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[Index]

1

"Messenger Service!" The full young baritone voice carried further than the polite knock on the door. Elanor Gamgee looked up, noted that not a one of her twelve siblings was nearby, sighed, put her book down carefully (it was a collection of poetry in Sindarin, left to them by Frodo Baggins, and so very dear), and went to answer the door. And gasped.

The late-tweenage hobbit who stood on the doorstep of Bag End was not the usual messenger. He had rich red hair, redder than her sister Ruby's, in a mass of tight curls that caught the sunlight, and fair thickly freckled skin, broad strong shoulders and a look of shock on his snub-nosed face. Elanor shut her own mouth quickly, pushing away thoughts of how handsome he was, trying to look severe; she was far too used to that shocked look, as hobbits who had never seen her before took in her burdensome beauty, the silver-gold silken hair and the petal-like skin and the large grey eyes. She was still a hobbit, still a Gamgee, but everyone who looked at her saw a small Elf, or the heiress to Bag End, or both; her parents saw their lost Mr. Frodo, the departed Elves, a world that had passed away. No one but her sibs saw Elanor.

So she shut her mouth in a firm line and held out her hand, but the red-headed lad smiled, and it seemed to her that the dark blue eyes did indeed see her. "Miss Gamgee," he said, and bowed politely, "I'm your new Hobbiton Messenger; Bob has gone to the Southfarthing. I'm called Red, and I'm at your service."

"Hullo, Master Red. I'm Elanor." Why did I just say that? she thought. Wasn't she trying to look severe? "Thank you for our mail." What else could she say? Why did she want to say more?

"You're welcome, Miss Elanor," Red said, and smiled, not at her prettiness but at her; then he was gone, and Elanor wanted to call him back, even as she shook her head, asking herself, Why?

*

The next time the Post called Elanor was deep in a history of Rohan, and she came to the door with the book in one hand and an apple in the other; Red's eyes lit up when he saw the book. "If I may ask, Miss Elanor, what are you reading?"

Elanor regarded him for a moment before she answered. Too often, she was asked why she read so much, whether it was fit occupation for a maid; only last week a gammer had snapped, 'well, you should be able to wed regardless, with that face, but have a care; no hobbit wants a wife with more learning than he has'. Red, however, looked honestly interested, and not disapproving, so she held up the book so he might see as she told him.

"Rohan!" Red's blue eyes went unfocused and dreaming; Elanor blinked with surprise. "Isn't the Master of Buckland a Knight of Rohan?"

"Uncle Merry," Elanor replied without thinking, and could have kicked herself when Red's eyes widened. "Master Meriadoc Brandybuck. Yes, he is."

"I wonder what the lands of Men are like, so far away." Red's eyes focused again, on her face. Elanor took a breath, considering, and answered, "Magnificent, if overly large. My parents and I spent a year in Gondor in my early tweens."

"Oh!" How those blue eyes shone. "I would, would you, may I ask you to tell me about it?" He looked as if he wished to hear it, too. Elanor opened her mouth again, but just then her mother called, "Elanorelle, who's at the door?"

Elanor rolled her eyes as she turned. "Post, Mam. Our new Messenger, he's called Red."

"And he has other deliveries, Elanor," her mother replied, gently but firmly. Elanor bit her lip and turned back to Red, who was smiling ruefully. "She's right, Miss Elanor. I should be going."

"I---" but he was already bowing, then bounding down the path, more lightly than anyone bounced except perhaps Faramir Took. Elanor watched him go, wanting to call him back.

*

Elanor lay in bed reading and rereading the same page, something about eoreds in Rohan. She'd been ill, and it was raining. Not badly ill, not seriously raining, but enough of both; it was the first day in three days she'd felt well enough to read, but all she could think of was Red, and how his face had lit when she'd told him she had been outside the Shire. He didn't look disapproving, like so many elder hobbits did. He didn't look frightened, like so many hobbits her age did. He looked interested. In Rohan. In Gondor. In her.

Elanor shut the book and listened to the rain. She was twenty-eight, and she was a fool to think of him. Of course he was interested; many young unwed hobbits were, they'd been courting her since she was younger than Daisy, since before she was old enough to know what courting was. They were interested in her pretty face, her silky straight hair, her ridiculous beauty, in her father's fame and the reputed wealth of Bag End. They were interested in what they could get out of being with her.

Pansy surely had been; Elanor thought of her and grimaced. Sweet words, sweet kisses, and soon enough, 'Elanor, honeycomb, buy me this' and 'Elanor, my best girl, lend me a few pennies?' until Elanor had to rid herself of the little leech in a fiery fight. Rory certainly had been; Elanor thought of him and winced. He'd charmed her, she'd thought he actually cared for her, till the day he lost too much money gambling and she'd shouted at him that he wasted money, and he'd shouted back that when they were wed he would sell all her books and dig up Bag End's jewels. That was the end of that, and as far as Elanor was concerned, the end of love and other tweenage foolishnesses. If Mr. Frodo and Mr. Bilbo could be scholars, so could she; if they could live unwed, so could she. She could already read four languages and speak Sindarin well, and when she was of age she would go back to Gondor and live in the tall marble halls of Minas Tirith, translating words and ideas and helping King Elessar keep together the peoples of Middle-Earth in her own small way.

Even as she thought this, Elanor reached out to stroke an apple blossom in the mug of flowers her sister Primrose had brought her, and looked at the windowbox, bright even in the rain, and remembered the feel of rich garden earth between her toes.

"The mail is here!" Rose burst into the bedroom, narrowly escaping Merry and Goldi and Pippin and Daisy behind her. Elanor jumped when Rose slammed the door, then watched her drag a chest before it; when Rose turned to her she was bouncing, her eyes shining, as she cried, "Oh, Elle! He wrote me!" 'He' was Andy Goodchild, this month anyway. Elanor smiled at her joyful sister; she turned away to grant Rose at least the privacy of not being watched as she read her letter, and sternly told herself not to wish for a letter of her own, not to think of the Messenger who brought them. It was foolish. She'd only seen him twice!

"Oh, Elle, the Messenger asked after you," Rose said absently, and Elanor sat up so fast it made her lightheaded. "He did? What did he say?"

Rose turned at her tone and laughed. "Why, Elanor, are you---"

"No, I'm not sweet on him! He just, he was interested in my travels with Mam and Da. What did he say?"

"That he hoped you were well," said Rose, just as the door shook under the determined efforts of four young hobbits. Rose hid her letter under the trick floorboard, smiled conspiratorially at Elanor, and opened the door before their sibs broke it down. Elanor closed her eyes as they swarmed into the room, shutting out their noise, turning Red's words over in her mind.

*

The weather was quite hot for May. When Elanor heard Red's voice, she ran down the hall and dodged between three siblings, leaped over another, and reached the door before her mother, who looked at her with surprise and stepped back to let her open it. "Hullo, Master Red," Elanor said as calmly as she could.

"Hullo, Miss Elanor, Mistress Gamgee." Red bowed, and a drop of sweat fell from his nose. "You must be hot!" said Elanor. "Would you like to come in? I mean, Mam, Mother, may we invite him in?"

"Certainly, Elanor," her mother replied, the corners of her eyes crinkling. Elanor made a face at her when Red couldn't see. Would her family never cease matching her with every tween she spoke to? When he was seated in the small parlor with her mother Elanor flew to the kitchen to fetch some cool barley-water, and some sweet biscuits, and some strawberries, and---she looked at the heaped tray, stopped herself from adding anything more, and brought it to the parlor, stepping over another little sibling on the floor on her way.

"I grew up in Greenholm on the Far Downs," Red was saying, and her mother was nodding sagely. "That explains your Westfarthing accent. Oh, lovely thinking, Elanor. The strawberries have been wonderful this year, haven't they?"

"Yes, Da grows the best," Elanor agreed, vibrating like a plucked harpstring. Why couldn't she sit still?

"Is all the garden here Master Gamgee's work?" Red asked, sipping gratefully at his barley water. He was looking at Elanor, but her mother answered, "His with Hamfast and Daisy, since Frodo-lad is working in Tookland this year, and little Bilbo and Robin are just starting to learn, aren't they, Elanor?"

"Indeed," Elanor absently agreed, then sprang out of her chair. "Red, you might like, I mean, I found another book." And she was running down the hall as if dogs were at her heels. What was wrong with her? She forced herself to walk back sedately, picturing in her mind the way the Queen Arwen glided along like light on water; she took a deep breath and walked carefully into the room to hand Red the book on the relationship of Rohan and Gondor that she had found. When he ran his hand over the cover she noticed that his fingers were long, and they opened the book carefully and reverently. "Thank you, Miss Elanor! I wish I might borrow this."

"You'll just have to, I mean, whenever you return you are welcome to come in and look at it and have a cup of something to drink, I mean, may he, Mother?" Elanor's mother nodded with a smile; Red looked up at Elanor, and suddenly turned as red as his hair, and sprang out of his seat. "Oh, yes, thank you! But I should, I ought---"

"You must be going," said Mistress Gamgee gently, shepherding him out. Elanor followed, why she could not have said, but at the door Red took her mother's hand and squeezed it, then took hers and just held it for a moment. His hand was not as calloused as her father's, not smooth either, and it was warm. Elanor had to force her fingers to uncurl from around it.

Elanor stood at the door, watching him go, until her mother said, "I used to watch your father leave, just that way."

"I am not sweet on him!" Elanor insisted, and fled to her room.

*

Late that night Elanor sat up in the study before a carefully cleared space. By the light of two candles she wrote out a note on a small scrap of parchment, looked at it, swore under her breath, and lit the note in the candle's flame, dropping it into a large earthenware pot to burn. She kept repeating this process for quite awhile, her curses becoming rather inventive as the night wore on; she could read four languages, after all.

Her mother found her that morning, slumped over the desk, the candles burned out beside her, her fingers covered with ink. Mistress Rose crept back to the master bedroom to fetch her husband, and Elanor's parents stood together and looked at her, sleeping with her face pillowed on her arms and a quill loosely clutched in her fingers, as they had looked at another hobbit in the same position many years before.

Elanor started, and raised her head. Her parents were smiling at her, but it wasn't her their eyes reflected. No one saw her. She was a fool to think Red did. Without even a 'Good morning' she ran past them and down the hall to the room she shared with Rose and Goldilocks, and threw herself into her bed. Goldi, just rising, stared at her, but Elanor glared till she turned her eyes away.

Her family let her be through both first and second breakfast. Around elevenses Elanor's ire began to sink beneath her hunger; just as she was climbing out of bed a knock came on the door. "Yes?"

"Elanor?" came her father's voice; Elanor sighed. "Come in, Da."

He was holding a piece of bread folded round a slice of cheese and two fried eggs, a mug of cider in his other hand. Elanor couldn't help but smile, and he let her eat and drink, patiently sitting on the side of her bed, before he even cleared his throat invitingly.

Elanor sighed again, and smiled. "I must beg your pardon, Da. That was rude of me, to run past with no Good Morning."

"It ain't like you," he mildly agreed. "Care to tell me what's on your mind, Elanorelle?"

Elanor shook her head, but spoke anyway. "Da, I just....you and Mam, when I woke up this morning, you weren't looking at me. You were looking at a memory who once sat where I was sitting." He put his arm round her, and nodded, and she went on. "I....no one sees me, Da. They see....remember when Goldi cut half her hair off, screaming that she hated it and hated being named for it?" They both laughed at the memory, but Elanor's father nodded again, encouraging her to continue. "Some days, I almost want to do that. No one sees me, Da, they just see my face and my hair and my name and Mr. Frodo who was a scholar before me and saved the Shire with you and Uncle Merry and Uncle Pippin. Even you and Mam don't see me sometimes."

"And you worry that the new Messenger lad doesn't see you?" Elanor started at that; her father smiled. "His name is Red, ain't it? It was on one of the scraps," he explained. "Not all of them burned up."

Caught out, Elanor rolled her eyes and helplessly laughed. "Da, that's sneaky," she protested, but then she nodded. "I do. I just, he seems interested in the world, he loves books, I can tell in his hands. I want him for a friend. I want someone to see me. Isn't that silly?"

"Not silly at all, Elanor." Her father kissed her brow. "And I must beg your pardon, in my turn. You are right, sometimes when I look at you and Frodo-lad, it isn't you two I see. All my children, but most of all you two, bear Mr. Frodo's touch, and I do love you for it; still, I also love you because you are my children, and because of the fine hobbits you have grown to be. Your Mam and I do see you, Elanor. And if this lad is what your Mam says he is, I think he might see you, too."

Elanor let out a long breath she hadn't realized she was holding. "Da. Da, thank you." She threw her arms round her father, and he held her for a long moment before he let her go, saying, "and if we're done here, the dishes need washing," and laughing when she groaned.

*

The next time the mail came there was a letter for Elanor in it. Red smiled at her, but he was pale beneath his freckles; Elanor nearly asked what ailed him, but he was gone quickly. Then she opened her letter, and understood.

Miss Elanor Gamgee, it said in a large but firm hand. Inside, it said, Dear Miss Elanor, I hope I do not presume. I would like to ask you to meet me tonight at nine o'clock by the Party Tree. If you do not wish to, please forgive my insolence and do not think ill of me. Yours, Fastred of Greenholm.

Elanor didn't realize she'd shrieked until her family came spilling from rooms and through windows to see what the matter was, and then she had to quickly hide the letter in her bodice and claim she'd tripped over the umbrella-rack.

Somehow, she managed to survive the endless day. At half past eight she took a book back to her room, where she dressed again, braiding her hair and winding it atop her head. On an impulse, she fastened the spiral of braid with a pin of crystal and silver. Rose came in just as Elanor was finished dressing; she took in Elanor's appearance and grinned. "Have fun," Rose said to her sister, who blushed and picked up a carefully chosen book and climbed out the window.

Red---Fastred---was sitting by the smooth-barked mallorn with his hands wrapped round his knees; when he saw Elanor he sprang to his feet and bowed. "Oh, you did come. Thank you!"

"I did," Elanor agreed, looking up at him. He was tall, she thought, more than four feet. "I, well, I'm glad you asked me. I brought a history of Gondor with me. Do you want to hear about my time there?" She was babbling. She pressed her lips together to stop the flow of words.

"Very much," he agreed, his eyes looking like pieces of the night sky. "I'm afraid I didn't bring anything. I couldn't find any flowers as pretty as you. I mean, oh that was a fool thing to say. I'm sorry, Elanor."

"I'm not." Elanor pushed down a giggle, took a breath, and folded her hand round his arm. "Fastred. I like that name. Do you always go by 'Red' for short?"

"Just here in Hobbiton. Back home we have nearly as many redheads as the Tooks do." Fastred smiled; Elanor liked that, too. They had reached a brightly moonlit patch of the Party Field; they sat down together, and Elanor opened her book to the map, took a deep breath, and began to speak.

*

"What time is it?" Elanor asked hazily. She and Fastred had been sitting together for what felt like an age of the world, like five minutes. She'd told him everything she could remember of that trip to Gondor, of being Queen Arwen's Honor Maid when she was sixteen, and a great deal more besides. He told her of his home on the edge of the Shire, his parents and sister and brother, his books and his family's bemusement at his wanderlust; as he could not travel the wide world, he had joined the Messenger service three years before to see the Shire, rotating through the towns of the Farthings. Tookland had been his favorite posting, he'd said, until Hobbiton. When he'd said that, he'd blushed.

Sometime before he'd said that, their fingers had tangled together. And now her head rested on his shoulder.

"I think it may be midnight," Fastred said, looking up at the stars. "Perhaps later. I should walk you home."

"Do you want to leave?" Elanor asked, and bit her lip at her plaintive tone. "I mean, where are you staying?"

"I lodge at the Green Dragon, it's not far." Fastred smiled again, and it seemed very far indeed. "You can't go back this late, all alone," Elanor insisted. "Come on, we have guest rooms."

Fastred turned so pale the freckles seemed to float. "Your parents, your brothers---!"

"My parents are no stranger to guests, and my brothers are much smaller than you, Frodo excepted, and he's not here for several months. Besides, you're my friend, Fastred, so my brothers would have to deal with me." With that Elanor tugged him to his feet. "Come with me." Fastred smiled, and squeezed her hand, and followed.

*

Elanor woke in the grey light of pre-dawn; the last stars were leaving the sky. For a moment she wondered why she'd woken so early, but then joy surged up like a fountain of light within her, and she sat up, feeling she could float with it. Careful to not disturb her sisters, she crept out of bed and down to the guest room where she'd installed Fastred. He lay, snoring gently, curled on his side away from her; the blanket had slid down to reveal a bare shoulder.

Well, of course, she said to herself. He had to wear those clothes home, didn't he? Even so, her hand floated over that bare freckled shoulder, wanting to land, and Elanor bit her lip as a surge of heat swept up through her, She remembered the warmth of that shoulder beneath her head, and wondered what it would feel like beneath her lips, and gasped just at the thought.

Fastred stirred. Elanor shook herself, then shook him much more gently. "It's nearing dawn," she told him as he blinked sleepily at her. "Do you want to stay and meet my family, or would you rather go now?"

"You're beautiful," Fastred replied. Elanor blinked. She'd heard those words more times than there were stars in the sky; she'd thought herself thoroughly sick of them. But they were different now, when Fastred said them.

As if realizing what he'd said, Fastred blushed. "I mean---"

"Shhh," Elanor replied, laying a finger to his lips; then she kissed him.

Oh, Elanor, what are you doing? she thought with the last remaining corner of her mind; the rest of it was swept up in the feel of Fastred's mouth beneath her own, then over and around her own as his arms came up around her waist and he pulled her onto him and over into the bed. The kiss caught them both like a coal in dry grass, swiftly rising into heat; Elanor heard a moan, and realized it was hers, and gasped into the kiss.

Fastred let her mouth go. "Oh! Elanor, I'm---" She shook her head and caught his hands with her own when they threatened to leave her waist. She could feel every inch of him, pressing her into the wall. I really ought to get out of the bed, she thought, but she looked up into dark blue eyes, and couldn't quite yet. "I kissed you," she said, with what she knew must be a witless sort of smile.

Fastred's smile was just as dazed. "You did. Elanor, you did. I, this, it's like a song." She could have smiled at that, but he so meant it, it was as if the words were newly made just for him to say to her. Or she could kiss him again, but then her parents would find her in a guest bed with an undressed handsome hobbit lad, and that would not be the best way to start this day. So Elanor whispered, "yes, yes this is," and climbed out of the bed quickly as she could make herself, trying not to feel the sturdy body below hers; when she was on her feet again she held Fastred's clothes out to him. "You'd best dress," she said, but she was smiling ear to ear, and so was he.

*

Fastred elected to leave by the back storeroom window that morning, but when he stood on the other side of it he leaned in to kiss Elanor again. She went to breakfast all smiles; her family stared at her, and she smiled sweetly at them all and did the dishes without being asked.

Bag End began getting mail nearly every day, even if just a note addressed to Elanor in a large firm hand. Elanor started running short of sleep, and Fastred yawned on his rounds, and they both looked radiantly happy. When she wasn't looking, her parents glanced at her and then smiled at each other.

Of nights, by candlelight or lantern-light or moonlight when it was bright enough, Elanor and Fastred met at the Party Field and found a corner of the sleeping town, then sat together till late, reading and talking and kissing. She told him everything she knew of the world outside the Shire, from how high the steps were in Minas Tirith to how magnificent King Elessar sank to his knees to kiss her hand; he told her many things she had never known about the Shire, from the differences in hop varieties among the Farthings to different dances he'd learned. They talked about themselves, their lives, their families, the weight of the past, their hopes for the future, except that whenever Elanor talked of her thoughts to leave the Shire they seemed to pale beside the sight of Fastred's face.

One night late in June, a night so hot that Elanor had not worn a chemise beneath her bodice and Fastred's shirt hung unlaced, they sat on one of the benches that edged the Party Field, looking at the half-done Midsummer preparations. Unexpectedly, Fastred asked, "Elanor, are you going to dance Lithe?"

Elanor looked at him, starlight sparkling off his hair. "I haven't for some years now," she said. The first year she had, the charming lad she'd said yes to seemed to take it as a betrothal, turning into a shouting jealous creature two days later when she told him he didn't own her. After that, each year she'd dance a little, changing partners each time, then go home early to a book, sending her parents to bed and waiting for Frodo and Rose and, more recently, Merry and Pippin, to come home disheveled and flushed and happy some hours later. "Are you going home for Lithe?"

"I'd like to stay and dance it in Hobbiton, if you will dance it with me." Fastred was blushing so that he nearly glowed himself, but he looked straight at her. "I know it's not the practice to ask ahead of time, but I didn't want to presume."

Elanor tilted her head, regarding Fastred with as calm an air as she could, though she was sure he could hear her heart pounding. "I would, very much, like that," she said, slowly, trying to keep herself in check.

Fastred's beaming smile quite cracked that control, or perhaps it was his hands, coming up around Elanor's face as he kissed her. She wanted nothing more than to wind her arms round his neck, but that first Lithe haunted her; she laid her hands to his chest, keeping herself from tracing the muscles with her fingers, pushing gently till he released her mouth. "Fastred, why do you want to dance Lithe with me?"

He looked shocked by the question. "Elanor, don't you know how beautiful you are?"

That, always that. Elanor laughed bitterly, pulling her hands from that broad chest. "I know full well how beautiful I am," she said, looking down at her long pale ink-dappled hands; Fastred's next words made her look up. "No, you don't, Elanor. I don't mean your face. You're as fair as Luthien in the stories, your hair shines like moonlight, but that's not what I mean, did you think that was what I meant?" Elanor blinked in shock; Fastred looked angry. "You know who Luthien is, you sang me a version of her lay you've translated yourself. You've been to Gondor, you've talked to Elves. You can curse in Dwarvish! You know so much! You think! Did you think I love you for your face, Elanor? It's a pretty face, I've never seen prettier, I never will, but one day it will be wrinkled. I love you for what lies behind that face."

Elanor stared at him "You love me, Fastred?" she heard herself say. He bit his lip and nodded, fists clenched, gone from blushing to pale. Elanor opened her mouth, but there weren't words; she reached up and sank her fingers into red starlit curls, and it was Fastred's turn to blink in startlement, as she gently tugged his face down to hers and kissed him. His arms came up round her, and he pulled her to him, pulling her into his lap, and there wasn't any need of words.

*

They lay in the grass, the stars above them, and Elanor couldn't stop crying for joy. Her hair had come loose from its braid and lay around her and Fastred like a cloud; her head lay on his smooth broad chest, and tears kept running from her eyes. It was ridiculous, and Fastred didn't seem to mind at all. He just gently wiped her face with his hand, his other hand warm on her back. A moon-moth fluttered over them. It was like a song.

Elanor snorted, and laughed at herself. "What's so funny?" Fastred asked gently, thumb stroking her cheek. "I am," Elanor replied, turning her head to kiss the heel of his hand. "I can't stop crying, because I love you."

"I should have said long ago," Fastred said, his hand sliding up her back. "I spent so many nights dreaming of you reading to me, do you believe that?"

"Not of this?" Elanor asked, laughing again; Fastred laughed too. "Well, yes, of this. But also of you reading, of you telling me the names of the stars, everything. You're a new world, Elanor. There's so much to you."

"I'm just a hobbit lass with an Elf's face," she replied; Fastred snorted his disagreement. "You're like no one else in all the Shire, and not because of your face, as much as I love this face," he replied as he cupped her cheek with his hand. "I love you, Elanor."

"And I love you, Fastred." Elanor lifted her head to look into his eyes. "I love you. You see me."

"What else would I see?" he replied, smiling his understanding, and kissed her.

*

Elanor went home a little after dawn, grass in her hair and Fastred's hand in hers. Her mother opened the door when they reached it, hand on her hips but smiling nevertheless. "I made bitterroot tea for you," she said to Elanor. "Good morning, Master Fastred."

Elanor blushed and felt warm all at once. Fastred blushed, too, even as he bowed. "Good morning, Mistress Gamgee." Elanor's mother laughed at that, and patted him on the back as she led him into Bag End. "Call me Rosie, lad. Call me Rosie."

Fastred turned even redder when Elanor's mother led them into a kitchen filled with twelve other Gamgees, many still in nightshirts and all but one gawping; "So that's where you were!" cried Goldilocks before Rose nudged her. Elanor's father got up from his place, looking a little stern, but he held out his hand to shake Fastred's, saying "Good morning, lad." Fastred opened his mouth, but this time nothing came out; Elanor's father smiled at him and, putting one hand on his back, led him from the room. Elanor watched them go till Daisy came up to her holding a steaming, sharp-smelling mug.

The bitterroot tea tasted as nasty as Elanor remembered.

*

It tasted just as nasty at midday on Lithe, but Elanor drank it as if it were sweet cider. After they'd talked about whatever a hobbit discusses with another hobbit when one returns at dawn with the other's rumpled tweenage daughter, Elanor's father had returned with Fastred, both of them smiling, and Elanor could breathe again. Fastred had blushed like a coal all through breakfast, as the only ones not staring at him were Master Samwise, Mistress Rosie, and Elanor, but it would take more than blushing to put a hobbit off his breakfast. Afterwards, through the efforts of her parents and with the able assistance of Rose, Elanor and Fastred had actually been allowed to be alone outside the front door of Bag End long enough to say goodbye, although their kiss had been ended prematurely when Merry had lost his grip on Pippin's ankles and Pippin had tumbled down the side of the roof and had to be rescued.

For three days, Elanor lived for when the mail came; when Fastred gave it to her he also gave her a kiss. They weren't meeting at nights; they had agreed to catch up on their sleep before Lithe. For three days, her sibs giggled and her parents smiled at her, looking pleased and relieved, and her feet hardly touched the ground. Then it was Lithe, and Elanor's sisters, down to little Ruby, crowded into Elanor and Rose and Goldi's bedroom to watch the eldest two lasses dress for the dancing. Rose was wearing a dress as red as her name, which went well with her warm brown hair, but Elanor found a dress from her days in Gondor, a dress the color of moonlight with silver embroidery. Her mother combed her hair so it flowed down her back, and tied a gold-and-white ribbon round her brow, hanging a crystal from it, and all her sisters looked at her with wide amazed eyes. "You look beautiful," Primrose gasped, and Elanor blushed and smiled.

When they arrived in the large parlor Fastred was sitting among, and being thoroughly teased by, Merry and Pippin and Hamfast under their father's benevolently watchful gaze. Elanor let Rose go ahead of her, and listened as the lads cheered Rose and told her she looked lovely; then she stepped in, and all five of them fell silent with shock. Rose shook her head and smiled helplessly.

"Elanor." Fastred rose to his feet, and held out his hand. "Oh, Elanor. You look like the Moon." Looking up into his eyes as she took his hand, Elanor saw herself reflected there, luminous indeed; she saw her future, and smiled with all her heart.

[Index]

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