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Sacrament

by CRB and Ladyhawk Baggins

25 February 1420sr

As the time for second breakfast approached, Lily wished Frodo would come sooner, but was also pleased to have the added time to prepare herself and to cook him something delicious for the second meal of the day. She knew she was a good cook. Frodo was discovering it too, and Lily was pleased to see him eating more heartily than he had in December. In fact, he seemed altogether more vibrant and alive than he had then. He laughed, and often. On one of their walks that week, he told her how much it meant to him, to be able to laugh. She would have done anything to bring him happiness.

Lily heard his knock at the door and her heart soared. He was early!

“Come in!”

She heard the front door open, and was glad Frodo felt comfortable enough to let himself in. They had shared so many wonderful hours together these past few days...

She turned to the welcome sound of his footfalls.

Frodo stopped in the kitchen doorway, wreathed in smiles.

She is so lovely, even here, simply cooking breakfast, he reflected. He was bursting with things he wished to say to her, feelings he wanted to express... that she made the Shire, the whole world, seem new to him again. He thought he understood now why folk created ballads and lays about love. But he could not afford to tell her this much; not now, not yet. He tried to gain some measure of control over his voice before he spoke.

“Good morning, Lily. It was a beautiful day when I awoke, and now it is more beautiful, because -- because I can see you again.” Though he had carefully rehearsed his speech all the way here, he wondered if it sounded as awkward as it felt. These feelings are so new, he thought. I do hope she understands what I am trying to say...

At his words, all of Lily’s careful composure vanished, and she stopped short on her way to the dining table. For years -- years! she dreamed of hearing him say such words to her...

Frodo picked up a cloth from the hearth and took the sizzling-hot rasher of frying bacon from her, oven-cloths and all. He laid it down on the iron trivet on the table. Turning back to Lily, he took her shoulders and held her at arm’s length to take a closer look at her. Surely she was not having a fainting spell?

“Lily? Are you quite all right?” Was it something he said? He was sure it was too soon for the darkness to pose a problem.

She smiled weakly for him. She hardly knew what to say when he spoke in this manner. His mere touch was disconcerting, and now the look in his eyes...

“It’s nothing. Where are my manners? I haven’t yet said good morning to you!” She took a deep breath and stood up very straight, composing herself, hoping the charade was working. “I really am quite fine. See? And, good morning!” she added, smiling.

With sudden insight, Frodo realized his morning greeting affected her far more than he anticipated. She was hanging on his every word. And he had so much to tell her today. It must be done, and soon, he determined. He released her.

“Very well. I shall keep an eye on you, however,” he said, trying to keep some bit of levity in his tone. He wanted to calm not only Lily but himself.

They briefly embraced, and Lily set about her work again, her face still rosy from blushing. She managed to change the subject.

“I hope you are hungry for second breakfast?”

“Yes, I am -- and it smells wonderful!”

Frodo had only just noticed the delicious aromas in the air. It was as if his senses could not take in everything at once. He wondered at this; it was another new sensation. And he was ravenous. He hadn’t eaten first breakfast once yet this week. Nervousness and happiness together had stolen his appetite for it.

“What may I do to help?” he asked.

She laughed. “Oh Frodo, nothing at all, but thank you. It is nearly ready. Please sit and help yourself to tea!”

He knew better than to ask again. She was clearly enjoying herself. He eyed the bacon, fresh toast, scrambled eggs, and the sautéed mushrooms, still steaming on the table before him.

“Lily, this is a feast! And you found more of your blackberry preserves! So I may revel in them again, after all. Where were they, then?”

“This morning I found them hiding behind the green beans I laid up last summer. I really thought there weren’t any more. I’m pleased to have found them.” She removed her apron and brought a fresh teapot to the table.

Frodo pulled the chair out for her and then they sat down to eat. Lily saw him close his eyes for just a moment, before beginning to eat. It occurred to her that he did this before each meal they shared. After only a few moments, Lily noticed his sudden quiet.

“You are far away,” she observed with a smile, placing her hand over his.

He started a bit. “I’m sorry. I was away, wasn’t I? I was thinking about how very long the Quest lasted, and how much I missed real meals. Just this sort of meal. Sam is a marvel in the kitchen, but this feels different. Thank you.”

---------

Second breakfast was over, and their third cup of tea. They had been talking for so long, and laughing, that it would soon be elevensies.

Frodo set down his teacup. He was smiling, and appeared to be daydreaming as he stared out the kitchen window.

“I must tell you, it’s been years since I have had such an appetite...” He searched her eyes. “I really cannot thank you enough for all the delightful meals you’ve served me.”

Lily blushed and rose to take his empty teacup. “Thank you. My mum was a good teacher, and patient with me in the kitchen.” She stopped at the hearth and was surprised by sudden tears.

Frodo sensed them and went to her.

He knows, she realized. He seems to know the source of all my emotions. Lily decided she did not resent this, but welcomed it. She needed someone to care about what she felt, and what she thought.

“I miss her, and my da. I miss them both so much.”

Frodo took the teacup from her hand and set it back on the table. He drew her into his arms and let her weep, her face buried in his shoulder. Then he kissed her temple and spoke to her in a low voice.

“I am sorry, Lily. I don’t understand why they were taken from you. I believe the Creator loves us, but there is so much I do not understand. I am sure you shall see them again. From what you’ve told me, they were thankful for all they’d been given in life. I’m sure they were thankful for you, as I am.”

She pulled back to study his face, seeking an answer in his bright blue eyes, and found only honesty there, honesty and a strange fatigue. The darkness never really let him rest; not fully...

Then she sniffled and smiled. “To be thankful is to know... I think my da would have liked hearing about the Creator. I remember much of what you spoke of at the burial, but there seems so much yet to learn. Do I remember rightly that you learned about Il -- Ilúvatar from the King?”

Frodo gently brushed away the tear on her cheek before he spoke. “Yes, King Elessar -- I knew him first as Strider, then Aragorn...”

“I remember Sam mentioning him...”

“I also learned from the Elves, and from Gandalf.” Frodo eyed her doubtfully, wondering what her reaction to this would be.

Lily smiled. “You certainly couldn’t mention Elves at the burial, nor a wizard... it was difficult enough for many of the folk present to even accept the notion of a king...” Her eyes met his. “I am glad you told me. Could you -- would you please tell me again about where my parents are?”

“I believe there is another world far beyond anything we know here, and we shall have a life there which only mortals can attain. When death comes we shall live with the Creator, to worship Him and to live forever in peace; this is His Gift. Not even the Elves go there... I was told this, and I believe it. Everything makes more sense to me now. Everything.” His voice was full of wonder. “Giving thanks brings me joy, and -- I cannot express what it means to be able to ask for help...”

Lily held him tightly for a moment, then pulled back again.

“Frodo, I remember what you said about faith, but still -- when you speak of the Creator and where He dwells, you seem so completely sure. I believe you, I do; and yet a small part of me wonders -- can it really be true?”

“No one has ever come back to tell us, Lily. Except, mayhap, in dreams...”

“Have you had dreams, Frodo?”

“Some...” Frodo’s face clouded.

How I wish I could clear the shadow away from his eyes! Lily wondered if her wish was a prayer, but realized she could not ask Frodo, so she continued.

“You have no proof, and yet you believe it is true... You have faith in what Aragorn, Gandalf and the Elves have taught you, and you have shared it with those at the burial, and with me, that we -- that I too might know of Him, and have faith as well... You have experienced so much pain -- yet still you believe...”

Frodo sighed. “Yes. I have seen much, so much...” The voice began to tug at his thoughts, and he firmly pushed it away. “Lily, I have also seen much that is good and beautiful in the world. We are surrounded by it. Someone -- Ilúvatar, created all of this beauty, and us.” He paused. “He created you. You are so lovely, Lily. So beautiful. And your spirit is more beautiful yet.”

Lily blushed. “I -- thank you --” She struggled to concentrate. “I think I understand. All goodness and beauty comes from the Creator. And because He made us, He cares for us, so much that He gave us the gift of returning Home to Him, if we want it...? I think I see...

“And my parents are there now,” she continued, “and I shall one day see them again... It seems so easy. You say it is a gift, and gifts are like that.” She sighed. “Oh, how I wish they could see me now, and know the joy I feel!”

Lily saw Frodo start to speak again, but he stopped himself. He gazed past her to the hearth. “I cannot say more at the moment, Lily, though I wish to.” He met her eyes again.

“Would you like to go for a walk with me? Or a ride? We could take Strider to the Shirebourn, and pack a midday meal. What do you say?” He regained some sort of composure, she noticed, and it seemed that some effort was involved.

He was smiling at her now, but she was still deep in thought, turning all his words over in her mind. He had said so much, so quickly; some of it was comforting, and some of it caused her heart to race.

“Yes, I should like that very much! But I have not been on a pony since I was a child. You shall have to help me! I’m afraid I may fall off!”

Frodo laughed. “I won’t let you fall, Lily! But you may wish for a warm shawl today. It’s bright and sunny, with no wind, but there’s still a winter chill in the air. And we’ll want to bring the heavy blanket we used yesterday, to spread for our lunch by the river.”

Lily’s eyes sparkled with the excitement she felt. She still wondered, even now, at the realization that he had come back for her. He wanted to be near her! She understood that longing. It had been her daily companion, not only since his departure in December, but for many long years before that.

Lily reminded herself to not take for granted this magical time together. The earlier invasion of the darkness, though pushed away for the moment, would return. She decided it best to fondly store away these precious memories, for Frodo could not always stay in Deephallow; sooner or later he would need to return to Hobbiton. But she would not think about that now.

The two of them packed a luncheon in Frodo’s saddlebag: cheese, fresh loaves, some cider, and apples; they brought several extra for Strider. Frodo made a point of asking her to bring some more of her blackberry preserves; he admitted with a smile he couldn’t seem to get enough of them.

She gathered her warmest shawl, and the woolen blanket they’d used the day before. Frodo picked up the saddlebag as they left the house to find Strider. Lily turned to him, her eyes bright.

“I am ready.”

---------

Frodo found Strider not far from where he’d dropped the reins, and brought him round to where Lily stood on her front porch. He placed the saddlebag and the woolen blanket on Strider’s withers and checked that the saddle was snug on him. The pony eyed Lily appreciatively as she fed him an apple while stroking the white star on his face. With a gentle nudge, Frodo moved Strider so he stood with his left side very near the porch.

“All right, Lily, I’m going to lift you onto the saddle. You’ll be most comfortable sitting sidesaddle -- to one side, I mean.” He took her by the waist, ignoring as best he could the feelings elicited by this simple touch.

“Put your hands on my shoulders; it will keep us both more balanced. Up you go!”

Lily giggled like a tween, and Frodo laughed in return. Although he did not have the broad frame of some hobbits, Frodo was strong enough, and Lily was placed more gently on Strider than she had expected. She made herself as comfortable as she could, pleased that the pony, as promised, hadn’t immediately run away with her, and began to take in the view from where she was; it felt so high up!

Frodo stepped into the stirrup and was up in an instant, sitting just behind the small saddle. He reached forward past her to take the reins, but stopped when her long auburn hair brushed his cheek. She felt him hesitate.

He dropped the reins and took her right shoulder, turning her gently to face him. Sitting sidesaddle, she felt comfortable, and did not lose her balance. She wondered what it was he wanted. Frodo seemed restless, and yet moved not at all. He was looking at her, searching her whole face as if seeing it for the first time. His eyes, so blue in the bright sun, now spoke openly to her, plainly. In their blinding intensity, Lily felt as though all her thoughts were exposed, but still she met his gaze and did not shy away. As a reward, it seemed, she was able to look into him as well. There she saw fear, love, wonder, and something more... desire. Suddenly she understood, and could not hide her small gasp of surprise.

Frodo saw the new knowledge in her eyes. She never hides anything from me, he marveled. How I love her!

His expression now saddened Lily, for it was a mixture of anguish and desire, the desire and love he was fighting. She kept her gaze steady, wishing to reveal all the love she felt for him -- deep, unwavering, constant love.

He seemed suddenly overcome, and then his fingers were in her hair, holding her face near to his as if she might disappear and never return. Then his right arm cradled her back, supporting her, and he kissed her. It was a long kiss, searching, and ardent. Lily reached for his face but got only as far as his chest. She could feel his heart beating hard and fast.

Frodo broke it off, his breathing uneven. He laid his forehead on her shoulder, and held the saddle with his right hand. She felt him struggle to gain control of himself. Lily herself felt only a sweet lightheadedness holding her in its sway. She wanted to kiss his palm, so near her face: as if somehow forgotten, his left hand was still there in the midst of her curls.

Without looking up at her, Frodo spoke. “Lily. I apologize. It was thoughtless of me to steal a kiss from you in such a manner. Please forgive me. I shall not let it happen again.”

“Frodo! There is nothing to forgive! Look at me -- surely you can see into my heart!”

He released his gentle hold on her and looked up, afraid at first, then wondering, as he took in what he saw. Unbelievably, she was not upset at all; her expression could only be called blissful. Her cheeks were flushed, and her eyes bright.

Then, in order to prove she was in earnest, Lily caressed his cheek with her left hand and drew close to him again. She looked into his eyes once, and then she let her fingers touch his generous mouth -- those lips she had been longing to caress. At her touch his eyes closed, and his breath caught. When he opened them again, slowly, and looked at her in a sort of daze, she took her fingers away from his mouth and kissed him, gently and eagerly. Again his eyes closed, and when she gave him another, she felt his arm cradling her back once more. He deepened their kiss, and Lily trembled, then stilled.

In the middle of the kiss, she felt Frodo’s fingers once more in her curls; he pushed his hand gently through her hair until it was behind her head, supporting her as they kissed. She felt slightly dizzy as she responded again to his caress, for he was tender; tender, and urgent, all at once.

She felt in some ways at the outer edges of thought; the kiss was taking her breath away. Lily reached up and felt for his soft chestnut curls. I can touch him... first his lips -- I was allowed to touch his lips -- and now his beautiful curls. He is warm; he is trembling. Oh, Frodo, my heart is so full! -- she wanted to tell him -- but she did not want this to end.

Her right hand was still pressed against his heart. In amazement, she felt it begin to pound again as they kissed. Beneath her hand she also felt his breathing quicken, his chest rising, and falling, faster than before.

Suddenly she realized -- as Frodo had, earlier -- they must stop; and she did. This was more wonderful than her most cherished imaginings, but it created feelings in them both which were better left untouched for now. Lily learned for herself how a tiny spark could spread very quickly into a fire. Her own heart was pounding as well.

It was only after she opened her eyes that she saw the results of her efforts. He was breathless, and appeared stunned -- her kiss had surprised him even more than she had expected it would. Something else was there, so strong he was blinking back tears in the bright sunshine. It was gratitude; his face was a picture of it, his eyes full to overflowing with unspoken thanks.

Strider shifted his weight underneath them, and, as if a spell had been broken, Lily saw a slight desperate fear creeping into Frodo’s eyes. It was if he could not believe that what had just happened was something she really wanted. What would it take to make him believe it, and doubt no more? The darkness was doing this to him. If only she could drive it away forever! She hated to see him in such torment, even for a single moment, for the torment became her own. Then he spoke out loud. The sound of his soft voice in the quiet clearing was like music.

“Lily -- I have had the pleasure -- the sweetest pleasure of your company, for only a little while -- in November, in December, and now. I have had the time to see all the things you are, all the things my heart--”

He stopped, then started again.

“We have really only known each other a short time -- What do you see in me to cause such -- such devotion? I wish -- I need to understand.”

As strange and amazing as it seemed to Lily, Frodo could not believe he was really wanted. He had been alone for too long. How could she convince him?

“You are unlike any other hobbit I have ever known, more courteous, more quiet, more kind and more gentle. There is a light that shines from within you, Frodo. I cannot define it or describe it. I only know I am drawn to it.”

The voice began to creep into Frodo’s mind, whispering doubts and despair. What about the hobbit her father said she was holding her heart for? What if it were someone he knew? No, he countered, she told me in December she could love only me...

Lily felt the slight pull of the darkness as it rose to confront his spirit, causing doubt. She could see he wanted so much to believe. She allowed him to look into her soul once more, and did not flinch from the interrogation -- it was a hard word, but she did not know what else to call it. I am genuine, she assured him silently. I am real. Please believe me. Don’t believe the darkness. It wants you to suffer. Don’t let it prevail, Frodo. Please...

He closed his eyes for what seemed a very long time, struggling within himself. Lily’s breath caught in her throat. She had never really seen him at rest before. How could anyone be so beautiful, even in repose?

Help arrived; Frodo opened his eyes. This was nearly as bad, she smiled weakly to herself, because once again he was beautiful, as one waking from a dream. And as if that were not enough, he was looking at her in a new light. He had decided. She began to breathe again... to live again.

Underneath all her joy lay the slightest feeling of weakness, the result of her taking some of Frodo’s darkness onto herself. It was not too bad. She felt relief; he would not be able to see it.

“I -- I believe you, Lily.” Frodo’s voice was nearly a whisper. “I do! I may not ever fully understand your devotion, but -- I believe you.”

He was smiling now, smiling into her eyes, and all the colour had returned to his face. She returned the smile and kissed his cheek. A threshold had been crossed. What would become of them now? Lily could only hope, more fervently than ever. She was an old friend to hope. They went back many years together.

Still smiling, she handed him the reins so he need not reach past her again. He took them, and then turned Strider to the south. Strider neighed into the chill sunny air, happy to be moving again.

---------

Strider took an easy pace, knowing his master’s touch well. The air was invigorating and crisp, and the sun held a trace of warmth. They rode in silence for a time, each deep in thought. Then Frodo asked Lily the best path to the river. Once on the path, she pointed out some of her favourite places -- the meadows, which in spring and summer would be full of daisies and tiger lilies, and the woods where she and Daisy had played.

Too soon, Lily mused, they arrived at the banks of the Shirebourn. The snows were gone, but the ground was still very chilly. Frodo spread out the blanket for them. They laid out the food they brought, and nibbled on it as they talked. The sun shone down on them as they looked at clouds together, laughing again at the shapes they found there, and talking all the while.

The afternoon sun began to throw her long shadows when they finally realized they were terribly hungry, and ate in earnest. The shadows lengthened by the minute; the winter days were still short.

Frodo told Lily of times in his youth when he and his parents picnicked along the Brandywine, which joined the Shirebourn not far from where they were now.

Lily’s own memories stirred, and she began to reminisce. “My family always picnicked along the Shirebourn, in fact, this very spot was one of our favourites. Mum and Da even came here before they were wed...”

Frodo was fetching an apple for Strider when Lily’s words stopped him. He paused for a long moment, then sighed once, as if trying to regain his composure. He was relieved Lily did not seem to notice his discomfort.

Strider greedily munched the apple from his hand as he stroked his neck. Frodo then walked to the river’s edge and stared into the grey depths and the swift current.

“I am wondering if perhaps this was not the wisest place to bring you today.”

Lily understood. “It’s the perfect place, Frodo. I must be honest and tell you that I feel closer to them when I am here. More peaceful. I don’t know why.”

Frodo squared his shoulders and sighed, then turned back and sat next to her on the blanket. She sensed something was amiss.

“I must be honest with you as well, Lily. I have much to say, and hardly know where to begin. I spoke to Daisy and Hal at length yesternight. I had intended to pay them a visit by week’s end, in any case, but they sent a message boy to the Eagle and Child with a note asking that I see them quickly. They are concerned for you...”

Frodo’s voice trailed off and for a moment he looked down. She longed to hear more, and remained still, waiting, yet afraid. He took an unsteady breath and continued.

“They were both very worried for you when I left in December. They said you were distraught, for a time. They have asked me to tell you plainly what is in my heart. And they asked me to tell you before the week was out. They don’t wish to see you hurt again. If I do not intend... to marry you, they want me to tell you now, and then return to Hobbiton for good. They want me to release you from our -- from this courtship, so that you may go on with your life, and marry any of a number of beaus who have sought you here in Deephallow -- and not just here, they tell me...”

Lily started to speak, but he continued. “I have been careless with your heart, and thoughtless, drawing out your hopes -- first at Yuletide, and now again this week. Lily--” He dropped his eyes, unable to bear the mixture of fear and anticipation in hers.

It was clear to her that Frodo was searching for the right words to say. But what would they be?

He took both her hands in his. She saw this happen, but could not feel it, for her senses were overwhelmed, his words ringing in her ears. She forced herself to keep listening, her heart filled with fear and longing. Her whole life, her whole future, her whole self, lay with him now.

Frodo raised her hands to his lips and kissed them, very gently. She had never heard his voice tremble before.

“I want to be with you forever, Lily. I want you to be my wife.”

He saw hope leap up into her eyes, and she opened her mouth to speak.

“Wait,” he continued, and then he saw part of her hope die; his heart ached at the thought of hurting her. She looked down quickly at the blanket and fought with tears. Frodo gently lifted her chin and she blinked furiously, the tears running down her cheeks. He tenderly wiped them away with his right hand, more aware than ever of his missing finger. The Quest was colouring everything in his life, and now in hers; in theirs... His voice became low.

“Lily, I am not the person you once met at the Fair in Bywater. I know you understand that, but how well do you, really? You know I am broken now, in comparison to anything I was then. I am not well. I am not whole.” Tears started in his eyes. “But when I am near you I feel better, and stronger. The darkness retreats. It exists, but I feel it cannot take hold of me when I am with you.”

Lily’s eyes still brimmed with tears. She took a deep ragged breath, in an effort to control herself. Frodo did likewise. It was hard enough to tell her such news without having to fight his own emotions as well. He had only just finished telling her how strong he was when she was near! -- and already he felt despair lurking; waiting. It crept up when Lily was distraught, as she was now, and when he knew he was the cause of her misery. He looked away from her and sighed, forcing back the confusion he felt and willing himself to speak clearly to her. Now he faced her again and spoke in a rush.

“I want so much for you to understand.” He paused and started again. “Sam and Rosie are marrying in May.”

Lily’s surprise and delight were evident; she was able to smile through her tears at the news.

“Yes, Sam told me; and he said that I might tell you. They shall announce it in April... I see how happy they are together. I have seen it month upon month, since our return to the Shire. Lily, I have thought of you every moment since we met in November. I have thought many times of asking for your hand. I have dreamt of it! But I cannot promise you any sort of future--” he paused and set his jaw “--with me, when I don’t know myself if I have one. Last October, coming back to the Shire, I found myself in more pain than usual, and Gandalf told me then that some wounds never heal. It was the anniversary of the -- the day -- the night -- I was stabbed by a Morgul blade... the beginning of the end of any normal life I might have. Lily, I nearly became one of them... Neither living, nor dead. A wraith! ...if not for the Elves, I would not be speaking with you now.”

“But the Elves did save you, Frodo! You are here! You are warm, and alive, and speaking to me! You have kissed me and I have felt such life within you! Your light is stronger than the darkness! And I shall help you!”

“The part of me that can still feel is made stronger in your presence, Lily. You are the source of that strength! But I cannot promise you anything. I don’t know what is to come... And I do not know what my darkness will do to you, if we continue together...”

“What are we to do, Frodo?” Lily was confused and frightened. She could not believe her world might be ending at any moment.

“Frodo, I love--”

He put his fingers to her lips.

“Hush, Lily, dearest... do not speak the words. They have power, like a talisman. They bind souls together who speak them in earnest. I wish to say them to you as well, Lily -- more than you can know.”

She reached up and took his fingers away from her mouth, sobbing. Frodo gathered her into his arms.

“Frodo, if I am granted but one year -- one month -- more with you, I would take it. I can never love another. My heart cares only for you, as it ever has. And I cannot betray it by marrying someone I can never love, as I told you in December. I have not changed.”

Frodo released her and sat back. Lily thought he looked hopeful, almost relieved.

“Come visit me, then, at Bag End,” he invited. “I know Will’s apprentices have been staying with him of late, so he hasn’t any spare room, but Rosie has offered to welcome you into her home and to act as chaperone. Come soon. Stay for several weeks, if you can. Let us postpone this decision. I feel Daisy and Hal will understand if we both express our feelings openly to them. But be aware, Lily, I will be ill again in March. I know it. It is the anniversary of another wounding which nearly took my life. I do not know what the outcome will be. You should have full knowledge of what a life spent with me might be like, however short or long. If it becomes too terrible then, Rosie would gladly see to the arrangements if you simply wished to return home at that time.

“I cannot promise that every day with me shall be happy. I can only promise to try... But before we promise anything to each other, please, I beg you -- think on all these things. My heart will break, no matter what comes to pass, if I am the cause of any more pain or sorrow for you.”

“Frodo, my heart is almost breaking even now. I feel I am drowning. Your words frighten me, but not in the way you might think. I fear losing the lov-” -- she saw his eyes widen in warning, almost in supplication -- “the affection you feel for me now. I care not what the future holds.”

For a moment, Frodo seemed far away. When he looked at her again, she saw new hope in his eyes.

“Lily, we can pray to Ilúvatar for guidance.”

“Guidance... I have never thought to pray for guidance before. Please, may we try?”

“Yes. It shall give us both a measure of peace.”

Lily’s heart was replete with love for Frodo... he wanted to try so hard for the chance, any chance, to share his life with her! She paused, closing her eyes as she tried to collect and to calm herself, and allowed some peace to enter her heart in that moment.

“Frodo, before we pray -- when did you first learn about prayer? Who was the first to tell you? Was it the King, or the Elves, or Gandalf?”

Frodo smiled inwardly at her eagerness, her willingness to learn. He wondered if he could ever love her more, and prayed he would be given the chance to try.

“I learned it from the Lord Faramir, the brother of Boromir -- you remember, Sam told you of Boromir? Faramir is Lord of Ithilien now, which lies just across the Anduin River from Minas Tirith. I can show it to you on a map when you visit in March.”

“I’d like that, very much. Please go on... about the Lord Faramir?”

“When Sam and I--” Frodo did not wish to speak of Gollum, nor of the interrogation “--were in Ithilien, on the way to -- to Mordor -- Faramir invited us to supper, as his guests... he did something I had never seen before. He stood, and turned to the West, saying: ‘to Numenor that was, and to Elvenhome that is, and to that which is beyond Elvenhome and will ever be.’ I remember feeling very untutored then. As soon as the supper commenced, I began to ask him about what I had just seen. He then began to tell me about prayer, and about Ilúvatar. If I had not been so much under the power of the Ring then, I am sure I could have prayed for help at that moment; I could have prayed for strength. But as it was, I was not able to put it into practice until after -- until after the Ring was destroyed and my mind -- my mind was once again my own. Then, I asked anyone who would listen to tell me more about the Creator. I spent hours speaking to Aragorn -- King Elessar -- of it... I asked Elrond; you know of Elrond...”

Lily nodded. Sam spoke of him when telling her of the Quest.

“...and I must have asked Gandalf a thousand questions on the ride from Gondor through Rivendell and back here, to home. I think he was relieved when I seemed to be finally satisfied! He once complained my appetite was in all the wrong places for a hobbit, craving knowledge instead of food.” He smiled again at the memory, then turned to her.

“We can ask for guidance now. Would you like to stand and pray, as Faramir does?”

“Yes.” Lily looked to the west. “Oh, the sunset is so beautiful! It’s like yesterday was -- it doesn’t look like February at all! It looks more like May, or June!”

Frodo looked at the sky. “It does look like a summer sunset. I shall take that as a sign of hope.”

He smiled and stood, then took her hand and helped her up. They both turned and faced west. Frodo looked heavenward, and Lily followed his example. The sky had turned a deep dark shade of purple; the last rays of the sun were gone.

Lily heard his clear words ringing in the chill stillness surrounding them.

“O Ilúvatar, Creator! Please give us discernment in all our doubts and uncertainties, and the grace to listen for Your voice. Give us Your Wisdom, that in Your Light we may see clearly that path we should follow. We give You praise and thanks for all Your blessings. And I give thanks for Lily, who has given me strength, hope, and solace.”

He became quiet then, and seemed to be searching the sky. A star had just appeared, but Lily did not see it, for she saw only Frodo, and even then it was through tears. His eyes were bright with wonder.

Frodo pointed to the southwest, just above the horizon. He held her hand more tightly. She could see a single star low in the sky.

“Lily, do you see the star just there? That is Eärendil. He was set there by the Valar to be a light to us, forever. Someday, soon, I shall tell you his story.”

Frodo turned to face her. He saw her eyes shining up at him with love -- love she could not openly declare, at his own bidding. He loved her more than ever for her will and her courage; if she had said those words today he would have been completely undone.

He realized then she was asking him for a kiss; it pleased him that he could understand her expression so clearly. He was learning. He drew her into his arms, still studying her face.

“The hazel in your eyes is turning more to green, Lily,” he said to her, smiling. “I can see it even in this faint light.”

“I -- they turn more to green when my emotions are at the surface.” She smiled up at him, the request still apparent in her eyes.

“I know. I have seen it before. When you are -- more contemplative, they are closer to blue. I can see some starlight shining in them now...”

It was all he could do not to break down and beg for her hand at this moment. The longing for her was almost overpowering...

Frodo closed his eyes and sent a silent plea to Ilúvatar for strength. This gave him some bit of resolve, and he smiled at her once more, hoping to hide some of the misery he felt. This waiting was so hard. And he might lose her in March... would his illness then be so severe as to frighten her away? To make her wish she had not loved him?

He saw she was still waiting patiently for him.

”Elen síla lúmenn’ omentielvo,” he whispered, and kissed her.

It was after nightfall now. Having her arms around him like this; the night, the starlight, her kiss -- it was almost more than he could bear.

Lily broke the kiss, and laid her head against his chest. Frodo gathered her into him more closely. The night air was chilling fast, and the warmth of their bodies was a comfort...

“Frodo -- what were those words? Were they Elvish?”

“Yes. ‘A star shines on the hour of our meeting.’ I never understood it before. At least, not as I do now.”

They knew it was time to go. Without another word, they made their way hand in hand to Strider, whose breath was beginning to show against the night air.

Frodo did not know Lily was still praying in the silence, her heart full of anxious anticipation, and hope.

---------

Frodo helped Lily down from Strider when they arrived back at her home. She leaned against him heavily, almost losing her balance.

“Lily?” Frodo’s voice reflected the panic growing in his heart.

She took several deep breaths. “I’ll be all right.”

Anguish filled his eyes. “I should not have--”

Lily covered his lips with her fingers. “Shhh, dearest. Yes, you should have. I just need rest.”

Frodo closed his eyes briefly and gently kissed her fingers. At her soft intake of breath, he searched her eyes. “But if I hadn’t spent the whole day...”

Lily cut off his words with a shake of her head, then leaned against him. Before Frodo could berate himself again she continued, “Now we know the whole day together is too long, just yet. We’ll try again in March.”

“Lily, I don’t know if--”

“Frodo, I’m too tired to argue...”

The contrite look in Frodo’s eyes tore at Lily’s heart. Holding onto his lapels, she reached up and tenderly kissed him. He held her tightly to help support her, and she nestled her head against his shoulder. “Frodo, it might be better if I sleep at Hal and Daisy’s tonight.”

Although she could not see his face, Frodo’s rough voice clearly revealed the tears in his eyes. “As you wish. Do you want to ride Strider?”

Lily took another deep breath. “No, it’s not far. With your help, I’ll make it.”

Frodo left Strider standing in front of Lily’s house. He wrapped his arm around her, pulling her close to his side. Lily held onto him to help steady herself. She clutched a fistful of his waistcoat; it was so loose on him... he’s still not eating enough, she decided absently.

They walked slowly the short distance between the two homes. As they reached the front door of the smial and opened it, Lily’s strength gave way, and he lifted her into his arms. Tears trickled down his face. “Lily, Lily, I am so sorry.”

Lily whispered, “Frodo, it’s all right. I’ll be all right. Just let me sleep tonight... as you promised.”

Frodo’s breath caught. “As I promised. I will let you sleep late tomorrow, and then take you to the Eagle and Child for elevensies, if you feel well. Would this suit you?”

Lily nodded against his shoulder; they found Daisy and Hal in the kitchen. Frodo’s stricken face spoke of his worry and concern. Lily felt relieved she had warned her sister of something of this nature happening, and put her under agreement not to overreact, but simply to help Frodo put her to bed and to reassure him. Daisy realized her sister’s request was a wise one; Frodo was so worried for Lily he did not even notice her breastfeeding Pearl by the fire.

“Hal, please dear, show Frodo and Lily to her room. I’ll be there in a moment to help.”

Hal opened the door to the spare room set aside as Lily’s and quickly lit the fire in the grate to start the room warming.

“Frodo, I’ll get the warming bricks from the kitchen hearth to put in the bed before we put her in it.”

Frodo nodded, unseeing. Cradling Lily against his chest, his arms were growing tired. Hal was back with the bricks before Frodo completed the thought. He would hold her for as long as it took.

“Frodo, you can sit on the edge of the bed, and I’ll remove the bricks. It should be warm enough for her now; it’s at least taken the chill off.”

Carefully, Frodo set Lily on the edge of the bed. Lily sighed deeply as he helped her sit up. Her eyes were heavy, but she managed a smile for the dear worried face gazing down at her.

“Promise I’ll see you tomorrow,” she pleaded, weakly.

Frodo suddenly realized she still feared him leaving, despite their agreement. He knelt in front of her; his eyes captured hers and held them.

“I promised I would stay and visit each day, and I shall, as long as you recover. I’ll see you tomorrow just before elevensies.”

Frodo felt a gentle hand on his shoulder. He glanced up, startled.

Daisy smiled at him warmly. “I’ll put her to bed. She’ll be trying your patience again by morning.”

“Lily never tries my patience,” he smiled quietly, “but thank you, Daisy.” Gently, he kissed Lily’s forehead, and with an effort walked out of the room.

Hal caught him on the way to the door. “Frodo, don’t you worry about her. She’s got a strong spirit.”

Frodo only nodded as he slipped out the door.

Hal murmured at the closed door, “Ilúvatar, bless them both. Please, bless them both.”