Threshold: 9. A Delivery of Cherries, Part One

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9. A Delivery of Cherries, Part One

[Note: Due to the length of this chapter, it does not fit into the allotted block here at Henneth Annun. Therefore I have divided it, for the purposes of posting here, as “Part I and Part II.” Nevertheless, it is to be read as one chapter.]

Chapter 9 – A Delivery of Cherries

Part I

* * *

1400, July 18 ~ Bag End.

The next morning had seen a change in the weather. The temperate westerly breezes were swept away by a hot wind out of the South. In the days that followed, it became warm – too warm – even for high summer. Under the few trees that spread their branches over cultivated fields and pasture lands, farm beasts gathered in tight clumps like mariners stranded on deserted isles. Pigs huddled up to the shady sides of sheds, abandoning their muddy holes. Chicken and geese gleaned only in the shadier spots, scurrying across the open spaces in between where the bright sun beat down. Only the ducks seemed unperturbed, gliding across the surface of the Water.

Before noon labourers would stop off whatever they were doing and look for shade, staying in for lunches and teas then lingering long wherever shade could be found, to do their work. Under the trees and around kitchen tables there was talk of the weather. Hot spells meant storms, and the next hay was due to be cut. The Shire had not been without rain long enough to harm the crops, though many looked wilted under the full power of the sun at its zenith.

Flower gardens thrived, however, basking beneath the sun’s brazen glare. The flowers that spilled out of Bag End’s beds were especially bright and various, Bilbo noted as he watched the Boffins’ cart approaching. In spite of the heat, Folco Boffin was behind the reins, encouraging the sturdy pony as it climbed the Row to Bag End’s door. He had the last of the cherry crop to deliver which wouldn’t keep.

Bilbo had a standing order from the Boffin orchards, as did almost everyone in the vicinity. Boffin fruit was the best in the West Farthing. Not only their fruit, but their honey and preserves were highly prized. Bag End had some fruit trees but only one cherry, which did not produce enough for even a few pies and tarts. Bilbo thought he would try making wine again this year. He’d like to leave a decent batch for the years to come, as a remembrance, if only some extra help could be found so deep into the summer.

Folco looked brown and fit, Bilbo thought, no doubt from another summer spent learning the management of the family operation. Although he was the middle son, it looked as though Folco would be the one who would run the farm. The eldest, Rollo, would not be back, as he was now married and established in the North. Folco would be the son to take it over, along with Marco, the youngest, if Marco stayed put.

Although Folco was eight years older than Frodo, he did not look or behave as if he were. Responsibility had not weighed down his irrepressible spirits. Hopping down from the seat of the cart, he sauntered up to the garden bench where the two Bagginses lounged. There they were enjoying a leisurely smoke, while they sipped from tall tankards a punch made from a crush of berries sweetened with honey. The day was hot, but the seat, tucked back under the flowering vines, was cool in the shade.

Folco mopped his brow with a handkerchief he pulled from a hip pocket, tossed his broad-brimmed hat onto the flags and greeted the two with showy courtesy. Stretching out a hand towards the younger Baggins with jaunty flair, he made a show of waiting as he tapped a neat foot upon the terrace stones. A smirk threatened to become a grin, while his black eyes sparkled. Acquiescing, Frodo returned the smirk and extended his pipe as he drawled, "Do be my guest, Master Boffin."

Folco plopped down on the end of the old bench where the other two had made a space for him. Accepting Frodo's pipe he inhaled appreciatively.

“Thank you, Frodo,” he sighed, gazing at the village below from the shelter of the bower.

"Something cool, Folco, to go with that?" Bilbo asked, leaning out from Frodo to see their visitor better. Frodo leapt up and went inside to bring another mug while Folco watered the pony.

"I didn't think you were still being pressed into service, making the deliveries, Folco," Bilbo remarked, once Folco had drunk his fill. The elder hobbit exhaled languorously before continuing, "Didn't your father turn all that over to your new lad?" Mal, sent down from the North Farthing by Rollo, had been with the Boffins at Overhill for three years now, but he was "new" by Shire standards.

"So he did, Bilbo. Why, Mal was supposed to deliver this lot, today."

Folco accepted a second drink. Turning to observe Frodo, he continued.

"But I said to myself, 'Folco, you haven't seen Frodo Baggins in a dog's age! Well, for days, at least. And when you do see him, it's just a matter of moments till – poof! He's up and gone, with a half-drained mug left upon the table to remember him by.' So, I said to myself, 'Folco, why don't you make the rounds, and find out what's what for yourself?'"

Peering at his younger friend keenly, but with high good humour, Folco asked, "What have you been up to, then, Master Baggins? No good, I shouldn't wonder!"

Frodo felt acutely uncomfortable but managed to produce a weak chuckle reinforced, he hoped, by a cheerful jab to Folco's side.

"Oh, nothing, really. Just being lazy, I expect!"

Bilbo gazed into the bowl of his pipe.

"Well, it's time to rouse yourself, Frodo Baggins! If you're doing 'nothing, really,' why not toddle on down to the 'Bush tonight? And don’t rush off as soon as you've had a round! Bilbo's not keeping you short, is he?”

Bilbo shook his head in the negative, his eyebrows raised up under the fringe of his greying curls.

“You're not trying to stint on your turns, are you, Frodo?" Folco said, adding a wink.

Even with the wink, the remark needled Frodo. Was Folco serious, just a little, beneath the joking? Was that how it had looked?

"No, of course not!” Frodo interjected. “I've just been …"

Bilbo remained silent, but gave Frodo a sidelong glance while he puffed. This is your affair, his look said.

"All right then," Frodo replied, mustering up a decent show of enthusiasm. "I shall be glad to! I’ll stand for all those rounds I’m due for, too,” he laughed; convincingly, he thought. “I'll be along rather late, though – not till after sunset, perhaps,” he qualified, thinking through his plans. “I…have a few things I want to do, first."

"Good! You do them, Baggins. Then come along – and be prepared to stay late. I've nothing to get up for in the morning – nothing that someone else can't attend to for once, anyway. And you never do, with your life of leisure," Folco chuckled.

Frodo laughed but looked a bit abashed. It was true enough, he thought, looking at his friend who bore the sweat of honest labour.

Abruptly, Folco stood up. "Come on, Frodo. Lend me a hand, will you?"

"Of course!" Frodo replied, following his friend down to the cart.

The baskets were large but the two young hobbits could swing them up onto their shoulders without difficulty and the cherries were brought inside. Back out at the garden seat, Folco brushed his hands together, then finished off the remainder of his drink.

"I've still a few more deliveries, so I’ll be off," Folco said, handing Frodo the empty mug. "See you next at the Ivy Bush, my lad. I'll save us the corner."

Bidding them both farewell, Folco scooped up his hat and strode down to the cart. Turning, he laughed and called, "Don't come on an empty stomach, Frodo!" Leaping lightly up onto the box he gathered the reins, wheeled the pony and cart around and made his way back down the Row. Mid-way, he turned again to wave a final farewell.

Bilbo puffed on his pipe as they watched Folco dwindle off down the lane. Exhaling, he finally asked, "Isn't Rosamunda expecting you?"

Frodo's brows had been knit together ever since Folco had driven off. Deep in thought, he slowly turned the tankard between his hands. He stopped turning it and answered, "Yes, she is.”

Standing up, Frodo declared, “I shall go, Uncle – I shall go straight away,” and strode back inside.

Bilbo hadn't finished his pipe before he saw Frodo step through the doorway and set off from the smial at a brisk pace. Before Frodo had got any distance at all he came to an abrupt stop, executed a sharp turn, and headed back inside. Bilbo continued to watch.

When Frodo re-emerged, he was carrying a one-handled basket. Bilbo could see it was laden with cherries.

Clever lad, Bilbo thought appreciatively, as he puffed. Rosamunda might need to be mollified. Frodo was up the Hill and nearly out of view when he paused, turned and gave his customary wave.

He had better not dawdle at Rosa’s forever, Bilbo thought, now that he had promised to appear at the Ivy Bush. But what was Bilbo thinking? Frodo would not renege.

Bilbo turned back from the Hill that rose behind him and nursed his pipe, watching the afternoon shadows lengthen, the sunny side of everything made especially brilliant by the angled light. The growing shadows, however, brought little respite. The air had grown heavier, making the heat more oppressive still. Poor Folco, up on that cart! Well, he was young and hardy.

Perhaps they would get a summer squall, Bilbo wondered, searching the sky. That would be a good thing, he thought as he scanned the fields that stretched away from the village below. A little rain wouldn’t hurt. It might cool things off, too. The sky was clear, but that could change.

Bilbo's thoughts were again with Frodo, following him over the fields to the cottage in the grassy hills. Those two would have to learn to make an adjustment some time, sooner rather than later. Should he have Rosamunda over to dine again soon? Frodo definitely needed practice at behaving when Rosamunda was present.

He needed a bit more prudence, too. Frodo gone off to Rosamunda's in broad daylight; that was risky. Rosa would take him to task for it. The basket of fruit was a good thought, though. It was too bad Rosamunda lived so far off; she might be sent a message more easily if she were closer. She could learn of a change of plans without Frodo having to walk the hour’s journey each way. But what other way was there, other than Frodo delivering the message himself? It was not as though they could send someone else…or could they? Young Sam was looking rather knowing these days…. But no, Samwise, barely a ‘tween, should not be brought into this. No, there was nothing else for it. Frodo must bear his own messages. Rosamunda would not be hearing of a change of plans over a mug of ale down at the Ivy Bush! Bilbo smiled at the thought. A Took female – in a tavern – that he could not imagine.

Knocking out the ashes from his pipe upon a stone standing near the bench, Bilbo stood up, stretched, and went inside.

It was still too hot to do any real work. He could have a go at his memoirs. Although it seemed a never-ending project, it was one which Bilbo enjoyed. He might just take a fresh peek and consider what could be included next. In his study, Bilbo leaned over the desk to push the window open further, as far as it might go, taking care to move his shell from Elrond before he did so. No breeze entered; the air was still so hot and heavy.

Undoing two more buttons at his neck, Bilbo sighed and took up the book. It opened readily to his favourite places. On a small inset map, with the tip of his finger he traced the East Road as it led away towards Bree, over the Bruinen, and beyond … towards his past and – more certainly with every season – towards his future.

Would it be this year or the next?

Returning his attention to the text, Bilbo lightly rubbed the smooth sides of the shell with his fingertips as he read.

* * *

The same day ~ Rosamunda’s cottage and its environs.

Rosamunda indeed never went into a tavern. In fact, she rarely entered the village, having neither the need nor the inclination. Odovacar had not left her rich, but she was comfortable enough, quite content with her situation in terms of her family and her home in Budgeford. But in Hobbiton, she felt she had as yet no true place. She was familiar to folk, having visited relations there since girlhood. As the young widow of the still fondly remembered Odovacar, she was even better known. But to most she remained a newcomer and an outsider. What was worse, the village folk thought her, "Tookish."

Proud of her heritage on her father's side, Rosamunda was not aware that many folk looked at her askance precisely on that account. Her newness as a resident was secondary as a reason for any reservations they might have about her. "Tookish," they had thought Bilbo's urge to look around the corners of life, curious to see what might be up ahead. Even his love of learning they thought Tookish, although this was not a Took predilection. All of this curious interest in things smelled to them of meddling, of poking about in what was not a hobbit’s business.

Since Rosamunda did not seem to share these interests with Bilbo, folk would single her out her appearance for pointing to what was Tookish. Her face was not an example of what Tookish beauty could be, but its expressiveness, the general fineness of feature and basic family resemblance marked her as a Took. She was not fair like the Tooks, although her hair was light. She had a dark complexion, like the Goolds. This they did not note. She was tall like a Took, but she also exhibited the denser musculature of the Goolds, softened by the ample curves for which the otherwise undistinguished Goold females were widely admired. It was this Goold feature in combination with the Took stature, which brought Rosamunda's appearance to particular notice. The Goold curves were simply added in with the Took height as reason for censure. This was because these two attributes thus mixed together in Rosamund typically inspired in Hobbiton males a marked response. Local hobbits tended to appreciate the combined effect exceedingly. Since Took females were generally held to be a snare to sensible hobbits, Rosamunda often was judged along with them. Matrons of the town would cluck about the Mistress Bolger, “So comely (and a Took)! And so young a widow!” Far too young – with so many years of singleness stretching ahead of her – to be thought quite safe.

Beyond her appearance folk thought it "Tookish" that Rosamunda should walk the hills and keep herself to herself. They quite ignored the fact that Tooks, on the whole, never walked when they could ride and went everywhere in company, so sociable were they. Rosamunda truly enjoyed her summer solitude. The only persons who ventured to Rosa's cottage, other than her children, were the laundress who came and went up the cart track every week, and the merchants’ lads who delivered what she ordered from the village. From the Boffins she had most of her foodstuffs. Their farm was the largest local source of produce and meat, eggs and butter, as well as flour, preserves and honey. These they usually sent to Rosamunda by Mal, the "new lad," but sometimes deliveries were brought by one of their sons, to make the transaction more neighbourly. The Boffins, as a family, were exceptionally hospitable folk. Folco Boffin seemed to be the one who made these calls most often, she had noticed. But Rosamunda's only regular visitor came at night.

Her days at the cottage were spent as they ever had been whenever her children were gone away for their visits. During the morning when it was coolest and the light inside was best, she saw to the doing of homely tasks. Then she would walk, often for hours, across the rolling sea of hills and little sloughs. Sheep from the Boffin's flocks, their shorn coats grown in, dotted the wide expanse like little puffs of white. She loved the land there round about, so like the land where she grew up. Sometimes it seemed alive to her, as if she trod over a great-muscled beast drowsing under the sun. The grass was its shaggy coat that rippled and glistened when the west wind rushed over it.

In these last weeks, however, when Rosamunda walked, the land would fade away to be replaced by images of her lover. By the time Frodo arrived, she already had longed for him every time the wind had pressed her clothes against her breasts or whipped her skirts around her legs. The spectre of the summer's end, not very far off, she continued to push away while the nights that passed increasingly filled her mind.

In the short time that followed that Mid-year night, she and Frodo had learned much in the way of pleasing each other. Rosamunda, having had the benefit of her tutelage under Odovacar, had learned what pleased Frodo sooner, but he was her pupil no longer. Able now to resist her most intrepid advance, he often could hold her off, sometimes long enough to turn the tables upon her to vanquish her first in the contest of love. Frodo’s powers had grown and he used his art to move her, more than she had imagined possible.

When she considered it in an objective light, she could not see that Frodo did anything that her accomplished husband had not done before him. He even seemed to enjoy testing himself as Odovacar had done, not only by holding himself back in order to bring Rosamunda to her climax first, but in bringing her to that state repeatedly until, utterly undone, her legs trembled beneath her when she stood. Obviously he revelled in the spectacle she made as the result of his ardent lovemaking. Did not Frodo glory in this – at least a little – as a proof of his competency, as Odovacar had done?

Rosamunda stopped and pondered this, then dismissed her suspicion. No, Frodo did not do that, not really. Odovacar had come to her a seasoned veteran of many liaisons – a generous lover but one who loved to flaunt his prowess. Frodo's manner had a different feeling to it, she thought. He was pleased with himself, clearly, but there was beneath it a certain keenness or fervour that informed everything he did. More than showing off his skill he seemed avid – almost driven – to find new ways to make her die more and more exquisitely. Perhaps, it was simply that Frodo was young and new to the joys of bringing a lover this sort of pleasure. That joy was a heady one, Rosamunda knew, from her own experience.

Yes. That was what it was. Frodo was not like Odovacar in the same way, she resolved, resuming her stride. Nor in other ways – of course not. Therefore, not in his kiss, his embrace or his glance. He was himself, with his own mind and his own body, whether it was a matter of the thoughts he expressed, or the voice with which he expressed them. Rosamunda thought then of his voice. How melodious it was and pleasing to her ear! Thinking of Frodo’s voice, she pictured his mouth from which the voice issued, uttering his thoughts in words. Envisioning his mouth as he spoke, she considered the line of his jaw and of his throat and the way it rose from the hollow between his collarbones. Remembering him speaking just the night before, she recalled the fineness of his hands as they strove to articulate his spoken thoughts.

Rosamunda admonished herself to stop it at once. Striking a brisker pace in spite of the warmth, she turned her attention once more to the land around her, mopping her face and neck with her handkerchief. The heat really had become oppressive! But not so oppressive that it kept her mind from straying, returning inevitably to the thoughts she sought in vain to push aside.

Yes, everything about Frodo was unique. His mind and body; his mouth, his voice, his speech, his hands, his face…. At the thought of Frodo’s face, Rosamunda’s stride faltered. She must not think of his face. When she imagined his face – or what she seemed to see behind his face when looked at her – it was as though all of her will emptied out of her, spiralling down and down into some abyss. It thrilled but frightened her.

No, she would not think of his face. She would think of the rest of him, instead. Those parts stirred her terribly, too, but they were far less dangerous than his face. She pressed on, thinking of those parts, instead.

Now, where had she left off? Rosamunda sought to resume her train of thought. Why should not Frodo’s touch, the way he kissed or spoke her name be different to her? If he were uniquely himself, then all these things would be different, too. And so they were. Even the feel of him inside her was different from that of Odovacar. But surely that should not be so. Chuckling to herself, she thought, they were not very different in that respect! The chuckle languished; she sighed.

It shouldn't be different – but it was. As she toiled along under the brilliant sun the thought of his lovemaking conjured images so vivid that Rosamunda soon felt overwhelmed, experiencing it all over again. Had Frodo imprinted himself upon her mind as well as upon her body? – searing her understanding like a brand – the way he already had seared her flesh? In the baking heat, she thought she could hear the hiss.

Remembered sensation crackled through nerve and sinew, all converging in one spot. In her mind she saw his name spelled out, like writing on a page. She heard it spoken – in her own voice – although she had said nothing. Pressing her fists into her skirts, Rosamunda sought to make it stop. Her head fell back, her mouth parted – all from the thought of him inside her. Heated air filled her lungs, dry as dust, and she gasped aloud from wanting him. Swallowing, Rosamunda licked her lips but the sweep of her tongue only conjured up his. Standing under the open sky she wanted to wail aloud, so parched and starved was she for the taste and feel of him. Ah, to be filled with him! Would that they could flow one into the other – then she might be satisfied!

In the middle of the grassy track atop a wind-blown hill, Rosamunda stood, her eyes squeezed shut. She made a small lonely figure in the great expanse. A sound – something moving in the grass – made her blink them open. She jumped, startled to find herself being closely observed by one of the Boffin sheep. It stood half way up a little slough beside the path. Chewing steadily, it regarded her with what seemed a baleful eye. It shifted slightly in its stance as they stared at one another. She wondered if it would challenge her, but the great beast settled back to crop the tender shoots that grew in the damp still lingering in the recesses of the slough.

Rosamunda passed, giving the animal a wide berth. Pressing on, she determined to think of Frodo no more. The hot south wind rose, almost taking her hat. It pushed against her and although it brought little relief from the warmth, it seemed to strengthen her resolve, driving her on the homeward way. But when it dropped Rosamunda’s resolve flagged with it, and Frodo's face appeared before her.

Once more lost in reverie Rosamunda was surprised to find herself before her cottage door. Perspiration trickled beneath her clothes, so hot had she become from the trudge, as well as from the sultry nature of her thoughts. Her bodice was stuck to her skin and her shift clung to her legs. Even the ribbons of her hat were limp with sweat and difficult to untie. Stepping over the threshold into the parlour, she picked them free then dropped the hat on the bench inside the door.

The house’s interior seemed blissfully cool and dark after the heat and glare of the day outside. Dug into the hill the way it was, the bulk of Rosamunda’s home lay under turf which helped enormously against the heat. The windows, however, all faced south-east. Through these poured the light which, now that it was hot, was less favourable than it was in cooler weather. The sun was moving off, though, into the west, casting the front of the cottage into shade which brought a degree of coolness. She’d have something to eat and drink, she thought. Then a cool bath would be nice. The bath she would follow with a little nap. Unable to go back to sleep after Frodo left each day before dawn – and loving the morning so well – taking a nap in the afternoon had become a necessary refreshment.

Rosamunda ate, cleared away, and prepared to bathe. Stepping into the basin, she sighed. How far away the night seemed! The pleasures of the bath were great enough to take her mind off the pleasures of the night which she anticipated. Water squeezed from a hand cloth made cool runnels down her heated skin and pattered at her feet. The sound of it reminded her of little rills falling over stones down shady hillsides. The image refreshed her.

After she had dried herself, she pulled a clean shift on over her head, letting it drop down, loose and cool around her. It was a favourite one, very old, made thin and delicate by years of wear. It had come from the trunk of things left to her by her mother, Columbina. Perhaps it had come down from her mother's mother before her. Rosamunda's mother had died before she could tell her daughter the stories of these things herself.

In the darkened room, Rosamunda climbed onto the great oaken bed, the marriage bed of her parents. Pulling the light linen coverlet over her legs she lay there, listening to the quiet. There was no sound. There was no breeze outside; no movement, no noise, not even of birds. The quiet hummed in her ears as she gazed at the planking on the ceiling up above her. It began to stipple with tiny dots as she relaxed. Soon she did not see even these as other images took their place, images of Frodo. Lulled by the cool and the dimness she let herself sink towards sleep. In her drowsy state she did not fight the pictures off, but let her hands became Frodo's, gliding them over the wash-softened summer shift. She let a hand slip beneath the coverlet, as she knew he would wish to do. Drawing up the delicate folds of cloth, in her imagination she let him find the place she yearned for him to touch. When she had been soothed in this way, Rosamunda succumbed to deep, contented sleep.

* * *

By the time he had reached Rosa's cottage Frodo was steaming and drenched. Good heavens, it was hot! The handle of the basket heaped with Boffin fruit was slippery with sweat. Not only was it hot, it was humid, with not even a breeze for respite. Scanning the sky Frodo looked for signs of a storm to come but there was nothing, not a single cloud.

Glancing through the doorway to call out a greeting, Frodo saw no one. The parlour and kitchen stood empty and silent. Some cooking things lay on the table, as if set out for later use, but that was all. It looked rather different inside in the day time, he thought. There were more details and more colours. It looked more – real.

Setting the fruit down on the bench inside the door, Frodo saw Rosamunda’s hat. He called out, tentatively, but no answer came. Where was she? Perhaps out walking – but without her hat? In this sun?

Back outside, he climbed to the top of the knoll that rose over the cottage and looked about in every direction. Except for some sheep sheltering in the copse and a few birds wheeling high overhead Frodo saw nothing moving.

In that case he would wait. He would wait for her as long as he could.

In the meantime, Frodo badly wanted something to drink. Back inside the shady house he lifted the cover from the kettle on the sideboard that served as a cistern. Using the wide ladle, he drank several draughts of water in swift succession. The water spilled from the ladle’s sides, trickling down his neck and under his wilted shirt. It felt lovely in its coolness.

Frodo would do better than that. Quickly, he stripped off what he was wearing and draped the damp garments over the backs of kitchen chairs to dry. Swinging up a couple of pails, he stepped outside. After a quick look both ways – out of habit – he strode off naked down the hill. Frodo had become used to fetching the water in this way under cover of darkness, but it was so hot he couldn't be bothered covering up.

Down at the well Frodo lifted the cover. Filling pail after pail he sluiced his head and chest, letting the spring water run down him like icy rivers until he felt refreshed. Afterwards, he stood and dripped. It seemed like ages since he had stood out-of-doors in the sun without any clothes. It felt wonderful. Earlier in the summer he'd gone bathing with the Boffins in the Bywater Pool. There were several nooks along its banks where a hobbit might wade and have a splash on a warm day. Unlike most of the local waders, he and the Boffin lads actually swam. Frodo had taught them how during the first summer he had lived with Bilbo under the Hill. These days, he'd been sleeping so late, he'd neglected these morning outings, each one a chance to feel the sun and water and air right against his skin. As he stood there, with the intervening layers of sweltering cloth removed, even the sun beating down upon him felt satisfying. A breeze freshened for a moment, making chilly patches on his skin where his water-soaked hair had dripped. He might as well go in and dry off. Stooping, Frodo filled the pails once more and carried them back up the hill, setting them down in their places inside.

He was towelling his hair when a small sound gave him a start. There it was again. It was a sigh – definitely a sigh. Frodo grinned at himself – to think he had not bothered even to look! Quietly peering around the bedroom door Frodo saw Rosamunda fast asleep upon the high, wide bed. Soft-footed, he approached, stopped and stood – still holding the towel between his hands.

Rosamunda had twirled her hair into a long tail and pulled it up behind her head where it since had come untwined, spilling across the pillow. Stray wisps curled and crimped about her face; dark lashes rested upon her russet cheeks. On her lips Frodo discerned just the trace of a smile. Her breasts rose and fell, her breathing easy and light. In the intense quiet of the darkened room the sound of it was barely discernible, so peaceful, so serene was her slumber.

Frodo clutched the towel to his chest and felt his heart constrict; she was to him at that moment supremely beautiful. In the dimness her sun-browned skin looked darker still against the whiteness of her shift. Her near arm was flung up beside her head, lighter on the underside; he could detect the delicate tracery of blue beneath the pale gold of her skin. The curling of her fingertips made a shallow bowl of her palm. Frodo looked at that palm – the palm which had offered him so much goodness throughout the years and which now held for him such unimagined sweetness. He almost expected to see nectar gathered there, pooled and spilling between her opened fingers for him to taste. He bent to do so -- but he did not -- not wishing to wake her. He meant only to look.

His enamoured eye followed a line from her hand down the curve of her arm, sweeping in, then out at the roundness of her breast, then across to its twin, just as ripe and full – the fine stuff of her shift stretched between them. Through the cloth Frodo could discern the darker shade of the areolas encircling her nipples. He leaned down to kiss – he reached to touch – but checked himself. Not yet. He let his eyes linger once more over her breasts before letting them travel downwards where the light sheet was draped over her legs and hips, shielding them from view.

This would not do.

Frodo hung his towel upon the nearby chair. Then, carefully lifting the coverlet, he drew it down below her feet. Gazing at her thus uncovered he saw her other hand which had been hidden by the sheet. Instantly, Frodo's lambent ardour was fanned by the sight of it.

Her palm rested upon her thigh just at the juncture of her hip, but the tips of her fingers nestled under folds of cloth where she had drawn up the hem. Frodo’s eyes darkened, a smile curving the corners of his mouth, as he conjectured what her thoughts and deeds had been before she drifted off to sleep. Suddenly, he was seized by desire – the desire that her fingers might be his. Seeing them nestled so, Frodo could not help thinking of the feel of her – silky-hot and drenched inside – closing tighter; tighter still around him.

What her body revealed to him was unmistakable – she wanted him; and, he pleased her. What her words revealed to him was not so clear. Frodo wished her feelings for him were plainer – expressed in words. But Rosamunda’s bodily response to his lovemaking, Frodo admitted to himself, was immensely gratifying. The way she responded to him was not only intense but seemingly unlimited. Frodo had been amazed to learn that when he had brought Rosamunda to the heights of pleasure once, with what seemed the merest additional moves or strokes on his part he could bring her there again. In fact, for as long as he wished, Frodo could topple her over the brink – over and over – she would always revive. Her capacity to respond to him was like the flooding along the Water when spring rains made the river rise until it over-spilled its banks. Overwhelming the low lands the waters would spread, inexorably, until the rain simply stopped.

Although Rosamunda obviously loved it when Frodo did this, she had pressed him about it, on occasion. Only the night before they had been laughing together after making love.

"Frodo,” she had quipped, “do you mean to make me your slave?"

The words had been lightly spoken, but Frodo thought he felt an edge of seriousness beneath them. His denial had been spoken lightly, too, but what she had said had struck something in him.

Is that what he meant to do? Was he trying to make her his slave? In some place he did not wish to examine, Frodo acknowledged that he did. That is, he wished to bind her to him. Already, he knew, he was bound to her. But he wished to be bound; Rosamunda, seemingly, did not.

"Slave" was an ugly word. But what else was it – if he bound her to him and she did not wish it? Yet that was what he meant to do, really. Every time Frodo wrought in her a state of bliss, he hoped thereby to forge another link in a chain which would attach her, fettering her body and, through her body, her heart. A delightful chain, but still a chain. To bind and to be bound…was that not love? If it was willing? It was not the sort of love he felt for Bilbo, of course. Though, in truth, he did feel bound to Bilbo, but it was not the same.

Frodo was sure what he felt was love. Did Rosamunda love him, too? He simply did not know. Whenever he thought he would dare to ask her, "Rosa, do you love me," he refrained, imagining what she would say. Of course, she did, she would say; she had always had. But that was not the sort of love he meant.

Rosamunda never said what she felt for him, not clearly. Frodo hoped that she loved him. He thought that she did – in spite of what she did not say – but things she did say unsettled him and fretted at his happiness. Things that were spoken lightly in the midst of banter, but things that Frodo took as though she meant them seriously. They made him anxious. However carelessly spoken, they all implied that Rosamunda cared for him only for the present; that she envisioned a time when she would care for him no more. She did not say, "I shall tire of you," but she said things which presupposed its happening. Things that, underneath, seemed to mean, "Someday, I shall leave you; someday, we will surely part."

Early on, Frodo had teased Rosamunda about her moans and groans which she so closely stifled whilst in the midst of the transports of love. He was not nearly so restrained himself. How could she prevent herself from crying out, he had asked her. She had laughed, "When you are married and have children of your own, Frodo, you will learn to keep your voices down, too!" Frodo had smiled but said nothing.

A few nights before Rosamunda had confessed to Frodo how much she loved it when he took her on the edge of the bed. "I haven't been made love to that way since I was quite big with Estella," she had said, then went on to tell Frodo how wonderful it had been with him. Hearing her say this had thrilled him, but then she had spoiled it when she added, "One must be inventive, Frodo, when there is a baby to consider – but you and your wife will discover that for yourselves, when your time comes."

Rosamunda had laughed merrily saying this and Frodo had laughed, too, a little; but inwardly her words distressed him. In fact, he hated it when she spoke this way. He wanted no wife that was not she, and no babies that were not hers.

Yet, in spite of her reticence to gratify him with words, in every other way Rosamunda seemed to be telling him that she loved him. Frodo was sure that her joy at seeing him when he arrived at her door had only increased, not diminished, and that her regret at his departure before dawn was more heartfelt, not less. Frodo believed it to be so. He certainly had tried to make it so. Though he knew he must yet be patient, it was very difficult. Well. He would practice patience now.

Settling himself upon the bed next to where she lay, Frodo gazed at the face of his sleeping lover and wondered of whom she dreamt. He traced the smile on her lips with his eyes, hoping she dreamt of him. He thought she did. But uncertainty gnawed him. The desire to see her look at him – to look on him with love – tugged at Frodo. He might wake her now, he thought, but gently.

Leaning across her, Frodo traced with his fingertips the smile he had traced with his eyes. Lightly he let his fingers drift across her cheek, to hover over the hair behind her ear. She did not stir. Should he speak? She might be startled. Perhaps a whisper would do better. Bending down to her, he let his lips just stray along her jaw until he reached the lobe of her ear.

“Rosa,” he whispered, so softly Frodo could barely hear himself. Leaning back, he saw the hand that lay upon the pillow twitch; the other abandoned its perch upon her thigh, dropping back beside her cheek. She sighed.

How utterly lovely she was, he thought, even thus veiled. Letting his eyes wander over her, he longed to touch her everywhere, but looking must suffice. Reaching for her face again, Frodo trailed his fingers along her shoulder then up the side of her throat, sliding the tips of them into the hair behind her ear. As lightly as he could, he stroked the rim of her ear with the edge of his thumb.

“Rosa,” he whispered again, a little louder.

"Hhmmm…" The sound Rosamunda made was somewhere between a hum and a sigh. Although she did not waken, she stretched a little, dropping her head back and to the side as she arched her neck, as if offering it up to him.

Softly speaking her name, Frodo leaned down to her throat, just where her pulse jumped. Drawing the tender flesh into his mouth, he found it both salty and sweet.

"Frodo…" she murmured, drawing out the word in two languid syllables.

Frodo lifted his lips at the sound of his name and waited. Through half-opened eyes, Rosamunda beheld his face, her lips curving into a drowsy smile.

"Frodo," she murmured again.

She had been dreaming of him, he thought, inwardly elated.

Rosamunda began to turn her head, as if to offer him the other side, but her eyes, fluttering open, opened wider still until she was staring into his, alarmed.

Yes, Frodo thought, she was awake, now.

"Frodo!" she exclaimed. Lurching up so precipitously they nearly banged foreheads, she cried, "What are you…? What is the time…?"

Rosamunda, though still a little befuddled was galvanized by the sight of daylight visible through the open window. Looking back at Frodo, her mouth still open to form another question, she saw that he was naked. And aroused. Expressions of dismay – and desire – alternated across her face before she found her voice again.

"Frodo! What are you doing here?" she gasped. "Now, I mean! In the day!" As she glanced again towards the window she noticed the coverlet, where Frodo had drawn it, gathered at her feet. Then she saw her pulled-up shift. Her initial look of bewildered alarm knitted itself into a frown. She shot Frodo a look of accusation mixed with disbelief.

"That wasn't me, Rosa!" Frodo interjected hastily. "It was already pulled up like that – when I got here – your shift, I mean."

Instantly, colour rose up Rosamunda's neck and stained her face, even through the bronze. She swallowed hard and glanced away. Then, her shoulders relaxing, she chuckled, as if to herself

Raising her eyes to his, she said, "Caught out, am I?"

The tone of her voice was one of abashed amusement, but the look in her dark eyes bespoke desire. It made Frodo reel for a moment, but he recovered himself.

"Yes! Caught," he laughed, flashing a grin – but his voice sounded a little hoarse. On impulse Frodo sprang up onto the bed, landing astride her.

Rosamunda fell back onto the pillows in a burst of surprised mirth. She tried to toss him off but Frodo held on, gripping her legs between his as he straddled them. Foiled in that quarter, her hands darted for his most vulnerable spot, but Frodo captured her arms by the wrists and pinned them back against the mattress. She laughed as she struggled to pull herself free, but Frodo's grip was unbreakable.

"You are my captive, now,” he told her sternly, but his smile seemed to belie him. “Do you submit?"

His eyes must yet have betrayed the gravity that underlay his bantering request, for she did not laugh. Looking directly into his eyes, Rosamunda answered, "I submit."

Frodo was sure he caught something in her gaze or in the tone of her voice as she uttered those two words – something which quenched the glib rejoinder he had ready on his tongue. If his joke was quenched, though, nothing else was. Her response had only stoked the fires.

"Lift up, Rosa,” Frodo ordered, with what he hoped sounded like mock gravity, “I want this off." He curbed the urge to tear the fragile cloth of her shift right down the middle. It was one of her favourites, he knew.

Keeping her eyes locked on his, obediently Rosamunda lifted her hips and then her shoulders as Frodo carefully hitched the delicate garment over her head. Once it was off, he filled his eyes with her splendours. Rosamunda’s shift fell from his hands, forgotten.

"Oh, Rosa," Frodo sighed, enraptured by the sight of her spread out below him. His own body twitched, in spite of himself. Glancing quickly at her face, Frodo caught the flash and flicker in Rosamunda's eye. So sensitively seated, he could not help but feel the little tremor that ran through her at the sight of him, rising up before her thus. Almost imperceptibly, she wet her lips. Catching sight of it, Frodo knew how much she wanted him; but she must wait. Gazing down at her, he was amazed anew at the sheer voluptuousness of her. So much, so much, Frodo thought. And all of it, his. Surely, it was his. He had made it his.

Frodo let go her wrists but only to fill his hands with her naked breasts, bringing them together just for the sight of them mounded high and opulent, like two golden hills, with a deep ravine running in between. He wanted to bury his face there, as if he might burrow into her heart. He made do, however, by dropping his face between her breasts to savour first one silken hillside, then the other, with his cheeks.

Raising himself to admire her once again, Frodo caught sight of Rosamunda's freed hands making a stealthy advance. Intercepting her at once, Frodo recaptured her hands, pinning her wrists to the sheets beside her once more. He mustn't let those hands gain their prize just yet – he could not bear it.

"You are still my captive, Rosa," Frodo reminded her. He had meant to sound commanding but, at the sight of her eyes – soft and beseeching – his words came out almost as a whisper. Held by her eyes, Frodo slowly bent to her again, the coils of his hair falling forward around his heated face. He would have pushed it all out of the way, but he could not risk releasing her. As he drew near, her eyes fluttered shut and her lips parted slightly for the anticipated kiss. But Frodo dared not kiss her – that way lay surrender. Inches from her lips Frodo hesitated then moved, instead, to her breasts. Just the warmth of his breath upon her seemed to melt her gathered readiness to resist and he felt her body relaxing beneath him. Taking a deep breath, her ribs expanding, her breasts rose to meet his touch. Frodo drew a cheek across one silky breast and then the other, luxuriating in their exquisite smoothness.

Rosamunda was enjoying his attentions, Frodo could tell, in spite her renewed efforts to show him no response. Her breathing had accelerated and deepened. He could feel her beginning to squirm beneath him however much she attempted to restrain herself, just to thwart him. The feel of her moving about between his legs was difficult to bear, but it was the teasing hardness of her nipples under his cheeks that called Frodo to indulge his desires at last. He would taste her with his mouth, but not too zealously.

Not trusting Rosamunda with her hands free, Frodo kept them pinned beside her as he browsed the tops of her breasts, his mouth as soft as the muzzle of a grazing pony as he drew one browned nipple and then the other into his mouth, suckling and pulling and nipping, then suckling again. Rosamunda moaned and whimpered pitifully through clenched teeth, gulping down draughts of air in between, as her arms kept straining for release. She did not do so in order to push him away, Frodo knew. She meant to pull him close and then to seize him. He could feel her straining to open her legs but he would not let her, sitting down harder and clasping her firmly between his knees and feet. Lifting his lips from her breasts, Frodo fixed Rosamunda’s eyes with his, in silent reminder of the terms of her agreement to surrender. She stilled herself. But when he bent his mouth to her again, Rosamunda sought relief by stretching out her legs, long and straight, alternately flexing and pointing her toes, her body thrumming underneath him like an arrow speeding to its mark. Arching her head back into the pillows she moaned, high and breathy through her parted lips.

Her moans, added to what he felt going on beneath him, had a powerful effect. Frodo was forced to pause to recover himself. While he did so, with all her strength Rosamunda suddenly stretched out her arms to either side. Frodo, still clasping her wrists, but caught off guard, was drawn down on top of her, his face dropping into the pillow beside her neck.

Turning to the side to breathe, Frodo stayed there very still, just to register the feel of it. Not only their torsos but also their extended arms met in a continuous embrace. This contact was to him so novel and gratifying, he let go of Rosamunda’s wrists to slide his fingers into hers to interlace them. He squeezed and she returned the pressure. Squeezing again she answered, but this time with her full strength, tensing her whole body against him. The extreme closeness, combined with the exertion, felt strangely satisfying to Frodo. Wishing to feel it more fully, he slid his feet down along the sides of her legs until they reached past her toes. Fully stretched out upon her, their bodies were nearly matched; cheek to cheek, breast to breast, belly to belly and limb to limb. Frodo paused again to relish it. Then, on impulse, he hooked her feet and ankles with his. Slowly, he began to pull and flex, as if inviting her to contend with him.

Rosamunda chuckled. "Do you mean to wrestle me, Frodo?"

Frodo lifted his head to look her in the face; she wore a wide grin.

"I warn you," Rosamunda admonished him, arching an eyebrow over a dark, glittering eye, "I have won matches against bigger lads than you when I was a lass."

Indeed, Frodo found in Rosamunda a worthy adversary. She was strong; so strong Frodo felt he could bring much of his strength to bear against her, without worrying that he might hurt her. Rolling this way and that upon the great bed, they gave themselves up to their sinuous struggle until both of them were slippery with sweat in the dim, warm room. They uttered no words. Frodo heard only the inarticulate sounds of their struggles, mingled with giggles and bursts of triumph when points were won or lost. They paused, but only to seek each other's mouths with joyous, breathless kisses, never loosening their interlocking grip. Frodo could not tell if he strove in order to prevail or simply for the pleasure of the struggle – for the feel of muscle and sinew stretching and flexing as he pulled and pressed against her.

They rolled once more, bound together as they were, sending Rosamunda to the top. Frodo, trapping her arms and hands behind her back, squeezed her round the middle until she could scarcely breathe. But Frodo had miscalculated. Even thus pinned and pressed, Rosamunda was not without resources. Flinging aside her damp hair, she bent her face to his and captured Frodo's mouth, nipping and tasting his lips, bruised already to unwonted colour and fullness by the zeal of their lovemaking. Having subdued him in this manner, she assaulted Frodo in earnest with a fiercer kiss, penetrating past his weakened defences to steal his breath away, as if in retaliation. Frodo’s head swam as she swept and searched for pockets of resistance. She echoed those dizzying rounds and spirals with voluptuous movements of her hips. Trapped as he was between their sweat-slicked bodies, Frodo felt himself pulled and rolled until he was nearly overwhelmed, caught by alternating waves of heat and chill. They built and swelled and gathered momentum, sweeping him headlong towards his consummation in a froth of glittering sparks and icy shards. Over and over he tumbled until there was little left of him but one exposed ridge rising to cleave the waves as they rushed and swirled to pull him under. Then he felt her disengage her feet and ankles, part her knees, and slide them over Frodo’s legs, opening herself to take him.

Frodo simply could not let her remain at such a vantage. Releasing her hands at once, he tumbled her over and regained the ascendant. Her wrists released, Rosamunda did not contend with him at once but flung her hands back upon the pillows and lay there, panting, flushed and glistening with perspiration.

Having skirted so close to disaster, Frodo panted likewise, stretched out upon her for a moment of respite.

Rosamunda was quicker to recover. Taking Frodo’s languor for license she seized her chance. Flexing her knees, she raised her hips and deftly captured the tip of him within her, grappling his slippery buttocks to hold him still. It happened so swiftly, Frodo was breathless from both the shock and thrill of it.

"Rosa!" he gasped, "That is cheating!"

She slid her arms around his waist to pull him down the rest of the way, but it was not necessary. Frodo was falling – sliding – sinking towards an ignominious rout.

"Who is the captor, now?" Rosamunda exulted, her voice raspy from her exertions. "It is you who must submit!"

Frodo found himself moving inside her despite his resolve, eliciting tremors and moans at the exquisiteness of it – both hers and his. He knew that very soon he would be lost, lost beyond recall. With all his power of will he forced himself to pause and think on how he might, even yet, regain the field. He'd not had time to consider when Rosamunda slipped a hand behind his head and, tangling her fingers into his steaming curls, drew him down for another dizzying kiss. Beneath him her body curved and flexed, urging him to surrender. Frodo hesitated, distracted. He did not notice her other hand slipping up behind him until he felt the unexpected touch of her fingers, sending shivers of surprised delight all through him as she administered the subtle presses and strokes she knew would make him nearly senseless.

In a passionate whisper, yet quivering with mirth, Rosamunda asked him once again, "Frodo, do you submit?"

He gritted his teeth and held his breath, still determined to resist. Then, delicately, she squeezed. Frodo trembled. Sighing, he gave it up. Dropping his face into her neck he groaned, vanquished, "Very well, I submit."

Rosamunda showed him no mercy, but Frodo no longer wished for any.

* * *

Although it had been undeniably wonderful to be thus defeated, afterwards Frodo found his pleasure mixed with regret. His ordeal had ended far sooner than he had hoped, for Rosamunda had utterly undone him – and speedily. Still quivering from the aftershocks, Frodo rolled off his lover and lay silent.

Rosamunda, sensing the shadow in him, drew him back to lie with her, caressing his face with her fingers while she held him close. Murmuring endearments, she coaxed from him a kiss or two of truce. “Sweet,” she called him, and “dear” – but not, “my dear.” She called him, “lovely,” but not, “my love.” As before, all her actions spoke the words she did not say. Yet, more than ever, Frodo wished for her to say the words.

Laying her cheek upon his chest, Rosamunda began to speak.

As he listened, Frodo watched her sun-browned hand sliding lightly over his skin, so white where the sun seldom went. Her hand hovered over the little dipping place near his hip bone, a place she seemed to love. Droplets of moisture still pooled there, beaded up like pearls. He sensed her eye lingering upon his vanquished self which lolled, like a new babe just glutted with milk, upon its bed of dusky silk. Even in this sated state, the power of her look made Frodo’s body twitch.

"I know how you love to prevail … in our lovemaking, that is, Frodo,” he heard her say. “And I love it when you do.”

Frodo could not really see her face, so he watched her hand as it moved instead.

"But, I like to have a turn, as well."

Frodo glanced away. Lovemaking, she had called it – and so did everyone. But was it that?

Rosamunda had paused, letting her fingers glide back over his ribs and up the rise of his chest in a movement smooth and languid, lulling him. Her fingers continued up the side of his throat to slip behind the base of his skull and into his hair. Withdrawing her fingertips to his cheek, she turned Frodo’s face to hers to seek his eye before she spoke.

"I know you love to please me, Frodo,” she said. With a little chuckle, she added, “To make me die of pleasure obviously gives you joy!”

Frodo did not laugh but managed a little smile.

Her expression became graver as she confided to him, “I love to please you, too, Frodo. I love to know I please you.”

Rosamunda’s voice trailed off, discerning in him no response. Though he lay within her arms, he felt himself distant from her.

She was right, of course. What she asked of him was only what Frodo so enjoyed himself. Why could he not simply accept what she wanted to offer and ask no more of her?

Rosamunda searched his face, waiting, her dark eyes shining and earnest

"Surely, Frodo," she ventured, "that is not too much for you to bear?" She had spoken softly, almost lightly, but her candid eyes betrayed deeper feeling.

Suddenly ashamed of sulking, the shadow within him edged away. Holding Rosamunda’s face, Frodo kissed her tentatively, his tenderness mingled with remorse. Stroking her cheek with his thumb, he met her eyes, letting his own be open to hers. The look she returned seemed to show she saw his feelings – but did she answer them? He thought so.

Heartened, Frodo reached for her. Suddenly filled with the love he felt, he gathered her to him and in his arms she became supple and yielding, letting him mould her to him as he wished. For him, her mouth flowed with honey and her breasts with nectar. For him, hidden within her was a secret store of intoxicating sweetness inexhaustible.

* * *

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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