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Frodo's Return to the Shire

50th Day

Well Yule begins tomorrow, Torold and I are planning to join the village celebrations. It won't be the sort we were looking forward to, but that is the way of things. The news has spread and many visitors have stopped by the farm, he told me at lunch today. He says it does much for his spirit and will do much for the ladies also. I'm not sure quite what sort of celebrations I've been looking forward to but this is not it.

The stars are so bright tonight. I don't know if everyone sees them that way or if it's me. If I will always see them this way I will not mind that. When I was young, I used to sometimes see them like this, and I remember how it scared me. That vast territory filled with luminous things looming above my head, so immense and pressing down on me that it would have swallowed me had I not run away and hid. Now it doesn't scare me but makes me think. What really is up there? Does anyone ever get swallowed? What would happen if I did get swallowed? Would I find any Elves among the Stars? Is Elbereth there, waiting?

I went down to the Shirebourn this afternoon. The water tumbles along like puppies after a ball. It was grayish like the sky but also brownish. It doesn't have as strong a voice as the Brandywine. But it tries to talk and I keep leaning closer to understand it. It splashed me and it immediately reminded me of Gollum, cold and clammy. I deliberately put my hand in it. It feels so strange, like and unlike something solid. I could have easily convinced myself that it was reaching up at me, clawing at my hand, but I can escape it effortlessly. I am amazed in fact how my hand slips out of it without any resistance.

How is it that even the same stream can be so caressing and yet so hungry? How can a river be so different within a space of minutes? I suppose the same is true of fire... one lamp burning is a comfort, one hearth cooks meals and warms our rooms, and one spark where it ought not to be turns into something monstrous. And even the wind and the rain have their own evil sides. I almost laugh to read what I've written... so often I have asked myself these questions! When I was young I would ask the Brandywine what had possessed it to reach out and take my parents and then so sweetly carry others along. Even though it had a loud voice, often, it never bothered to answer me. The wind is a blessing in the heat of summer but also runs wild and blows chimneys away and sometimes crops. Then too, a person will clasp your hand in friendship and tomorrow stab you. All these things have always been so. It makes me wonder now, what has become of Sauron's Darkness? Has it somehow turned into Light, somewhere?

It's not much past supper but I suppose I ought to be getting to bed. The village will be up to watch the sunrise.

[Frodo puts away his journal and writing materials. He takes off the bandage on his arm, washes the cut quickly and decides it is healing nicely enough to not need replacing. He hears soft knocking on his door. Beyond it stands Lily, almost in tears. Frodo brings her inside.] "What are you doing here, Lily? Is something wrong?"

She shakes her head. "I just didn't want to be there any more... my parents' home, empty now... and I missed you."

"You left Iris there because you missed me??"

"Yes! I remember the same thing happened to you, and... I don't understand why this happened to my parents! I know it's been a long time, there must be some way you've adjusted to it. Please, help me somehow. I don't mean to bring back those memories but I need to understand."

In her tearful dark eyes Frodo sees what others must have seen in his. He hugs her quickly. "It's not all that bad anymore. Sit for a while, I don't mind talking about it. I was younger than you so it was worse in some ways. You already have your life settled. You have your sister and her husband. I know this hurts, and a lot, but there are things that might have made it worse. You will never be alone, Lily, remember that. You have a place in Iris and Torold's home and hearts. There is no question of that."

She brushes the tears away, looking at him earnestly. "I know; if I had lost them when I was little Iris and I would not be the same people we are now. But... the suddenness of it, nobody knows exactly what happened... Why does that happen?"

"Life comes and goes as it will. When you talk a walk on a spring day you don't stop before each flower at your feet and ask if you can step on it, you go right along. That flower may ask the same questions you are asking. None of us knows when that time will come, and we shouldn't expect to. No creature is born knowing how long it will live. Well, Elves might have some idea, but Elves are special. They don't die at all unless cut down. And even that is not always a blessing. They are seeing their beautiful world slowly pass away, over many years. Now the Shire isn't passing. You will see Spring come, and then Summer and Autumn and Winter again. Not everyone will. Not every plant sees the Spring, either."

Lily sighs, looking at the floor. "Well... I see what you mean. I can't just accept that, though."

"I know. In time you will. Sometimes Night falls in a hurry, sometimes slowly. Forever the seasons have been moving this way. Lily, Yule is almost here. This is a time not only of the new Light, but also of things passing. Why, if none of us died, think how crowded the Shire would be, with such large families!"

She smiles, a thin smile but it is there. "I suppose that's true! Frodo, how are you so wise? What is it you've seen and done that makes all this so clear to you?"

"Well, now. It's common sense, really, it's just that it's not always easy to remember."

"You've met Elves..." She touches the white gem that Frodo always wears. "Did they help you understand some of these things?"

"Yes. They helped me realize that common sense is in everyone, if we take the time to think about it. Things are moving along as they should. The likes of you and I may not agree with everything, but our part is not to agree or disagree. The world knows what it's doing, even if we don't."

"Oh, Frodo! You are not like any Hobbit I've ever met! You are wonderful!" Before she's quite finished speaking she leans over and kisses him on the cheek, then blushes and turns away.

For a few seconds, Frodo doesn't know what to think. She has quite taken him by surprise. Then he laughs a little. 'I suppose Torold was right! But she must be feeling better,' he thinks. "Lily, you scamp! Does Torold know you're back?"

"No, I came here first... I just had to talk to you. Please, will you come to the house with me? I will never get to sleep so early and I need to talk to you more!"

Her intent gaze makes it obvious that saying No will not work, so Frodo agrees. It is a short walk to the house and Torold is delighted that Lily is not alone. The three sit up over a pot of fresh tea then Torold says he must get some sleep after the long day. Lily and Frodo talk for hours, keeping the hearth lit. Frodo finds he enjoys talking about his first years living at Bag End. There are many good memories, and they make him happy.

"Do you miss Bilbo?" Lily wants to know.

"In a way, but I know I'll see him again. He belongs in Rivendell for now."

"Did you know your eyes shine when you talk about him?"

He smiles. "No, but I'll believe you. No one else could have taken me in, really. He encouraged me to read or whatever made me happiest. He is all the parent I could have wished for."

"How lucky! Frodo, how long are you staying here?"

"I don't know yet. I'm enjoying my stay but there is still Bag End. I've been helping Torold with the cows."

"The cows! You? Frodo! I can't see you with the cows!"

They both laugh. "It's been a change, that's true," Frodo says. "Of course he won't let me do everything I'd like to... he says his guests have never worked on his farm and he didn't want to start with me."

"Well, he's right." She takes his hand. "You've been so good to me. I see you've had an accident, too! I hope you told him you got cut and let him take care of it."

Frodo glances at her, wondering what she'll think of the truth. He suspects she'll understand. "Lily, it didn't happen on the farm. I did it."

Her eyes grow round and she grips his hand. "Oh, Frodo," she says quietly. "I'm so sorry. Tell me."

"I don't know if I can! Sometimes I feel... about to disappear, and I'm not ready to disappear yet. Sometimes I can't tell whether I'm alive here, or in some Twilight, or somewhere else. It happens most often late at night but there are other times. I needed to be sure I wasn't gone yet, that I could still feel."

Without speaking Lily kisses the cut very softly. Then she says, "Mother used to do that for me. I don't know if it ever helped but it always made me feel cared for. There's more than one kind of hurt but love heals all of them."

Frodo is partly astonished she understands as well as that, and partly not at all surprised. Intense gratitude fills him. He kisses her on the cheek and they sit close to each other, not speaking. It is enough to be with someone, someone who passes no judgment and offers only support.

51st Day

As daylight begins to show ever so faintly through the windows, Torold comes into the room. "Well," he says, "You two might have enough time to wash if you go now... but come back quick, we have one thing to do before leaving the house!"

Lily sits up and blinks, then looks at him. "Oh... the fire. Iris isn't here."

"You're as much the lady of the house, lass! Hurry along!"

She and Frodo rush off to wash. Frodo laments not having time to get back to the inn for clean clothes, but Lily says that's not a worry. They dash into the kitchen where Torold is on the floor beside the hearth. Lily kneels in front of it. "This is an old custom," she explains to Frodo. "The woman of the home usually does this, but I am substituting today!" She picks up the container of water Torold has brought and pours it very slowly over the fire. The smoke makes them cough a little; most floats up the chimney. "As the old year passes away, so we make room for the new." With the utensils she quickly sweeps up ashes and charred wood. Torold puts new wood in its place.

He and Frodo follow Lily outside; the sky is clear with just a handful of tiny stars still glittering. The air is chilly. Frodo is caught up in the anticipation. He has forgotten the dismal thoughts of a few hours ago. They can hear talking and laughing close by and he tries to see who it is, but they are behind the hill. Lily goes to the garden area where she casts the remnants over the slumbering ground. Taking the utensils, she leads them across to a path where they meet up with several other families.

Most folks are gaily dressed, many of the women have long ribbons wound in their hair. They reach a field just at the edge of the village, where a large pile of wood is ready. The entire village is there, quieting down. They form a loose group around the wood pile, facing the rising sun. When the first rays strike the group, a loud cheer goes up. A song breaks out, as cheerful and rousing as any Frodo has heard. He can't catch all the words but it has something to do with the Light bringing back warmth, love and laughter. A few people dance with each other. The mood is infectious; Frodo laughs at the dancers, who don't seem to agree on what steps to take. As the song comes to an end, everyone quiets down again and they form a more complete circle around the pile of wood. Lily pulls Frodo closer to the front.

A very old woman approaches the wood. She moves slowly but surely. She stops about an arm's width away. She takes, from her skirt pocket, a tinder box and works with it until sparks begin to fall. "We have made room for the new year," she says in a hushed voice, "And we have Light to fill the Darkness." She scatters sparks over the wood and it catches. It seems to burn at the lowest edges first as the woman goes back to the crowd. Then the fire catches all round and the group cheers again. They back away a little and more singing and dancing start, this time with everyone joining in. Everyone grabs someone else's hands. There is no time to wonder who to approach; two women who look similar enough to be mother and daughter each take one of Frodo's hands and whisk him off into the crowd, laughing and dancing. The bonfire adds some welcome heat but before too long, the crowd backs away from it. Dancing, Frodo discovers, is good to get the blood moving!

Frodo gives no thought to how long the dancing goes on. Finally he begs to rest and staggers to a grassy area to sit. A few others are sitting too, mostly the old with grandbabies. He has no idea where Lily and Torold are. He's content to watch the crowd. Lily finds him, after what must be quite a while, and collapses beside him, still laughing. She asks if he's hungry yet and he's surprised to find that he is. Many yards away two tents have been raised and filled with tables full of food and drink. Such a breakfast is a marvel, Frodo had no idea this much preparation went into it. Torold discovers them there. The celebration has reminded Frodo of Bilbo's long-ago Birthday Party, and at least a dozen people have gathered to hear him tell of it. Frodo decides to leave out the mention of Bilbo vanishing... that would lead to questions he didn't want to think about now.

Children's games begin near the tents, some Frodo has never seen and some he has very fond memories of. Many adults gather to watch the little ones and a few even take part. After several rounds of games, Frodo, Lily and Torold are yawning. They make their good-byes and almost everyone they talk to expresses some good wish for Torold and his wife, and Lily. Many also tell Frodo they're glad he came to the morning festivities. Lily takes them back to the bonfire which is now burning low but is not allowed to go out. She picks up a set of utensils, not looking to see if they are the ones she'd brought along. She carefully scoops out some smoldering embers. On the way back to the house, the three continue one of the songs begun by the group under the tents. At the house, they finally become more serious. They follow Lily into the kitchen where she ever so carefully lays the embers beneath the new wood then blows a little on it. The wood catches quickly and they must spring away.

"May we have Light and warmth for another year," Lily says.

"Lily...." Frodo says, "I don't think those are your utensils."

"Oh, I know! We always do that. It's a way of sharing. I had such fun! I'm so glad you came with us. You laughed like I remember, all those years ago. It's good to see you happy."

"Well, it feels good, I'll admit. The villagers are a boisterous lot! I didn't realise so much work was done for this... I feel guilty that I didn't contribute something."

"But you did! You danced and sang and added to the feeling. It's important to make the Sun feel welcome, you know, or it might not come back next year!" She winks at him.

He laughs. "I certainly don't want to be accused of causing that! I'm going to sleep while I have a chance."

"You can sleep here... we have room... instead of going all the way to the inn when you're so tired."

He shakes his head. "Lily, I have a room there. I'll have the innkeeper wake me before the sun sets."

"Are you sure? We really do have enough space."

"Yes, I'm sure. I'll meet you here later."

Lily watches him walk away from the door, only turning back into the house when he has gone round the hill.

***********

In his room at last, Frodo begins to feel very weary. Snatches of songs run through his mind. He sits on the bed, remembering the jubilation. Another Yule, another year, everything turning a little older... so much passing away... and yet, the sunrise was so brilliant! In the cold winter air the sun's rays felt warm and comforting. As soon as his head is on the pillow, he falls asleep.

Loud knocking and someone calling his name startle Frodo wide awake. The room is taking on that greyish yet distinct appearance that comes with each evening. He calls a thank you and the knocking finally stops. He sits for a few minutes, not moving, enjoying the stillness. Evening has at times been a lonely part of the day but this day, loneliness doesn't trouble him. After washing and dressing he writes a few lines in his journal before leaving for Torold's house.

51st Day, 1 Yule: What a morning! It reminded me of Bilbo's Birthday Party, except in daylight and Gandalf wasn't here. I'm quite glad I stayed. Maybe such a party is what I needed. The sunrise was glorious, it even chased away the chill - or was it the bonfire that did that! So much drink and food! I'm told there will be more tonight and all tomorrow. I almost wish it would go on yet another day. I think it helped Lily as well, I haven't seen her so excited since we were young! Torold said he thinks she is fond of me... She has been so understanding. I am rather sorry she and I didn't keep in touch. Of course she hadn't the urge to go wandering and I've always supposed that was one of the biggest differences between us. Still, her sensitivity here means much. Why should I feel that way when Sam has really done so much more for me?

Part of me is glad for someone who doesn't think of me as the Ringbearer. It's because of that, that Sam saved my life and almost gave up his. Sam is attached only to Rosie and his gaffer more. I am so grateful for Sam... and to him I'm still his master and his friend but also the Ringbearer. That can't ever change. Lily doesn't know much about that and hasn't asked. I can't ever put any of it out of my mind but at least it's in the background now. I still wonder if it would be easier if I lived here. Then, that other part of me, where Darkness always seems to be, feels so strong and inescapable that I can't help but think it doesn't matter at all where I live, because the wounds will never go away. Ah, Bilbo! I wish I could go to Rivendell and stay there, drifting in and out of the Elvish world. But that's a long way from here, I think I'm tired of traveling so far. Perhaps with the return of the Sun the Darkness will be driven a little further away.

[51st Day, just after the sun has dropped below the horizon] At the tents in the open field, more food and drink have replaced the goods from breakfast. There is an abundance of small sweet cakes that Lily says are made only for these two days. What ever is left over of them tomorrow night is given back to the fields where the grain first grew. Now there are at least two groups of musicians playing; it's difficult to tell which group is playing which song, but the intermingling of sounds is pleasant. The bonfire is still burning. It will not be allowed to go out until after tomorrow, when folk will keep an eye on it but let it go out as it will. Children are running hither and yon, laughing and hiding from imaginary creatures behind tolerant adults. Lily explains that the custom is to keep merrymaking all through both days of Yule; the old idea was that this must be done so the Sun was convinced people were truly grateful for it, or it wouldn't come back next Yule. Many folk sit up by the bonfire all night, plaiting long strands of grass and straw into fabulously woven circles or disks that represent gifts to the Sun for showing itself again. Frodo is captivated by the ease with which these disks were made. It must take less than five minutes to make one, yet they show a variety of weaves, colors, sizes and type of grassy fringe surrounding the circle to mimic rays. Some are quite thick, others are only one layer. Some have an open center. Lily says Iris and Torold have always been better at making them than she.

"For a seamstress and weaver of cloth I'm embarrassed to admit that!" she says as she fusses with some strands of thick grass. "Somehow thread is easier to work with. Look, even with your first one, it's better than mine!"

Frodo tries not to laugh. In fact, she's right. "Well, I think you're doing that on purpose, you and Torold are much too kind to me!"

"No no, look, oh, it's an oval!" she cries, holding hers up.

Frodo holds up his too, and against the backlight of the bonfire he can see the difference. His is very little more than a braided circle, but... it is very round... A sudden fear grips his heart and he drops the grass circle as if it were on fire.

Lily is shocked to realize that he is almost gasping as he stares at the circle. "Frodo! What happened?"

He bolts, startling people as he runs past.

Lily chases after and almost loses him in the dimness outside of the fire's light. She is panting by the time she catches up with him, out in the barren field. She stops more than an arm's length away. She can't quite see what he's doing, but he seems to be alternately scratching at his eyes and staring up at the sky. She is terrified. Without any idea of what's happening or why, she can only watch helplessly.

Finally he falls to his knees, his breath rasping in the still night air. Lily takes one step at a time toward him, shaking. Her eyes, beginning to adjust to the shadow, can just make him out on the ground. Still afraid but wanting to help, she reaches out slowly and her fingertips touch his shoulder. He shudders; she pulls her hand away. Long minutes pass.

Frodo realizes his hands on the ground have become cold. He presses them against his eyes; this helps the vision fade further. He looks up at the stars again and can see many of them now. Taking gulps of brisk air, he blinks repeatedly, trying to clear away the last of the apparition. It doesn't seem to want to disappear. Gradually he becomes aware of a sound and turns toward it... who is that? It's getting brighter again... O Elbereth, what is standing in front of him??

Lily hears a whimper and firmly takes Frodo's hand. It's icy. He starts to pull back but she calls him repeatedly, holding his hand in both of her own.

A shadow-shape outlined in a red glow hovers near Frodo. He can't pull away from it. It knows his name! Surely now will be the end of him!

In the dimness Lily can just see the panic on his face. "It's only me, Lily!" she pleads. "I won't hurt you, please, tell me what's wrong... please, it's only me!" She doesn't notice her tears.

Frodo's jewel emits a sheen of silvery-white. It's light feels cool on his face. Abruptly he sees Lily in its glow. He stops breathing for a moment. He can't remember why he should be looking at Lily. The redness fades and vanishes.

She sees recognition in his tormented eyes. "Frodo! Tell me you can hear me! Please tell me you're alright!" Her voice is unsteady and she begins to tremble.

He looks around and with the clarity of his peculiar night vision he sees nothing nearby. With breaths that shake his body he exhales several times. He looks back at Lily. Her huge dark eyes reflect the light of the jewel. Her face seems white.

"Lily..." he whispers, very low. "I'm sorry... I'm so sorry. I had to run, I could see it, I could even feel it..." The memory is too much; his voice fails.

"Ssshhhhh... it's gone now. There is nothing here. There is only you and me." She tries hard to keep her voice steady, unsure if she has succeeded.

Frodo shakes his head, just to be sure the image is in fact gone. His vision is clear, but he is afraid that may not last. He knows there is no fire around, but he is still fearful. He clutches her hands; she winces but does not pull away. "Are you sure...?" His voice is still barely above a whisper. "I'm afraid, Lily! I can't see anything here but I'm afraid!"

"It's gone, Frodo, it's all gone. There's nothing here to hurt you. We're alone in the field. There aren't even any other people. Really... there's nothing else here."

She watches him as he continues to look around. Ever so gradually his grip loosens. He begins to breathe slower. Quiet sounds from the feasting can be heard but nothing else. He looks at the stars. They are shining as always, they seem to be as bright as the jewel. "Lily, do the stars look different to you?"

"Different? Well no I don't think so..." She looks at them but can't think of anything that seems unusual.

"They're not brighter than they used to be?"

"No... not to me..."

Frodo gazes at her. 'No, I suppose they wouldn't be... it's only me. No one will ever see them this way.' He sighs, a slow breath that feels like it's emptied all the air from him. "I will always be like this," he says. "There is not much to be done about it, if anything. There are some wounds that even love cannot touch."

Frodo gazes at her. 'No, I suppose they wouldn't be... it's only me. No one will ever see them this way.' He sighs, a slow breath that feels like it's emptied all the air from him. "I will always be like this," he says. "There is not much to be done about it, if anything. There are some wounds that even love cannot touch."

"Oh, Frodo! Don't say that! You haven't been back long! You need time to recover!"

"Lily even the lifetime of an Elf would not be enough. I have seen the Eye of Sauron, I have been enslaved by his Ring. That can't be forgotten or set aside."

"But you have to try! You can't give up!"

"It isn't a matter of giving up. It's the way it is. The Ring is gone but it's effects are not. If I was a great Elf, or a wizard, maybe it would be different somehow, but even Galadriel and Gandalf refused it. It was my burden, and it still is." She begins to weep and Frodo holds her loosely. "I'm sorry, I am, I know this is hard for you...."

"I can't give up!" she insisted, her eyes pleading with him.

"Ah, Lily, you must. There is no other way. You mustn't entangle yourself with this. Even Sam couldn't relieve me of it or share it with me. It's no different even though the Ring is gone."

"It must be, somehow! You can't live this way, never knowing what will bring the terror back. You can't do this alone."

"You're making this difficult for yourself," he says, his voice compassionate. "I carried the Ring to Mordor and got out--"

"With Sam's help, you said! You were sure you were going to die there but he didn't abandon you. How can you possibly keep this up? You'll go mad! You're being stubborn! If Sam's responsible for saving your life then, what about now?"

Frodo closes his eyes briefly. 'She's right about me having had help, but it's not that simple.' He takes her hands in his and looks intently at her. "Now, no one can help. It may have been better if I had died there. Sam only saved my body, Lily, not my mind. I've been pierced too deeply. This cut on my arm won't even leave a scar but inside, the wound will always be there, there is no salve or balm that can erase it."

"How do you know? You haven't been back very long."

"You saw me! A simple decoration and a common bonfire! This won't be the last time. It doesn't matter if a day passes or ten years. Fires burn lasting marks. I suppose you won't really understand this yet," he adds. "I'm sorry I disrupted things... I'll be alright now, now that I know what to expect."

"You think I'm going to go back there as if nothing happened? Maybe you've decided nothing can be done but I'm not convinced." She pulls her hands free and crosses her arms, looking much like Sam, telling Elrond he was going on the Quest and that's final. "I think you've convinced yourself of that, for one reason or another. It's too easy to just say it's hopeless and carry on with the pain. Maybe you need something else to live for. Maybe you never wanted to stop your wandering and now the thought of staying in the Shire is intolerable, since you've been over the Mountains and seen so many things."

"That doesn't have anything to do with it. The Ring had power over me the first time I held it. I didn't expect to do anything as complicated as get to Mordor, but that's what happened. If I try to tell myself it shouldn't have happened, I will go mad."

She shakes her head, not looking at him.

'Lily, you poor girl,' he thinks. 'I wish you would understand... I would still like to settle in the Shire, Bag End, somewhere, and know that I could put it all out of my mind. It still feels like it's slipping from my hands. But there's no use in fighting it. Not liking it won't change it.' "Please, let it rest for now, this is not a night for sadness. Come back to the feast."

"Not a night for sadness? All I feel is sadness, Frodo. You're telling me your life is destroyed and I should have no thought for that. Well how can I do that? You're grateful for Sam helping you but you want me to forget it. I never thought of you as selfish."

"I told Sam more than once I had no hope of ever leaving there. I had no say in what he did. And now, it hurts him terribly that he can't do more for me. I've caused enough hurt... I don't want to hurt you that deeply too."

"Well. It's too late for that, too. I'm surprised you haven't tried to tell me your wounds are as permanent as the Sun returning every year."

"Lily...." Frodo is frustrated. Lily can't understand this in one conversation, and especially after her own tragedy. She is the stubborn one. He knows she is saying more than her words indicate. He remembers his earlier musings on whether or not he might be able to live in Oakleaf, or somewhere other than Bag End. He walks a few paces away. She watches. "I'm still confused about some things, I'll have to admit that. But I do know that it isn't as simple as you'd like it to be. It isn't just a matter of what I want to do, or not do. Your feelings right now must be complicated, as well."

"Not much. It seems clear to me. You've always had help with this burden and now should be no different. Didn't you tell me Sam even carried the Ring for awhile?"

"Now don't keep simplifying things! I didn't know he had it at first, and when he showed it to me--" The memory of it is enough to make him shudder. The overwhelming, excruciating need to hold it again; knowing he would have struck Sam or worse to get it back. "There is nothing to compare it with, it is beyond any need or compulsion for anything else. Gandalf and the Elves wouldn't even touch it! The best I can say now is that the Ring's touch is corrupt and complete." He holds out his maimed hand. "This should be proof. I couldn't fight it any more. I wanted to keep it more than I ever wanted anything, more than I ever dreamed I could want anything. This is only an outward mark but the inner is as complete."

Lily grasps his hand and leans over it. Her obvious pain is too much and he pulls her close. "I'm sorry, Lily! You have been through far too much! I know I've been cruel to you but I don't know any other way to make you see. Please, let's not talk about this any more tonight. All I want tonight is to enjoy Yule and the celebration. You've certainly helped me with that. This Yule is one I'll never forget."

There is a pause before she looks up. Tears glitter in her eyes. "I won't forget either. Please, Frodo, please, tell me you'll think about what I said. I'll try to accept your word on this, but you must do the same."

"Of course. I promise. Lily, I cherish the time I've been here. We may never have met like this if things had happened differently, and for this much I'm glad."

He kisses her cheek and she holds him for just a moment, then moves away. They make their way back to the crowd.

The group is a little quieter now. Some folk have gone off to rest for a few hours and the youngest have fallen asleep in their parents' arms, to be carried off to their warm beds. Torold sees Lily and Frodo come back. Lily sees the look of concern on his face and shakes her head, smiling a fragile smile. Torold sits back down but continues to keep an eye on the pair.

Night carries on, the stars watching from their high places. Board games begin and end, songs are created and forgotten, gifts for the Sun are made. Lily is not surprised that Frodo doesn't make more, and she can't bring herself to do so either. They watch, however, as others make them, and Frodo continues to be impressed by the craftsmanship of these villagers. Dancing resumes when- ever a fresh contingent arrives. Lily grows tired but says nothing until Frodo asks if she'd like some sleep. Torold says he'd like to stay on, he's just gotten interested in a board game. Frodo walks Lily back to her home. She knows better than to ask him if he'd stay. In the quiet house, she can't fall asleep for a while. Frodo also lies awake but soon drifts into a deep, dreamless sleep.