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Sacrament

by CRB and Ladyhawk Baggins

2 November 1419sr

"Sam."

"Yes, Mr. Frodo?"

Sam held Rosie by the hand as they stood in the greatroom of Farmer Cottonís smial in Bywater. He had not seen his master like this for a while, and was worried.

"Iím just going out for a walk. Merry has set a guard all round the edges of town; Iíll be all right. Please, donít wait up for me."

"Yes, sir. Frodo, youíll need your Elven-cloak, itís brisk out tonight." Without waiting for a reply, he left the room and was back in a moment with the cloak, putting it around Frodoís shoulders and fixing the leaf-clasp.

"Thank you, Sam." Frodoís voice was hushed. "Good night. Good night, Rosie." He smiled for her, and turned away.

"Good night, Frodo," the two said together.

He stepped out the front door and walked into the chill dark. Sam slowly closed the rounded door behind him.

He took a few more steps and was in the lane, no more than a half mile from the Great East Road that passed just to the south of Bywater. The battle would take place here, tomorrow morning.

A battle! The thought was staggering. The Travelers had returned to the Shire the day before yesterday, crossing the Brandywine. Talking with Butterbur the day before had been odd enough -- tales of ruffians, thieves, Rules... but Gandalf had also warned them that all would not be well here in the Shire when they returned. He told them they were changed hobbits now, and could easily deal with any troubles they might face.

Frodo took a few steps back to the Cottonsí small porch and sat down on the front step, heavily. He was bone-tired. When he looked straight ahead he saw a grey sliver of moon, lying low underneath a thick blanket of clouds. Just below it were the ugly rooftops of the ugly houses in Bywater, silhouetted there for all to see; inescapable. No lovely silhouettes of tall old trees were anywhere in sight. They had been cut down. It was unthinkable, unbelievable. Frodo was desolate.

Yesterday had been almost comical, being Ďarrestedí by frightened hobbits, going into Frogmorton. This morning the Travelers had laughed about it and continued their ride, telling the shirriffs to keep up if they could.

The rest of the day had been entirely different. The closer they came to Hobbiton, to Bagshot Row, and to his beloved Bag End, the worse the damage. Bywater, normally a bustling village, was wrecked. The Cottonsí modest hobbit-hole had been spared, but just down the lane stood one of the ugly houses, built by Men. It was hard to think that these were people of the same race as King Elessar and the Lord Faramir, and Boromir...

He closed his eyes for a moment to shut out the sights. It was almost completely quiet. The lane was nearly pitch dark, with only an occasional torch lit along it, in front of some of the houses and smials. It was not all that late. Despite the cold, there would have been hobbits milling about on their evening walks, talking about nothing with each other... talking about the crops, the weather, anything. There would have been some tweens about, and laughing and horseplay. This was a curfew. There would be a battle in the morning. He put his head down on his knees, his arms folded there.

Darkness of another sort, his unwelcome companion at all times, began to infiltrate his thoughts, insinuating itself like the strands of a spiderís web, but harder to brush away. The darkness came easily when his spirits were low. He tried to do as Gandalf had taught him. He tried to pray to Ilķvatar, but he could not find words. The darkness laughed at him in his distress. There would be a battle tomorrow, in the Shire, and hobbits would no doubt be killed, possibly even by other hobbits. It had never happened before.

He stood up suddenly, desperate to shake off the black despair he felt. He had not been able to throw the Ring in at Sammath Naur. Perhaps if he had -- perhaps if he had, none of this would be happening now. Perhaps it was because he failed.

Sometimes physical exercise helped him to shake off the gloom. Frodo began to walk slowly north on the lane. He repeated to himself what Gandalf and Elrond and Elessar, all of them, had told him. He had succeeded, the Quest was fulfilled, all would be well. Taking in deep chilled breaths of air, Frodo cleared his mind of most of the darkness by force of will. I still have some of that left, he thought grimly.

Frodo tried to think on what was going well. He was happy for Sam and Rosie. She had waited for her Samwise, as Frodo had known she would. There, at least, was something to be grateful for. The Gaffer was still alive, and well. The Cottons were fine, a little thinner than before, but fine. Sam would marry Rosie. He was feeling a little better now.

There were no crickets singing. It was too chilly. Even the crickets had the sense to sleep, he thought, if in fact they slept at all. He nearly laughed aloud at the absurd image of a sleeping cricket. Only a very tired hobbit would think such a thing.

He stopped and looked straight up into the night sky, so as to avoid the reminder that no trees lived here. He looked for Ešrendil, the Blessed Mariner, at the place in the heavens where the star should have been, but the clouds obscured his view.

Frodo covered his head with the hood of his cloak, and brought his hands to his mouth to warm them with his breath. It was getting colder by the moment, but he paid it little heed. He could not stop thinking about what Bag End, and all of Hobbiton, were going to look like when he got there -- if he got there. Perhaps if he died bravely in battle tomorrow... no, he would never again pick up a sword. Perhaps heíd be arrested and dragged off to Michel Delving to rot there with Will Whitfoot and the others. He almost laughed, again. That would be an interesting end to the tale of Frodo of the Nine Fingers, he thought. Perhaps a stray arrow...

Someone was weeping. Frodoís ears were still alert to every tiny sound; the danger of the Quest was ingrained in him. He turned slowly to localize the sound. It was behind him, not before him.

He walked quickly but did not run back down the lane. She was near enough, wherever she was. He finally found her on the front step of the dreary house next door to the Cottonsí. She had not been sitting there when he said his goodnights to Sam and Rosie.

As Frodo approached he could see her a bit more clearly in the light cast by the single taper lamp in front of the Cottonsí. He slowed his steps, for her head was down in her hands, and he would startle her if he were not careful. She was sobbing bitterly, confident she was alone on this dark lane. His heart went out to her.

He firmly reminded himself that he did not go on the Quest for nothing, and yet now, seeing the damage all around him, it seemed not to have been quite enough. Frodo sighed. He had endured the journey for all those he loved, even for those he did not know. This lass was a hobbit, part of the Shire; and thus a part of him. Helping her would be a way to help the Shire.

He came closer, slowly. Finally she saw his feet, and looked up at him.

"Why are you weeping?" he asked her softly.

"Oh! I -- I had not seen you there before!" She wiped her eyes with the apron tied round her waist, and looked at him again. "I -- I donít wish to trouble you. Everyone has troubles now. You have them too, I am sure... I can feel -- "

She stopped short. Her heart had stopped, in fact, but Frodo did not know it. He saw so much surprise in her eyes, and so much -- wonder?

Her forlorn racking sobs ceased, even her tears. It seemed to Frodo she was not even breathing. He took his cloak off in one movement and placed it round her as he sat down next to her. She would catch her death of cold in this air.

Frodo turned to face her, and could now see her face more clearly despite the dim light. She was looking directly at him, and still wore a look of -- what was it -- astonishment? Amazement? He felt cheerful, suddenly. What an odd sensation.

She was lovely, despite having eyes swollen with tears. It was hard to see her eye colour in the dim lamplight, but perhaps they were green. No, blue. He couldnít be sure. Her hair was beautiful, long auburn waves shining in the same dim light. She was more delicate than Rosie; smaller. She might be just past her coming of age, he thought -- perhaps 33, or 34 -- but it was hard to tell. Merry had told him the lasses came of age close on to 30. Frodo wouldnít have known very much of anything about them, if not for his friends. And Sam had all those sisters... he knew more than all of them put together.

What does it matter how old she is? he thought. He noticed she was trembling.

"No doubt I have frightened you in the dark like this, coming at you from nowhere, and without announcing myself. Please accept my apologies. My name is Frodo."

It is him, she thought, and gasped a little, coughing to hide her reaction. "I kno --" She froze, and not from the cold. Did he have to look at her so directly? Does he not know the effect he has on others? It is him! Frodo is alive, and has come back! Her heart was racing -- surely he could hear it?

"Hullo, Mr. B- Baggins -- my name is -- Lily Burrows. I am happy to -- to make your acquaintance. Th- thank you -- for this cloak." Her voice sounded small, as though she were afraid to speak.

"Youíre very welcome, Miss Lily."

She still seemed not to be breathing very evenly, Frodo thought, but at least she was breathing.

Lily looked away from him, pulling the cloak close around her, still trembling. She couldnít bear his gaze for long. It had been the same way twelve years before, in June, at the Bywater Fair. His eyes were the same then as now, unspeakably beautiful. What shall I do? she thought, panicked at being so near him, so suddenly...

"Donít be afraid. Iím not working for the Chief, or Sharkey, or -- how did you know it was Baggins?" he asked. His tone was not suspicious but curious.

"Oh!" What a slip she had made! She looked straight ahead, still trembling, but braved a little smile. "The Bagginses are -- well-known in the Shire! Well, I should say that your Uncle Bilbo was well-known. My family -- my brother Will and my parents, and my sister Daisy, were all invited to his 111th birthday party, many years ago. We had a -- a grand time." She hoped she had covered her surprise. It was true about the party. She had been there. She was seventeen then.

She was still nervous, and now became talkative rather than quiet. "I even saw Bilbo disappear! What a wonderful trick that was! I am sure Gandalf the Wizard arranged that! Something to tell my grandchildren!" she laughed a little, but he had not heard the irony in her voice.

How could he have heard it? she thought. He knew nothing of her love for him -- he could not know that since that day at the fair, she could never share her life with anyone save him. There would be no children, nor any grandchildren.

"I was barely a tween then," she said, still avoiding his gaze. "Goodness, that party was eighteen years ago!"

Frodo was not replying.

"Gandalf had to have done some real magic for your Uncle Bilbo to disappear, Iím sure -- "

She looked to him, expecting him to have vanished into thin air himself, a wisp of her imagination. None of this could be happening.

To her great surprise he was still there. But he was also far away, his eyes a mask she could not read. It seemed he was no longer aware of her at all. She could feel he was in pain; soul-sick. Heís looking at his hands so strangely...

"Frodo! Your hand! What happened? -- Oh, I beg your pardon, please forgive me! I am so sorry. You are in pain. If you donít wish to speak of it, I understand."

Frodo seemed to come back from wherever he had been, shaking himself free of something which had held him in its grip. Lily suddenly felt slightly ill. It passed. I must be catching something, she thought.

As she continued to watch him, his face softened. He folded his hands and put them in his lap, then continued the conversation as if nothing had happened. Lily saw through his blithe change in demeanor.

"Oh, yes, the hand," he said, looking at his right hand again briefly. "Iím quite fine, and in no pain at all. Itís a long story. Perhaps another time?" he smiled a little and turned to her.

He was trying to change the subject. Lily felt she could see through his words and into his heart. She had been born with the gift of sight, so her parents had said, but this was unlike anything she had seen before in a hobbit -- it was frightening. Something very dark was hiding within him. What pain he is in! And he had none of this darkness, none of it, that day at the fair...

Frodo took on an airy tone. "Gandalf the Wizard did do some wonderful tricks that night, didnít he? Half the Shire was there, I think. Uncle Bilbo really caused quite a stir with that trick."

Lily suddenly shivered, and wrapped her arms around herself tightly within the cloak.

"Miss Lily, you are far too cold. Shouldnít you be inside, by the fire?"

She shook her head, for the moment unable to speak.

"Please let us at least get you warmer here, then. May I?" He indicated the clasp on the cloak. Lily looked down and saw a clasp in the shape of a leaf, hanging free to one side. She nodded, shivering, then spoke.

"Itís -- itís so beautiful!"

"It is. It was made in a very special place."

He stood up and faced her; she started to rise as well.

"No, donít get up," he smiled.

Lily acquiesced. "Can you tell me where itís from?"

"I will. Another time." He smiled again.

Did he mean it? Or was it idle talk? Lily watched his face. She felt as though it almost hurt her eyes to look at him. He is so beautiful! A sigh escaped her lips, and immediately she hoped he had not heard it. It seemed he hadnít; that was good.

Frodo bent down to her and lifted the hood of the Elven-cloak up over her hair.

His face was only inches from hers. She could have reached up so easily to touch his cheek. He looked thinner than she remembered. Her memories of his face had faded a little over the long years, but here he was, next to her, in plain view...

Frodo was pulling the cloak more snugly round her and trying to fasten the clasp. He wondered why it was so difficult to fasten all of a sudden. Why is she trembling? he thought. She really is very lovely. He felt a pang of regret -- regret for what?

He is even more beautiful than I remembered, Lily thought. His skin! It looks as if a light lives within him. But then there is also the terrible dark! She shivered again.

Concentrating on the clasp, Frodo could not see her expression.

Lily examined him in this tiny window of time, his chestnut curls, very dark against the fair skin; his eyelashes, long and beautiful; his brow, furrowed now as he fought with the clasp. She was happy about the clasp, for it meant she could be near him for a moment longer. His mouth was just as she remembered it, although they had talked only once, at the fair... and only for an hour, if for that long. She tried to be as still as she could as he worked, but she shivered again, and his hand brushed her throat just a little.

She gasped, and startled a bit.

"I beg your pardon," Frodo said. "I did not hurt you, I hope? Iíve never had this much trouble with the clasp."

Frodo! she thought. Her heart was pounding. Frodo! -- you do not remember me! Tears started in her eyes.

He saw the tears and straightened up again, giving up on the clasp. "I have hurt you. Please forgive me." He wanted to touch her hand, her arm, to give her comfort, but it was not seemly. They were alone, and it was dark, and she had no escort.

"Iím all right.... Iím not hurt."

She tried to swallow the tears. The words were hers, but she felt they had come to her through him. What was happening?

She hoped she didnít look as ill as she felt. What an odd, odd feeling, she thought. I should feel the best I have in years, seeing this hobbit whom I have loved for so long! But she was still shivering, trembling with nerves, with the cold, with fear, hope...

He saw it. "You are still too cold, even with the cloak. I do think it might be best if you were to get inside, where itís warm... donít you?"

Oh, Mother, what shall I do? she called out silently. This is his cloak, wrapped about me!

She took a deep breath, and coughed; the air was too cold.

"Please, let me help you up." He held out his right hand to her. He again felt refreshed in some way he could not comprehend. It was as though a breath of spring air had entered him for a moment.

He was waiting for her.

Lily mustered all her courage. She put her left hand out and allowed him to help her up. He steadied her, his left hand on her right arm.

Frodo had to look down now to see her face. She was small, even for a hobbit. He thought she looked as delicate as the flower which bore her name...

"Be careful, Miss Lily. You will lose your balance... you are unsteady. Are you quite all right?" He still held her hand.

His concern was undoing any little shred of composure she had left. She had already lost her balance, years ago, when she lost her heart to him.

Lily fought tears again, but they were winning out. Her feelings were riding upon a see-saw, like the one she had ridden at the fair.

"Yes, I am quite -- quite fine, only a little -- cold." She shivered. "Iíve been so rude. Wonít you come in for -- some tea -- "

At this she cried in earnest, giving up the facade. It was pointless to keep one anyway. He would never remember her, and never care for her. And her father and brother might be dead in tomorrowís battle. They were ready to fight to the death. Her emotions won out over her will, and she cried as she spoke, choking on her words.

"We are only here visiting! We should not have been here! My father, and my brother Will are fighting in the morning! I cannot lose them! And now you are here and I -- " She wept bitterly, all her reserve now gone. She was too tired to care anymore, and too cold and too sad.

Clearly, she was overwrought. Frodo dropped any veneer of propriety. "You will freeze out here," he said, "and you are in grief..."

He walked her up the three steps to the front door, holding her against him with his left arm. She was still shivering, and did not resist.

He opened the door, puzzling again as to why Men would put a doorknob to one side of a door and not at the center, where it belonged. He helped her over the lintel. She was trembling violently.

When he met her, not more than half an hour before, he had wanted to help her. Now she might become ill, because he had waited too long to act.

"Hullo!"

He said it loudly enough for anyone in the house to hear it, and led Lily to the fireplace, only a few paces away. The welcoming fire crackled in the grate as Frodo released his hold on her. Some part of him had not wanted to let her go.

Frodo could see Lily was warmer already, and he was glad for it. He saw her cheeks flush to a beautiful deep shade of pink in the warmth of the fire. He started to remove the Elven-cloak from her shoulders, sure she would become too warm, but she hugged it to herself. She began to cry again, softly, her head down and her eyes closed.

"You have been weeping for fear of losing them," Frodo said, his voice low. "I am sorry. I wish I could promise their safety. We hope that no one will be killed. But I cannot promise anything anymore. I am not good at keeping promises." He had not kept his promise to give up the Ring to the flames.

Lily stared at him, her face streaked with tears. "What do you mean by that?"

Frodo startled for a moment. He realized he had been looking not at her, but through her. He felt again for a moment an odd joy in her presence that was unlike anything heíd known before. If he had not thought it so foolish a notion heíd have said she was the cause of it, but that was impossible. He was imagining it.

"You mean, about broken promises? I -- I may tell you that story someday. It goes with the hand story." He looked down at his hand and laughed a little, then looked up at her again. Her eyes were blue. No, green. Hazel.

Frodo had tried to cheer her but the attempt had failed. "I donít think itís a story youíd really want to hear," he continued. "Itís terribly long, anyway." He smiled at her and put his hands out to the fire to warm them for a moment, then let out a small sigh.

"I really should go now," he said, not without sadness. He already wished he could see her again and did not know why.

It seemed to him that she was almost alarmed by his simple announcement about leaving.

"But -- the tea! Please stay for tea? I am sorry -- Frodo -- " she blinked. "I have been standing here doing absolutely nothing. I could have been making the tea."

"You have cheered a sad soul tonight, Miss Lily. I would not call that nothing."

"Please, call me Lily..." She ventured, with terrible trepidation. She waited for a rebuff of some sort. It was so forward, what she had just said. What did it matter? she wondered to herself. It makes no difference what he will think of me at this moment. I will never see him again.

"Oh, Frodo!" she exclaimed, still hugging the cloak to herself. She forced calm into her voice. "I -- I hope you will not be harmed in the battle tomorrow."

Frodo wondered at this, and at feelings he did not recognize in himself. No one had ever spoken to him this way, not even Rosie, Samís beloved, and close to his heart because of it.

He turned away from the fire to face her. There was so much concern in her eyes!

"I hope for the same, Lily. You are very kind to worry on my account."

He saw her eyes close. It looked as though she were about to faint. He had only seen one of Samís sisters faint, once, on a particularly hot summer day. It reminded him of that look... she really must be ill.

"Lily?"

She started to fall. He almost did not catch her in time, taken unaware as he was.

She was light. There was a low settee just behind them, facing the fireplace. He lay her there and wondered what to do, confused.

She wasnít waking up. Werenít they supposed to wake up? Perhaps she was ill...

"Lily? Lily!" He touched her forehead. Nothing.

He got up and ran to the foot of the stairs, then halfway up them.

"Mr. Burrows! Will!" he shouted.

A taller-than-average hobbit who was too young to be Lilyís father appeared at the landing, running a hand over sleep-filled eyes. He had unruly red hair. It had to be Will.

The hobbit stared hard at him, then descended the stairs, following Frodo as he turned away toward Lily.

"Wait," Will demanded. "Who are you?"

Frodo was impatient. "My name is Frodo Baggins. That doesnít matter. Your sister has -- "

"Frodo Baggins?" interrupted Will, with some anger in his voice. "Where have you been? We have need of every able-bodied hobbit in the Shire. I talked to Merry Brandybuck today. There is a battle tomorrow. You and he were out on some silly adventure, like your Uncle Bilbo, and disappearing in pubs and such, and -- "

It was Frodoís turn to interrupt. "Yes, yes, I know all about the disappearing stories. Your sister has fainted; she may be ill. Can you please help?" With that he turned and went back to where she lay. Will followed him.

"What are you doing in here?"

Frodo was surprised at Willís tone, and more surprised at his own. It took a great deal indeed these days to make him angry.

"I was invited in. Donít you care about her? Is her father here? Perhaps he will help me."

"Of course I care! She is my sister! She faints easily. It is a simple matter to wake her. Here -- "

Will fetched a mug of water from the kitchen table and upon returning leaned over his sister, placing several cold drops on her temples and her wrists. Then he handed the mug to Frodo. He slapped her face gently several times. Frodo winced.

"Lily, wake up! Itís Will! Lily!"

Her eyes opened, unfocused at first on anything. She did not appear to see Will at all.

He continued, "There! There is nothing to it. I need my rest for the battle to come. Da is already asleep. Are you going to fight as well?"

Frodo did not reply. He knelt by the settee, on her left, and took her hand.

"Frodo!" she said drowsily. For the first time that evening, she gave him her bright full smile.

A memory stirred in him. He felt he had seen her somewhere before, somewhere, with this bright full smile. Where? When --? He fought to retain the memory, but it was ephemeral, gone as soon as his attention was pulled back into the present.

She was waking up.

"You came back!" Lily said, cheerfully. "You came back to see me! Where am I?"

Frodo was not sure what she meant, but that was not important.

"Youíre at your brother Willís house. Youíve been visiting here with your father."

She was coming awake, and he felt joy return to him. An odd feeling indeed, but welcome.

She tried to sit up. Frodo helped her, then sat next to her. He let go her left hand.

"Oh, no, I fainted! Iím sorry. I am so --" she put a hand to her forehead and blinked several times.

"Donít worry about that. Youíre all right now." He was not going to leave until he was sure she really was all right.

Will had been standing there all along, ignored, as though not in the room.

"Iím going to bed," he groused.

He stomped up the creaking stairs. Lily was safe enough with this mad Baggins, he thought. That was clear. He hoped she wouldnít become smitten with a loon like that. Sheíd never been smitten with anyone in her life, so maybe she wouldnít fall for Baggins either.

Neither of them saw or heard him go.

Lily tried to stand, but could not, and immediately sat down again. He was sitting very close to her and was watching her intently, his face clearly revealing his concern. That beautiful face! she thought. She feared she might really faint again. She somehow had to make a space between them, and soon, or she would give herself away with more trembling. As she tried to think of a way to separate herself from him -- only a little! she thought -- he solved the problem for her.

"Is there anything I can do for you? May I get you something to drink? I can find my way round a strange kitchen easily enough," he said. He smiled at Lily, in an effort to calm her, but it didnít seem to be working. She really seemed very nervous. Sheís either very upset about tomorrowís battle, he thought, or -- no. The other was not a possibility. And why was he thinking of it at all?

Lily saw her chance to rest her heart and mind.

"I -- I think a little water perhaps..." Frodo nodded his head. "Thank you. You are most kind."

He got up and headed for the kitchen. Lily immediately felt lighter, as if a sort of weight or heaviness had been lifted. She was confused by what was happening. She must remember her manners. Frodo had never been here before. "The mugs are just over there," she called back to him, pointing to the far counter beyond the large kitchen table.

"I know," he smiled, looking back at her.

"What? Oh, pardon me... what was it you said?"

"I know where the mugs are. Your brother was already here; he let me know."

Frodo saw her puzzling over this new bit of information, and was still smiling as he fetched two mugs from the far counter. Iíll tell her about meeting Will, he thought. Maybe talking will distract her; perhaps if I can keep her talking she will become less nervous. Merry said the lasses liked to talk a great deal.

He stopped for just a moment as he realized that he wanted a distraction, too. He wanted one very badly. Anything to keep from thinking about tomorrow, about Bag End, about the felled trees, about this ĎSharkeyí, about his beloved Shire... Bilbo must never be told what happened here.

The voice from within struck without warning. You will never see him again. Why try to deceive yourself? You will not live long enough to see Bilbo ever again.

Frodo set the mugs down and tried to force the darkness back. He wanted to hold the Ring, suddenly, before remembering he no longer owned it. He could not possibly help Lily if he were fighting this at the same time.

Again he made a concerted effort to clear his mind, and took a deep breath. The thoughts of the Ring retreated, much more easily than they ever had before. That was very puzzling, he thought. He took another deep breath; the darkness was gone, for the time being.

Still pondering what just happened, Frodo brought the mugs and offered her one. Lily took it and nodded her thanks, mute. He sat down next to her. It took a moment for him to gather his thoughts before speaking.

"Forgive me; Iíd meant to tell you that your brother and I met as he revived you."

Lily cleared her throat. "Oh -- Will! I -- I trust your meeting was pleasant?" She doubted it was.

Frodo smiled. "Pleasant enough. But, may I ask, do these faints happen often? Will says they do..."

Again she stopped breathing; his smile had undone her. She pretended all was well, and that it was perfectly commonplace for the hobbit who had filled her dreams these past twelve years to be sitting next to her, talking with her, concerned for her, and smiling at her... She made herself speak calmly, unsure of where she found the strength to do so.

"Oh... yes... it is not at all uncommon for me to have the fainting spells. I am really fine now." She smiled at him quickly but then looked straight ahead to the mantel. His eyes had not strayed from her face even once. Maybe I should not have told him about the fainting, she thought. That was foolish... No, no, I had to tell the truth. Mother taught me always to tell the truth...

Then why wasnít she telling him she loved him, that she would do or give anything to be with him? She wanted to throw herself down and confess everything to him, now...

She could never do it; he would run from her and never return. If Frodo never came to care for her of his own volition, of his own free will -- unless he truly loved her for herself, it would all be doomed from the start. She could not throw herself at him, ever.

"Have you called on a healer about this?" he continued. He felt compelled to take care of this lovely lass in some way, and had no idea why. He did know he felt the best he had since Rivendell, on their long journey home.

Frodo could not account for how well he felt, especially remembering that there would no doubt be hobbits dying in battle on the morrow. He should have felt despair -- he had felt despair, earlier tonight, before seeing her this evening. None of it made any sense; he could not sort it out.

She was preoccupied again, and he had wanted to keep her talking if he could...

"Pardon me, I was remiss in asking you such a personal question, when we hardly know each other. Iíd like to make amends. May I make the tea?"

"Oh! I am ready to get up now. Here, you see, I am fine, let me do it," she protested, and got up.

"All right," he smiled. "But let me stand near you, just in case. You may be coming down with something. I do hope not."

They made their way into the kitchen together. Lily was walking on air, but still felt faintly ill. She stopped at the counter and leaned against it for a moment, closing her eyes.

It was the darkness. Frodoís painful darkness was making her feel this way. She knew it, and wondered how. Although her new awareness did not take away the ill feeling, she felt some peace in knowing the cause. There had to be some way to help him. He could not carry -- could not face -- this darkness forever. It would be his undoing...

"Lily? What is it?"

She shook her head slightly and smiled at him, as best she could, trying to avoid his eyes. "Nothing, itís -- nothing. I am fine."

She measured some tea leaves by sight, her hand trembling, and dropped them into the infuser within the plain ceramic teapot. Hot water was already at the hearth in a cast iron pot. In no time at all the tea was steeping. She let Frodo pour the tea, afraid of her unsteady hands. When they each had a cup, and Lily had added sugar to hers, she invited him to sit down at the kitchen table with her.

Frodo accepted her offer. He pulled a chair out for her, then sat down across from her.

Lily attempted to smile at this hobbit who had occupied so many of her waking moments for the past twelve years. I could not help falling in love with him! she thought.

It was summertime, June 22nd, 1407. She had the date memorized, of course. She was 23 then. She had gone to the Bywater Fair with her mother to shop.