimed with open disappointment. "Why, Rollo is here! He's just on his way down now, Frodo." Rollo, the eldest of the many Boffins, was already married to a North-Took lass and lived up near Long Cleeve, on the edge of the North Farthing's moors where the hunting was still quite good.

"Stay for a round or two, at least," Marco implored.

The sight of the sun, lower now in the sky, exerted the stronger pull on Frodo.

"I am sorry, Marco, really," Frodo said, excusing himself. "I'm just off home, actually. Another time? Give Rollo my greetings, though, will you?"

Folco gave Frodo a sidelong look – a rather knowing one, Frodo thought. The sensation of alarm it occasioned made the tips of his ears tingle. He hoped he wasn't beginning to blush. Such a thing would never go unremarked by his friend. But Folco only said, "All right then, Frodo. Another time it must be." Yet his black eyes twinkled as he clapped Frodo on the shoulder. "Give my fondest regards to your uncle,” he said, “if that's where you really are going, you sly dog!"

Folco's wink and manner were so broad, however, Frodo felt sure he was only teasing.

As soon as he saw the Boffins step inside the inn, Frodo was off, feeling much relieved.

* * *


The sun was beginning to drop behind the crest of the Hill when Frodo got back to Bag End. He would just say a quick good night. Conveying Folco's greetings to Bilbo, Frodo dashed inside to change. His clothes reeked of pipeweed and slopped ale, he had noticed. Perhaps a quick wash would be in order, too.

When Frodo emerged, he found Bilbo still sitting outside in the garden, his wine beside him on the bench, his pipe in his hand, ready to fill. Immediately, Frodo warmed to the sight of the old hobbit and checked his headlong rush. It was not as though he was expected at a certain hour and minute, not really. Joining his uncle, he sat where Bilbo had patted the bench in invitation.

"Bless me! I thought you had gone on, hours ago." Looking Frodo over, Bilbo noted the change of clothes. "Yes, those will do nicely. Though I must say, Rosa does not seem much interested in what you've got on," he said, leaning his shoulder into his nephew’s.

Frodo smiled and dropped his eyes, but exhibited only the slightest blush. "I dare say you are right, uncle," he admitted with a chuckle. "But I thought they smelled of tavern."

"I see. Women and smells. Just as I warned you, my lad." Bilbo seemed pleased to have elicited a grin. Lifting the bottle, he ventured, "Won't you join me? You'll just need to pop in and fetch a cup."

Frodo brought another capacious goblet and sat down. Topping Bilbo's, he poured his own. The sound of the wine filling its bowl seemed loud, as if he were filling a basin. The breeze had dropped to nothing. Distant sounds of isolated hobbits down the Row, doing last homely chores came up to them with remarkable clarity. Frodo drank, lifting the bowl to his lips between his cupped hands. Even his swallow sounded loud to him.

Together they sat and luxuriated in the quiet.

"Look. The sun is setting," Frodo said, his voice trailing off as together they watched the splendour of the last slanted rays striking the contours of the land that stretched off into the east beyond them, saturating everything in richest hues of purple and red and gold. His uncle's soft, enraptured voice only enhanced the loveliness of the scene.

"Ah, Frodo…! On an evening such as this, I wonder how I could ever leave!"

Frodo said nothing, his eyes and thoughts filled with the beautifully lit prospect before them. But in the ensuing pause he realized he was expected to comment.

"Leave? How could you? You know you never would," Frodo laughed. "What would become of Bag End? The Sackville-Bagginses would pounce – and you couldn't let that happen!"

A little under the influence of the wine, Bilbo leaned into Frodo again, saying in conspiratorial tones, "the Sackville-Bagginses … Hah! They shall never have Bag End! It is you who shall live on here after me, of course. It will be your Bag End. And your children's." Bilbo followed this with a series of affirming pats on his heir's arm.

Frodo, himself beginning to feel the effects of the wine on top of a few tankards of ale, returned his uncle’s affectionate nudge.

"Oh, Uncle,” he chuckled. “You're not on about dying again, are you? You are far too fit to alarm me, I'm afraid! No more, please, of 'When I am gone,' or 'When I have left you at last!' It seems to me that you will be around for many years to come!"

Bilbo did not comment, but poured himself another glass, watching with pronounced attention as the last of the ruddy liquid poured out in a dwindling stream. Picking up his pipe, he gazed into the empty bowl.

Then, lifting his eyes to his nephew, Bilbo said, "Would you care for a pipe before you go?"

Bilbo’s voice was cheerful, but his eyes bore just a trace of wistfulness, Frodo thought.

The softer shades of early twilight illumined his uncle's familiar face. But the twilight also spoke to Frodo of the cottage – of Rosa waiting. A breeze rose and the first songs of the night birds were struck up. Frodo felt it as a cue.

"Actually, Bilbo, I think I should be off." Frodo's tone was hearty as he tossed off the last of his wine, feeling its effects in earnest. Standing, he added, "But I shall take you up on the offer of a pipe tomorrow."

Frodo had to force himself to look at Bilbo beside him, for he did not want to see that his uncle wished him to linger. But Bilbo's wistful look had become merely thoughtful. He seemed about to speak, and Frodo paused, his eyebrows lifted encouragingly.

Bilbo merely observed his nephew, smiled, then grinned. With a laugh, Bilbo waved Frodo away with the back of his hand, saying, "Oh, be off, for heaven's sake!" He snorted out another laugh, but paused to add quite warmly, "I shall look forward to that pipe, Frodo."

Frodo stooped to kiss his uncle's soft cheek. Fighting off the rising love he felt for the old hobbit, Frodo turned from him where he sat, and strode away.

Bilbo watched as Frodo leapt easily up the bank, in spite of the wine and ale. At the top, Frodo paused, turning to give his now customary farewell wave. Then he was gone from sight.

* * *


Just after sunset ~ Rosa's cottage.

Looking out the open door at the pink and gold and azure light, Rosamunda leaned into a batch of dough, readying it for the first rise. The oven glowed behind her but did not make the room hot, now that the cool of evening had come. The colours of twilight, visible through the windows and open door, were so lovely she let one lamp suffice. Little light was needed, she knew her work well.

Rosamunda was a talented cook; she loved good food and was willing to prepare it, but she had not the artisan's delight in execution. Cooking was merely the necessary means to a desirable end. Bread, however, she loved to make.

It had grown too warm in the last weeks to do any baking by the time she had got up – keeping such late hours as she did these days. As she never knew just when Frodo might arrive, she preferred to keep herself busy with work for her hands in the latter part of the day. It kept her from fretting or becoming impatient and, sometimes, it kept off desire. But not bread-making. It only exacerbated it, she was learning.

She had always found the kneading of dough satisfying labour, but now, as thoughts of her lover flowed through her mind, the actions were almost mesmerizing. Everything about it recalled some facet of love. Such simple ingredients, mixed together. A pinch of yeast quickened the loaf and made it big-bellied. Up to the surface the yeast rose, frothing in its little bowl, earthy and pungent, spreading its rich, creamy head. Then, onto the board it all went where, under the work of her hands, what started out stiff and unpromising came to life. Firm and resilient, then – yielding under the rhythmic push and pull – satin-surfaced, supple and altogether pleasurable to touch.

The aroma of the dough wafted up and Rosamunda breathed it in, luxuriating in the smell. The smell of bread at every stage delighted her, whether that of the kneaded dough as it warmed under the hands, or the intoxicating aroma of it baking. These were better to her than lavender or roses! She hoped the cottage would be filled with the smell of bread when Frodo arrived. If he was not very late, Frodo might have some while it was warm, just as he liked it best – smothered with butter and honey. Warm or cool, he would want it. Frodo might be coming of age but he still had a youth's appetite. He certainly did. A growing one, she chuckled appreciatively.

Then Rosamunda paused, thinking of her own appetite, also growing. She did not chuckle at that. In fact, it troubled her. Although she continued to remind herself daily it could not go on, she was doing nothing about it. In fact, she anticipated his coming more and more. She must make a better effort! She would start tonight.

Ah, tonight…

Oh, dear, now she was becoming warm. Her hair was coming down, too. One strand was being particularly tiresome, hanging over her eye. Her fingers filmed-over with dough, she tried blowing it away, but it would not budge, floating back down each time. Giving it up, she paused to smooth the strand away with the back of her hand, glancing up as she did so.

For a second Rosamunda started, seeing a figure there, silhouetted against the round of the open doorway, for she had heard no sound of steps approaching. It was only Frodo, of course. But the little jolt she had felt did not disappear, but dispersed through her as prickles of heat, making a circuit over her skin, spiralling up from the soles of her feet all the way into the her scalp. Stop it, at once, she admonished.

Bother! He wasn't even yet in the room.

* * *


"You are making bread in the dark?" Frodo enquired, laughing with gentle incredulity. "Here; I'll bring more light."

Surveying the sideboard he chose another tall lamp, rather than candles, which were comparatively short. Lighting the lamp, he carried it to the table and set it down where it might illuminate her work better.

"There. How is that?" he asked.

"I suppose it has become rather dark in here, hasn't it? Thank you, Frodo."

Rosamunda glanced up, giving him a quick smile of gratitude, but dropped her eyes again. She did not look at him, only at her work.

Frodo chose a spot directly across from her, in order to watch. The light from the lamps glowed and wavered, playing across her face, making shimmers in her gold-brown hair. Her lashes cast shadows upon her cheeks, gleaming and burnished by the sun. She seemed too absorbed in her work to notice him, so Frodo could look his fill.

Rosamunda wore her usual clothes, a long-sleeved bodice tucked into skirts and an apron tied about her waist. The bodice was buttoned up most of the way but her sleeves were pushed up for working. She must be very warm, Frodo thought, especially with the shift she probably wore beneath. She did look a little flushed. Each time Rosamunda reached, he noted the way the cloth of her sleeves strained over her shapely arms in little folds and creases. Following the line of her arms to her shoulders, he paused to admire their comely strength before he let his eyes descend. Frodo again was grateful that Rosa disdained the use of stays for, oh! the weighty richness of her breasts – like fruit that swayed from the ends of branches ripe for the plucking.

Frodo sighed; he would be content with looking only. He had arrived determined not to become carried away.

While attending to the matter beneath her hands, Rosamunda spoke.

"I had put off lighting another lamp, before, on account of the heat," she explained. "And I wanted to see the colours. Outside, I mean – the colours of the twilight."

Rosamunda gazed out the doorway behind him, savouring the last of the twilight she loved. But Frodo was looking at her.

"Besides," she added, leaning into the push before pulling up the dough to bring it back, "I have done this so often, I don't really need to see. I can tell what I’m doing, just by the feel."

These appeared to be ill-chosen words, Frodo could see, for Rosamunda ducked her head as if suddenly embarrassed. Roses bloomed beneath the brown of her throat and cheeks. Humour won out, though, and a smile tugged up the corners of her mouth and mirth frothing up into giggles, restrained only by the back of her hand. Nearly composed, she risked a look at Frodo.

Colour had streaked up his own neck, he knew; his cheeks felt hot. She would see it, surely, as well as the look in his eyes. Indeed, at the sight of him, Rosamunda's mirth vanished. She would not – or could not – hold his gaze. She turned instead to her work.

Frodo had caught the glitter in her darkened eyes, however, and noticed the hitch in her breath. Even from the other side of the table he knew the blood was rising in her, humming a song he could only sense, not hear – an echo of the rising chorus outside of crickets and frogs as the twilight deepened into night. Frodo felt it rising within himself. Who would succumb to its music first?

Frodo had entered the cottage resolved to hold back, which meant, in practice, making Rosamunda wait. When he would arrive, she was usually so keen, Frodo would become quite swept away under her heady ministrations. Spurred by her ardour, he would plunge ahead, soon to outpace her in excitement and she would be left behind. She seemed to love to ravish him on the spot.

In the beginning, Frodo was keen to be ravished. He would be abashed but she would laugh, saying it would take the edge off – for later – and so it did. But now, Frodo felt the need to show more self-command – if not for her, then for himself. It fretted him that he was always the first to succumb. Or, nearly always.

This time, he meant to somehow keep her off; this time, Frodo meant to ravish her first.

But now that he was here, Rosamunda was showing a marked degree of reserve. Perversely, Frodo found he badly wanted to break down that reserve. He shook his head at himself for only a moment, then gave it no further thought.

He moved against her at once, with the weapon of proximity.

"May I help?" Frodo asked, beginning to move around the table.

Rosamunda smiled, but her eyes were on the table top, where she was sprinkling a bit more flour. "Thank you, Frodo," she answered, "but I am almost finished. Just a bit more, now. Then, into the bowl, for the rising."

Her manner was bright but her voice sounded a little constricted.

Frodo came to stand beside her, as if to watch. And he did watch.

Her breaths were coming quicker now, as he stood so close. She worked with greater vigour. He saw and could almost feel the press of the heels of her hands as she sank her weight into the push away, then gathered the dough to lift it deftly for the turn. With each push her long fingers flexed and splayed, up and apart. Frodo thought of her legs, the night before. The dough looked glossy and smooth as it stretched, pliant under her expert touch.

As she would become under his, he thought.

Frodo felt a little parched; he could do with another cup of Bilbo’s wine right now. He licked his lips and swallowed.

"I'll just get some water, Rosa. Would you like some?"

She gave him a glancing smile as she thanked him but declined. Reconsidering, she accepted, draining the cup he gave her quickly. She accepted another. Frodo tried not to watch her tip her head back to finish the last of it, her strong neck stretched in a graceful arch as the liquid coursed down her throat.

“How long for the rise?” Frodo asked, recovering himself. He moved a little closer to enjoy the affect he was having upon her.

“In this warmth, only about an hour – maybe less," she said, drawing the back of her hand across her brow to remove the errant strand of hair.

In this warmth, indeed, Frodo thought.

He leaned in close, taking in her scent.

“An hour? – that should be enough,” Frodo softly said, venturing a kiss in the fragrant hair behind her ear.

Rosamunda trembled and Frodo rejoiced, but she pressed on towards her work's completion, moulding the dough into a fat round. Pulling a heavy earthenware bowl towards her, it scraped loudly as it scudded across the table.

"Hand me the butter, Frodo, would you, please?"

Frodo espied it at the far end of the table, softened and spreading upon a plate. He gave it to her but she still avoided his glance as she took it. Piqued by her restraint, Frodo stepped behind her and slipped his arms around her waist, resting his chin upon her shoulder, as if to watch. He thought he heard her make a little squeak. He smiled.

"You are distracting me, Frodo," she admitted, scrunching up her shoulder to dislodge his chin.

"I know," he answered simply. Rosamunda sighed dramatically, lifting his chin as she did so, but also her breasts, he noticed.

Swiping off a generous portion, she smeared the butter between her fingers and palms. It made a squeaky, slippery noise and the smell of it wafted up to Frodo's nose. He watched as she gingerly took up the ball of dough and tossed and turned it gently between her fingers, coating it thinly all around. Nestling himself up close behind her, he enjoyed all the sympathetic movements this made.

Rosamunda appeared to be satisfied with her work. Setting the buttered round into the base of the crockery bowl, she covered it with a thin, damp towel that lay ready nearby. Frodo felt her exhalation of completion against his chest, as he held her in an easy but close embrace.

At last, he thought.

He watched Rosamunda examine her buttery hands then pluck up a towel, with which she began to wipe them clean. She had finished one, but Frodo intercepted her before she could wipe off the other.

Clasping her wrist, he drew her buttery hand up and away, holding her around the waist with his other arm. Her head naturally followed in the direction of the hand that Frodo had seized, presenting a tempting expanse of her very sensitive neck. Frodo paused in his purpose and assailed her there, in ways he knew she loved. The resulting shivers and sighs gratified him. They also removed any resistance, as he continued to bring up her captive hand behind her. The gentle backwards pull induced Rosamunda's back to arch; the shivers coursing through her caused her knees to weaken and bend; and all encouraged a tilt to her hips that fitted her more snugly against Frodo's already heated groin.

Ah, yes...Frodo thought, arching his neck and pulling air in through his teeth at the feel of her settling back against him. The urge to rip open his breeches and hike up her skirts at once possessed him but, with a fresh effort of will, he restrained himself. He would content himself merely to savour the warmth between the springy hillocks of her hips, discernible through the layers of cloth. She felt him, he was sure, for she lurched away with a tiny gasp, but acquiesced at once when he pressed her back with a splayed hand, lower now, just below her belly. Like that – There…

Frodo joined her in a shudder as he finished drawing her hand all the way up and back, till it was just behind her shoulder, her buttered palm facing him.

"Oh, you will get my hair all buttery, Frodo," she protested when she finally noticed where her hand was. She tried to retrieve it in vain.

"No I won't," Frodo answered smoothly. Popping a buttery finger into his mouth and then another, he sucked and licked off every bit, in his most luxurious manner.

"Oh! Oh!" Rosamunda cried, soft and high, as she wriggled her legs together in an excess of pleasure – which wriggled everything else.

Oh, oh, indeed, Frodo thought, again fighting off the urge to take her then and there against the kitchen table. He had pictured it often enough. Obviously, her fingers were exceedingly sensitive. Her palm, too, he noted, which was very buttery as well. He licked that off with the flat of his tongue, but across the dip in the middle, where the butter was thickest, he had to rake his teeth. Finally, sucking up the pad of flesh in the angle between her fingers and thumb, he laved it with a finishing swirl and sweep.

This brought on a fresh wave of sighs and whimpers – high but more drawn out. They were wonderful to hear. Frodo had no need to hold her to him any longer; she was pressing back against him and moving herself all about. Reaching her free hand up to find his neck, she twisted her fingers into the hair at his nape. She wanted him closer; she wanted to kiss him – he knew it.

This was becoming too much for Frodo, but he was determined not to surrender. There would be no surrender but hers. He would render her senseless, as senseless as she made him. Withdrawing her fingers from his mouth, he would let her know of this.

"Do you know, Rosa," Frodo began evenly, in spite of the huskiness in his voice – "Do you know how it feels when you do this to me?" Frodo demonstrated what he meant, slowly sliding a finger all the way into his mouth, then dragging it back through a gauntlet of suction and lips and more teeth and always a strong, sinuous tongue flickering, slithering, enfolding and grasping as he moved it slowly in, then out.

Rosamunda made him no answer, but Frodo expected none. Rather, he felt her grow weak, as if she might faint beneath his arm, but for the clutch of her fingers in his hair which she did not give up. He caught her up again with his free arm, rejoicing in her affliction. There would be no fainting, not yet.

Frodo's own breaths were beginning to come too quickly. His little demonstration was taking an unexpected toll on him. Trying to fight his rising desire only seemed to make him feel its effects more keenly. His actions became impatient, almost brusque. Pulling her against him with a rough jerk, he squeezed her under her ribs and tightened his grasp around her wrist. He heard her sharp intake of breath, but compressing her body under his hands seemed to make it easier to keep his mouth soft and silky upon her fingers.

"Your fingers are very sensitive, Rosa, are they not?" he said, forcing himself to breathe more slowly. "Yet, my body, in your mouth, is far more sensitive than your fingers." She wilted with new pleasure as he demonstrated again.

"You like that, don't you, Rosa, your fingers in my mouth? That is what it's like when you have me in yours – only so much worse!"

Frodo loosened his grip for a moment, sensing he was beginning to cross some boundary; but, having crossed it, he squeezed again. He could hear a new strain in his voice, as if he spoke through clenched teeth. Rosamunda must have heard it, too, for her body had stilled. She felt suddenly uneasy in his rigid embrace; alerted; listening.

Where was he going with this? Frodo wondered to himself. He did not clearly know. Gulping down another lung full of air, he strove to finish – but to finish what? He plunged ahead, heedless.

"I want you to know what it feels like, Rosa," Frodo said, his voice rising. He heard the edge in it, but could not sheath it. He yanked her against him again to keep himself from shouting.

"I want you to know what you do to me – what you make me feel. I want you to feel it! I want to make you feel it!"

Rosamunda twisted around to face him, in spite of her captured wrist. Looking into Frodo's flushed face, her eyes blazed.

"You say you want to ‘make me feel it.’ Feel what? What do you want me to feel? Do you really not know what you make me feel? You cannot tell? I am astonished! Must I have one of these for you to be able to tell?"

She had grasped Frodo through the cloth of his breeches, startling more than hurting him, but he grimaced and let her go.

She stumbled backwards, but pressed up close to him again to say in a subdued but almost fierce voice, "Well, Frodo, you must look for other signs, mustn't you!"

Frodo nearly shrank from her, feeling thoroughly chastened.

Rosamunda appeared to relent at the sight his dismay and altered her tone at once. Reaching out her hands she touched his face with her fingertips, as if she might feel out his thoughts.

"You do everything to make me ache to touch you, Frodo. Surely you see how you have succeeded. Or … is it your success that you regret? Oh, I do not understand what it is you want of me."

Upon the last, Rosamunda dropped her hands and turned away.

It felt to Frodo as if a portion of the room's warmth suddenly had withdrawn with her, clinging to her skirts as they swung away from him.

What did he want of her? He wanted everything she did to him. He would die without it!

He would die without it….but would she die without it? Frodo felt as though he had trod upon a serpent. Oh, he did not know, not yet! But he must speak.

"Rosa…I don't know. That is, I meant – I think – I wanted you to feel – I just want to think that you care for me, too."

Frodo struggled to find better words.

"I know that I please you –" Frodo saw her shoulders flinch. "But," he said, taking a deep breath, "I do not know –"

Frodo halted and stared at his feet. He could not say it. He would have said, I know that I please you – but I do not know that you love me. He did not say it, for he could not. If she did not love him, he did not want to know.

Frodo was relieved to look up and see Rosamunda turning to him again, with a softened face, the face he knew. She looked into his eyes. He was not certain what she saw there, for he could not veil them from her, but her own eyes shone. She came to him and twined her arms around him, swift and sure, and he felt no further reservations in that instant.

"I do care for you, Frodo!" she said, one hand upon his cheek, her dark eyes engaging his.

Frodo averted his gaze to hide his disappointment in a kiss upon her neck.

I do care for you. She might have said that to him when he was little! But that was all he had said to her, Frodo admitted to himself, nuzzling his face into her hair, burying himself in her fragrance. He must tell her how he felt at some point, or he would burst! Their private little summer was coming to an end, Frodo knew, however much he pushed the thought aside. He must tell her, and tell her soon.

But not tonight, he thought, wrapping his arms around her as far as they would go, savouring her soft closeness.

The room was restored to warmth.

"Do you think the dough is ready yet?" Frodo murmured behind her ear.

Gently, Rosamunda pushed his shoulders back to look at him. She smiled the smile he loved, tender and familiar.

"There is only one way to know for sure," she answered. "We must go and see." She brushed his nose with hers and gave his lips a feathery kiss.

Their arms about each other's waists, they moved towards the kitchen table.

* * *


"Check the fire, would you, Frodo?” Rosamunda said. “You could help with the bread, if you would like."

Rosamunda lifted the dampened cloth and examined the state of the dough.

Frodo prodded and stirred the fire in the box, adding a bit more fuel.

Rosamunda was aware that Frodo knew his way around a kitchen, but Bilbo took charge of all the baking at Bag End. Bilbo had insisted, however, that Frodo help him at every step, so that he might learn. Rosamunda knew from humorous tales that Frodo was an indifferent cook who had to be prodded.

Pressing a finger into the risen round, Rosamunda checked its progress. It sighed and did not return the imprint.

"It is ready," she said. "There is enough to make two. Would you like to do one of them, Frodo? Or would you rather not?"

She thought he might acquiesce, simply to be polite, but he actually looked pleased.

"Yes! I enjoy making the loaves," he answered, smiling brightly.

She knocked it down and cut it in two, handing him a half. On the dusted table they set to work. Frodo pressed and pummelled his portion out flat, then tucked it under into a round, very neat, pinching the overlaps to seal them well.

Rosa was taking her time with hers, the handling of the finished dough being her favourite part.

"I want to see you make a long one, Rosa," Frodo smirked, sending them both into snorts of mirth.

She arched a brow but, grinning, did so – stretching and rolling and squeezing the dough – punctuated throughout with moans and sighs interspersed with giggles in which Frodo joined. He added a few groans and yelps when she pinched it under, at the ends.

The atmosphere seemed quite relaxed again. What sort of mood had he been in, she wondered?

Carefully, Rosamunda laid her loaf down one side of the tray she had buttered and dusted with meal, inviting Frodo to do the same. She covered them both with the dampened towel.

"It's not quite so warm now – but they should be ready in another hour or so," she said, straightening the corners of the towel. But even as she glanced up, Frodo had already slipped behind her, pulling her to him in a close embrace.

"Oh, Rosa!" Frodo sighed into her ear, kissing her in earnest up and down her neck, while his hands travelled up over her breasts and down her belly with fluid motions, leaving trails of effervescent sensation everywhere in their wake. She felt herself melting into him, so closely pressed behind her, as if the intervening hour had not happened.

She gave herself up to whatever he might do to her.

Off came the apron, which Frodo tossed on the table. Then he began to unbutton her bodice – he was much better at this now. His motions were not hampered by his usual haste; soon he had them easily undone. Reaching inside he touched the cloth of her shift. She felt a disappointed snuff of warm air behind her ear but then a grunt of satisfaction when he found the little ribbon ties that went all down the front. The shift was one she had worn when nursing Estella – or perhaps it was as old as Freddy – for Rosamunda never stopped wearing the things that she loved. These shifts had long plackets down the front, tied together with ribbons.

Leisurely, Frodo pulled each tie undone, assailing her neck and shoulders in a most delicious manner as he did so. Rosamunda felt herself swaying and listing, becoming altogether soft and pliant as she yielded under the barrage of his hands and delicate, succulent kisses. The dough must feel like this, she thought. When the ribbons were all untied, Frodo slid his hands inside the placket. Lifting out her breasts, first one and then the other, he hefted them as if testing their weight. She felt the wafting heat of the lamps upon her skin but warmer still was his touch.

Such limited access wasn't enough to satisfy Frodo. Pulling the sleeves, he drew the bodice off, kissing her bared shoulders as they were revealed. With a few gentle tugs, he pulled the bodice out from under her waistband and dropped it in a chair. Rosamunda leaned back into him, luxuriating in the softness of his cheeks and lips and the moist warmth of his breath. Next he dispensed with the top of her shift by drawing it down over her shoulders, first one side, then, the other. Still cinched in by the waist of her fastened skirts, it draped down over her forearms. She felt like a child being prepared for bed as Frodo lifted out her arms, kissing the palms of her hands as he did so.

Rosamunda thought the skirt would go next; she trembled with anticipation as she felt his fingers brush the buttoned tab. He was being so patient! – far more patient than she. But Frodo was not yet ready for the removal of skirts; she felt his hands slide around her waist and up her ribs to capture her breasts again, this time to knead and squeeze and pinch and roll. Oh, it was beyond delicious! Trying to touch him, too, she reached up behind her to twine her fingers into the loose curls she loved which tumbled down his neck.

Rosamunda heard sighs, high and breathy – they were her sighs, threatening to become moans. She made an effort to restrain them, as if holding them back might contain the mounting excitement she felt. She might stifle her cries, but the unconscious rhythmic rolling of her hips as she arched against him betrayed the state of her desire.

"Oh, Rosa!" Low and throaty was Frodo’s voice this time, more like a heated panting than speaking, just beside her cheek. When suddenly he released her breasts and loosed her hands from around his neck, Rosamunda squeezed her eyes shut and nearly cried out, so bereft of him she felt. But then, her eyes still shut, her ears and skin prickled to hear the whispering slide of his brocade waistcoat, then the rustle of the linen shirt. She opened her eyes in time to see both of them flung into another kitchen chair.

When Frodo slid his naked arms around her again she felt herself enveloped in pure warm silk, his bare chest and stomach sliding over the skin of her back, making her shoulder blades quiver from the feel of it. But then he left her cold once more.

Rosamunda closed her eyes and held her breath, listening. She felt a yank as he undid her waistband buttons, followed by further fumbling about behind her. Her heart leapt when she heard the slap of his leather belt hitting the floor, then, the whispery sound of soft twill sliding down his legs. She heard the breeches scuff across the stone flags.

She couldn't wait; she reached behind to touch him but what she touched was the top of his head – he was crouching down behind her. Before she could open her eyes to look, she felt the cooler air from under the table upon her legs. Frodo was pulling up her skirts, hoisting up fabric in handfuls, the long loose shift caught up in its folds.

"Lift up your arms," he breathed near her ear, his voice charged with desire. Up and over her head it went, skirt and shift, air rushing over her skin where layers of cloth had been. She heard the sound of the heap of fabric as it hit the floor.

Though Rosamunda knew what was coming, she gasped when she felt Frodo’s nakedness against her, hot and hard as a burning brand, which torched a firestorm within her.

"Oh, Frodo!" she heard herself cry out, loudly, this time. She was all aquiver, her strong legs turned to jelly. Rosamunda didn't resist when he pulled her with him in a downward slither of limbs, her feet tangling in discarded skirt and shift. As she fell, she managed to lodge a protest, weak but plaintive, "Not the floor, Frodo! I hate the floor!"

He paused in his execution.

"Oh, very well!" Frodo sighed, with just the hint of a chuckle.

Standing up again, Frodo took Rosamunda’s arm and pulled her up.

She had a stunning sight of him for only a second, before he heaved her up over his shoulder, knocking the breath right out of her, bearing her off to the bedroom.

Rosamunda barely had leisure to marvel at this, before she was dumped upon the bed, her legs sprawled over the edge, her presence of mind knocked out of her more than her wind.

The light from the lamps in the kitchen spilled in through the doorway. Even though their light was little at this distance, in the black of the room on this moonless night, the light they made seemed greater.

Raising her head, Rosamunda could see the tops of her breasts and the rounds of her belly and thighs, but she could not see Frodo. He was a dark shape silhouetted against the doorway behind him. She pushed herself up to sit. The shape advanced at once. The edges of his body were illuminated like the rim of the moon in a full eclipse.

He didn't speak but the faint light that traced the edge of his jaw showed her he was smiling.

"Come here," he said.

She moved forward, but did not touch him, suddenly seized with a frisson of apprehension, mixed with desire. Who was he?

Mesmerized, she watched his arms and hands, edged with gold, as he reached for her. Cupping the tops of her shoulders, he ran his hands down her arms until he'd reached her wrists. Deftly, he laced her fingers into his, easing her backwards until her thighs touched the edge of the mattress. He did not urge her down. Instead, he stretched their interlaced hands up and out, bringing his chest to hers, just touching, as he leaned into her. If there had been no bed behind her, Rosamunda would have fallen. Arching his neck to the ceiling, the light shone through his suspended curls. While he slid his chest and torso over hers in an undulating pattern, his raised fingers twined with hers in some secret dance of his own devising.

Rosamunda wanted the rest of Frodo, too – she ached to feel him up against her. Arching her own hips forward, as much as she might without losing her balance, she sought him out. But Frodo kept her back.

"Not yet, Rosa," he said.

She was sure that he was smiling. Was he drunk after all?

Rosamunda wondered no more when he took her shoulders and, in a quick succession of movements, sat her down and toppled her back upon the bed.

At last, she thought. She had begun to make her way further onto the bed when, taken by surprise, the darkened shape that was Frodo intercepted her. Hooking his hands behind her knees, he gave her a good tug. She could see the edge of light outlining the bunched muscles of his shoulders as he did so.

With another yank and a shift he had pulled her hips to the edge of the bed. He stood poised before her.

Here, then, she thought. She closed her eyes in anticipation, a new a wave of heat washing over her. She closed her eyes in anticipation, a new a wave of heat washing over her. She had not been positioned like this since she had been big-bellied with Estella. It had felt unimaginably exquisite those times. But, she remembered, she always had been filled with desire when she was carrying a child.

Her eyes snapped open again when she felt herself being grasped by the legs. The dark shape had descended, leaving the top of her body glowing with light from the lamps on the kitchen table, except where the outline of tousled curls blocked it.

Frodo urged her legs back and apart.

She gasped even before his mouth touched her.

"Oh! Oh! Oh!"

Rosamunda's stifled cries rose in inflection, louder inside her head than in the room, as she began to sink into a pool of pleasure. From Frodo, she heard only breathing and the wet sounds of his chosen task. Every pull of his lips and every lap and flick of his tongue sent out pleasure as if in concentric rings, like a stone might, dropped into a still pond. Frodo had become so accomplished at pleasing her in this way it wasn't long before the pond was still no longer still, but roiling and frothing. Rosamunda was close – so very close – to being pulled under to drown in cataracts of sensation.

She wanted, she needed to hold him. She tried to reach for his shadowy shoulders but they were too far away. The fingers gripping her legs were close enough, now flexed back as far as they could go, but just to touch them wasn't enough to satisfy. Flailing her arm about, she found a pillow to clutch. Against its softness she clenched her teeth, smothering the groans which yet felt to her so unseemly.

Heavens, he was killing her! But not quite enough. She was just at the edge; buffeted, stripped; ready to fall but left to teeter, her fate uncertain. She beat her arm upon the mattress, the torment was so exquisite.

When Frodo slipped his fingers inside, too, pressing his finger tips just along the top, smooth and strong, the way he knew she loved, she fell. But Rosamunda brought her foe down with her, locking his fingers in the embrace of her prolonged agonies.

"Oh, Rosa!" Frodo softly exclaimed. In his voice there was a touch of marvel. He left his fingers where they were – stilled, now – while the spasms subsided. His other hand, spread upon her stomach, just above her navel, felt warm and soothing to her.

His heated cheek he laid upon her loins, gentling her. For the first time since they had come into the bedroom, she could see his face, if only one side of it. Light shone through the wings of his lashes.

When she was quieted, she saw him lift his head and his face became darkness once again. Revived, she expected him to rise and take her, for she was ready. Instead, Rosamunda felt his fingers awaken inside her. She trembled.

As Frodo let them begin to stir, she felt his thumb creeping up through the silky folds.

She held her breath in trepidation.

"Again?" he asked.

Frodo did not wait for her answer; her body had already done so, embracing the enemy before it had advanced.

* * *


Rosamunda was dealt another mortal blow, only to be dragged up off the arena floor to be vanquished several more times, before Frodo finally stood up.

The sight of him standing there against the light focussed every ounce of her desire on just one part of him, although she could not see it. Oh, how she wanted him! She would die in earnest if he did not help her now. All of the deaths Rosamunda had died were for her always only preliminary to this one. It was this death for which she longed, every time, from his very first glance or touch.

Glistening with sweat, her breath in tatters and her entire demeanour that of one lost to shame, she clasped the sides of her lover's waist with the curving arches of her feet, pulling him to her.

"Oh, Frodo," she panted, "Don't make me beg."

Frodo let himself be drawn to the edge of the bed.

She saw his hands reach out before she felt them, clasping her hips as he shifted himself between her aching legs. When he brushed up against her she felt herself respond inside with immediate, involuntarily clutching.

"I want you higher up," Frodo said, moving about, as he considered.

Oh, she could scream! Rosamunda threw the pillow she had used to smother her groans at his chest.

Frodo laughed as he caught it.

"Can you reach another, Rosa?" he asked.

She reached and flung it, too, but could not help laughing herself.

"Lift up," Frodo said in a more tender voice.

Bringing her feet down upon the mattress edge, Rosamunda pushed up, raising her hips while Frodo pushed the stack beneath her.

"I'm sure this will be better, Rosa," Frodo said, very sweetly, moving back into position. Sliding his hands up the backs of her raised thighs he gripped her, leaning his weight a little forward.

Rosa was held in suspense only briefly before she felt him and the fatigue of her trembling muscles instantly drained away. She shuddered down to her bones as he entered her.

She heard him groan as well, for he had made himself wait so very, very long.

Their juxtaposition forced him to slide into her just as his fingers had done, pressing along the top of her, inside. From the first stroke, Rosamunda found it so exciting she knew it hadn't been because she was carrying a child that she had loved it this way so.

Gathering himself first before he proceeded, Frodo then began to penetrate her with long, slow strokes, nearly pulling out between each one. Clearly, he was using all his restraint – Rosamunda could feel it by the tremble in his hands as they pressed into the backs of her legs, and in the quiver running through the iron muscles of his thighs as they pressed against her, at the deepest part of each stroke.

When Frodo suddenly let go her thighs, Rosamunda cupped her feet around his waist, eager to keep him close. She could see the outline of his hands reaching towards her before they gently seized her breasts. Stroking them tenderly, he continued to move within her, increasing the pressure as he deepened the strokes.

"Oh, Rosa…so beautiful!" he said. His voice was low and soft.

She thought she would melt away to nothing, to hear him say it, at that moment. It added immeasurably to what was already almost too much sensation to experience at once. The squeezing and rolling between his fingers sent bolts of fire straight to what now seemed to be the centre of her being, gathering and clamouring around him, hot and fierce, exulting in near-triumph over the invader.

"Oh, Frodo," she gasped, "I almost cannot bear it!"

"Nor I," Frodo confessed, breathlessly.

"Now, Rosa?"

"Now!"

Rosamunda felt the great bed jarred as Frodo anchored his knees against it. Gripping her thighs, he began to move, leaning into his hands, all of his concentration focussed in his deliberate, sinuous thrusts.

Slowly, he let the tempo build. Every stroke massaged but also abraded the core of bared nerves in Rosamunda, sending sheets of fire to shake themselves throughout her. Showers of sparks whirled and swirled around and through her. At every stroke, she thought she would die from pleasure. At every stroke, she imagined Frodo writing his name within her, inscribing himself indelibly, upon her body and upon her mind.

Frodo stooped over her now. The edges of light traced his chin and mouth as he dropped his head. Sliding his arms under her, he pulled her back, one last time. Widening his stance and bracing himself against the bed, he clung to Rosamunda's fair flesh and gave himself up to the apparent desire to pound her to dust and ashes.

But Rosamunda was not reduced to ashes. Instead, she curled her hips up, utterly open to him, receiving him so that every pounding thrust reverberated, sending shocks and tremors shooting through her; tremors of such intensity, she felt herself arching and straining – up, up, up – until she heard a voice crying out, "Frodo!" and the voice was hers! The sound of it seemed to reverberate off the walls of the room. She was sure it could be heard at Overhill, but she did not care. Her echoing cry mingled with that of Frodo's and, together, the rising sound of their voices winged up and up like a covey of birds flushed out of concealment.

Frodo shuddered and quaked, pulsing into her as she felt her own muscles and
flesh throbbing around him, seizing and clutching in witless spasms. Frodo
fell upon her, sprawled and shaking. Rosa did not even embrace him. Her arms
were flung out upon the bed beside her; her legs hung limp.

"Oh, Frodo," she sighed at last. "Do you mean to kill me with happiness?"

* * *


Shortly thereafter, in the midst of languorous meldings of lips and bodies, Rosamunda remembered the bread, so long in preparation. Putting her foot down, she freed herself to see to it. The loaves went into the oven, but had nearly over-risen.

Directly after the loaves went in, Frodo excused himself. Naked, he ventured out to use the privy. Well, not precisely. In such an isolated situation, and at night, Rosamunda knew he long had ceased to bother with this formality.

Rosamunda had not poured herself a cup of water before he dashed back in and seized her arm.

"Come outside, Rosa! Come out!" he cried.

Frodo tried to pull her outside with him, bodily, but Rosamunda balked. She would not – not until she had found something to put on. Taking an old cloak from a peg by the door, she pulled it round her and let him lead her out.

Stepping outside with Frodo into the mildness of the summer night, she stood under a vast, deep sky – a canopy of jet – except for the stars. There was no moon at all.

Frodo drew her away from the cottage to the grassy slopes to the west. The noise of frogs and crickets increased as they went, immersing them in a pulsating chorus only made louder by the darkness all around.

"Look!" Frodo breathed, pointing into the sky above them.

Rosamunda could sense more than see the direction of his hand.

"There is Soronúme! The eagle of the West swooping down!"

"Where?"

Except for Eärendil and the great Wain, Rosamunda could not name the stars, though she recognized many shapes.

"The star that glitters blue? Just there? That is Luinil. See how it shines like a sapphire!"

Rosamunda stared up into the night sky without the urge to identify which star was which. She wished only to behold them. So drenched in blackness was the sky the stars gleamed out with pointed brightness, the densely clustered belt directly overhead suffused with milky radiance. So vast was it, as she turned herself to take it all in, it made her dizzy. Frodo sensed this too, perhaps; she felt the tug of his hand, to pull her down beside him.

"Wait – here," she said. Taking off the cloak she had worn, she drew it along the springy turf she could not see, to make a blanket.

Laying upon their backs, they gazed at the sky above them.

"Isn't it beautiful, Rosa?"

Frodo's voice was filled with awe.

Though she plainly heard his voice beside her, it sounded far away, as if he were suspended up there somewhere, too … high, pure and remote. The stars seemed close – suspended from their ceiling of velvet blackness – as if she could reach and touch them. But she knew that she could not. They were high and far away. So very high, so very far.

"Yes, it is beautiful," she said.

"You are shivering, Rosa! Are you chilly? Come, I will keep you warm."

Frodo turned to pull her to him and she nestled closer. While his closeness was reassuring, it was the sky full of stars which held his gaze, spread vast and brilliant above them, not she. Rosamunda could feel his cheek settled up against hers as he turned his face to see it.

What did she care for the stars? At that moment, nothing at all. Not one was as beautiful as he.

Her shivering subsided as Frodo embraced her more fully, covering her with his body. She quieted beneath his solid warmth.

Raising himself upon his elbows, Frodo took her face between his hands. He could not see but could feel the wetness upon her cheeks.

"Tears? What is it, Rosa?" Frodo asked, drawing his thumbs across her cheekbones.

"It is just the beauty," she murmured.

As she lay there, Frodo seemed to loom above her, a dark shape silhouetted by the massed stars behind him. Did he block the stars from view, or did he make a hole in them? He did not seem real without a face, yet Rosamunda could hear his breathing; she could feel the warm weight of his body. He was real.

But when he bent to kiss her, the blackness grew as he drew nearer. It was as if a hole in the night sky was gaping, widening, through which she might be drawn into whatever lay behind the edges of the world.

Her stomach lurched and she closed her eyes to shut the vision out.

"Come," Frodo whispered, and pulled her up. "We'll go in. I'm hungry, aren't you? The bread will surely burn if we do not."

They were in time.

But many another loaf was spoilt in this way – burnt or never baked – and many a pot of honey or jam went uncovered. They would find them later, studded with hapless flies and bees, drowned in the sweetness.

* * *

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.

Story Information

Author: mechtild

Status: General

Completion: Work in Progress

Era: 3rd Age - The Stewards

Genre: Drama

Rating: Adult

Last Updated: 07/21/06

Original Post: 07/10/04

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