Lily was staring down into her teacup. Frodo thought she looked very tired.
"Lily? Would you like more tea?" he asked her gently.
"What? Oh, my goodness, where was I?" She almost jumped up to retrieve the teapot. She poured more tea for them both, then set the pot down heavily.
Frodo smiled his thanks. "Iíll get the sugar for you. Stay here."
She gratefully stayed seated. Frodo brought back two lumps of sugar and placed them in her tea.
"You were quite far away," he said. "You need rest, Iím sure. I should go."
"Oh, no, please. Iím perfectly fine," she assured him, and tried to drink the tea straightway, nearly burning herself.
"Hold on; take it slowly," Frodo coaxed.
His tone was too gentle, and she was too tired, too confused, and too distraught. Tears came to her eyes.
"Iím sorry," she sniffed, a small sob choking her words. "I suppose I am -- a bit -- a bit tired. But really, Iím all right."
"Can I help you? I know you are upset about Will and your father, for the morrow."
He reached into the breast pocket inside his waistcoat and pulled out the beautiful kerchief made for him in Rivendell. The Travelers had been outfitted with new clothing at the behest of Bilbo on their trip home to the Shire.
Lily paused before taking it from his hand. When the tears continued, she knew she must take it. She wiped her eyes gently. The kerchief was still warm from being held so close against him... She was going to end up telling him before the night was out, she knew; and she would drive him away...
She forced herself to answer him in some clear fashion.
"Thank you. I donít know if there is anything anyone can do now. My father and I only came here yesterday to visit Will. We live in Deephallow. If only we had waited a few more days! -- they would not have had to be in any battle... but," she continued, without thinking, "but if we had waited a few more days I might never have seen y...." Lily dropped her eyes, searching the bottom of her teacup.
Frodo waited a moment, out of politeness. It would be rude to finish her sentence; he could hardly know what she was about to say, anyway.
He watched in surprise as most of the colour left her face.
He needed to know if she was all right. "You -- forgive me, you are quite pale... are you sure that you are well? I can leave, and you could rest..."
Lily smiled brightly and blinked several times. "Oh, am I pale? I canít imagine why..." She pinched her cheeks to put colour back into them, instantly regretting it. She could not possibly have done anything more obvious.
Iím not holding up well, she thought. I am going to lose him tonight, forever. He will think me a fool. Oh, Mother, please tell me what to do!
Frodo only smiled at her. He thought it endearing that she seemed to want him to stay, despite the fact she was tired and possibly a little unwell. Then he wondered if he were being selfish. Some part of him said, Ďyesí, while another part of him wanted very much to stay and talk to her all night.
He put the debate aside. This might be his last night in Middle-earth. He would stay a little longer. It didnít matter what they talked about...
"Youíre from Deephallow... thatís where the Shirebourn joins the Brandywine... itís beautiful country. Do you have more family there, beside your sister and your mother?"
Frodo noticed Lily stop in the middle of a sip of tea. In fact, her face changed, as if a cloud covered the sun.
"My sister Daisy lives there with her husband Hal. They are expecting a child soon." She smiled a little, and looked him in the eye, but only for a moment. It was impossible to do so for longer than that.
"Iím sorry, Lily, if Iíve made you sad. Have you been without your mother for a long time?"
Lily set her tea on the table, and studied the design on the cup.
"She -- she died a year ago this coming January... how -- how did you know?"
Frodo lowered his head enough to be able to capture her gaze again, to look at her face properly, until finally she looked back at him and her eyes stayed with his.
"It was simply that you avoided speaking of her. I donít speak of my parents at all unless asked, so I recognized that in you as well. Iím sorry if Iíve upset you. I canít believe Iíve asked you something so personal; we hardly know each other. Please forgive me. I really will be more careful..."
"Your parents are gone?" she asked softly. "When did this happen? May I ask?"
"It happened in another lifetime. It may as well have happened to a different hobbit than myself. I was twelve. It was a drowning, a boating accident. Bilbo adopted me a few years later. He took wonderful care of me. I couldnít have asked for better care, better love..."
"But, Frodo! -- I am sorry." She had no real way of expressing what she felt without touching him, which she could not do.
He smiled to set her at ease. "I really am quite all right with it now. Really. In another year from now Iíll be 52 and it will have been 40 years ago. It really was another lifetime."
Now she knew his age. He looked a good fifteen years younger, despite how thin he had become, despite the wear or danger he had suffered. Part of her heart sank like a stone. If he has remained unmarried this long, why would he want to change that? She did not have a single chance. What would it hurt to tell him everything?
Frodo still held her eyes; this time she did not look away during their exchange. What was the expression he saw there? What did it mean? She looked to be on the verge of telling him something -- but what? It looked like -- like longing? -- no! Yes; longing! He had seen Rose look this way at Sam for years... no. He was seeing things. The Quest had done this to him. He was being tricked by the darkness within. It was cruel.
He tore his eyes away from hers, thoroughly upset with himself for having read something in hers which couldnít possibly be there. No one had ever shown any interest in him.
He was confused. If it wasnít longing, what was it? Perhaps she did want to talk about her mother after all. It might be healing for her...
"Can you tell me about your mother? Would that be pleasant for you? But perhaps it would be painful..."
She actually seemed to brighten a bit; an instant before, she looked distraught.
"No, it would not be painful -- I love to talk about her. She was the kindest person I knew. She loved us so much... the fever came round last year and -- and took her. Most of the Shire got through it all right. But Mum didnít have a strong constitution, my father always said...
"I love Da very much," she continued, "but I do miss my mum. She was dear to me, dear and so precious..."
Frodo seemed in pain, suddenly, and Lily was shocked. He got up without a word and walked slowly to the fireplace, leaning his arms against the mantel and laying his head down on them. His eyes were tightly closed. He seemed to be holding his breath...
"No... no," he said clearly, and then his speech became almost chant-like, and softer. "No, I cannot give it up. I do not choose to do now what I came to do. I will not do this deed..."
His eyes opened wide and he looked full into the flames, his breathing suddenly coming very hard.
Lily was frightened; not for herself, but for him. She could feel a black pit of misery opening up like a maw in his spirit. He was there in it, seemingly trapped. He needed a way out.
"Frodo. Come back. Come back to me. Do not let the darkness take you. Listen to me! Frodo!" She spoke low, close to his ear. Touching his arm with her right hand, she felt the cold misery herself; it chilled her to the bone. She willed herself to stay strong for him. He was battling this darkness again, whatever it was...
"Frodo... Frodo! Come back." She had to bring him back. Not at all sure of what to do, she concentrated harder. She had only her will and her love for him, a love transformed from an old dream into flesh and blood and spirit, standing next to her.
Frodo seemed to wrench himself out of whatever held him. He turned to her, used her arm for support, and shook his head. There were tears in his eyes. He was breathing so hard... and now he used words she had never heard before.
"Oh Ilķvatar, help me!" he cried softly, and looked up. He turned from Lily and went out into the bitter cold night. She followed him as he walked to the center of the lane and looked straight up, at the stars; he could see them, the cloud cover gone.
"O Elbereth! Ešrendil!" His voice was full of desperation.
He seemed completely unaware of Lily as he sank to his knees on the deserted road.
Lily came close to him and touched his shoulder. Tears were coursing down his face. Their breath showed together on the chill night air. Lily was shivering already; Frodo seemed not to notice the cold at all.
He closed his eyes tightly and then looked at her, coming back to himself all at once.
"Oh, Lily, what have I done to you? Come, we must get you inside this instant. You will catch your death of cold."
Lily was mute. They were up the three steps and to the door when a voice cut into the silence.
"Who goes there?"
It was a stout hobbit voice, not that of a ruffian. Frodo turned to see Tolman Proudfoot on night watch; he sighed with relief and spoke.
"Itís Frodo Baggins, Tolman; itís all right. Thank you. Keep on your patrol."
"Yes sir, Mr. Baggins. Good night tíye, then."
Frodo turned back to Lily. It seemed she had not been aware of Tolman at all. He opened the door, again helping her in, again helping her to the settee, just as before. He shut the door and returned to her side. She was faint; she looked ill.
"Oh, what have I done to you?" he whispered.
He ran to the kitchen for a clean cloth and cold water. When he returned, Lily was still sitting up, but her head was down, and her eyes were closed.
"Please, please be all right," he pleaded. He touched her face gently with the wet cloth, the water ice-cold against her temples. Nothing.
He laid her down gently, and placed her feet up on the settee. He again knelt next to her, but this time took both her hands into his, and prayed, harder than he had ever prayed before. He was still so new at praying, and he wondered if Ilķvatar could hear him.
"Please let her be all right. Please, bring her back, give her strength." He laid his forehead on her hands. "Please, have mercy. She was only trying to help me."
Slowly, she revived. Her eyes opened, at first seeing nothing. She began to breathe more deeply and more evenly. Frodo now prayed in thanksgiving, still holding her hands. He looked to her face again, relief flooding through him.
She opened her eyes a little more, then blinked a few times.
"I -- I feel better. Frodo, what happened?" Her eyes began to shine with concern for him as she came fully awake. "Frodo, are you all right?"
"No. Yes. I should be asking you that." He was so happy, so relieved she was better. His prayers had been answered. He could go on. Tomorrow was tomorrow. Whatever happened would happen. They would beat the ruffians... he had no doubts at all about that. Lily would be safe, and the Shire would be safe. At what cost, he did not know.
She tried to sit up. Frodo gently pushed her back down by her shoulders.
"Frodo, what happened to you? What is this terrible darkness you carry?" She was throwing all caution to the winds, now. The night was racing, and she would lose him forever when he walked out the door. He had no real reason to return, after all.
His eyes widened. Her question caught him completely unawares. "I canít tell you about that. I donít even know how to begin to tell you that. And Iím not even sure of what I just said or did." He looked desolate and lost, she thought. Her heart ached for him.
"We were talking -- I was talking about my mother -- and suddenly you got up and went to the fireplace -- you said, ĎNo, I cannot give it up. I do not choose to do now what I came to do. I will not do this deed...í You called on names that I have never heard."
Frodo went pale before her eyes. "I cannot remember any of that." His voice was sorrowful.
Lily continued, "You were so very far away and then I touched your shoulder, and I..."
Frodoís brows drew together. "You became faint and could not respond to me..." At least twice now, that he could remember, he felt better and then she grew faint, seemingly out of nowhere... Was it possible a connection existed between these events? And if so, was it because she touched him, or only because she was near?
I must know, he thought. I donít want her to be hurt, and especially not because of something within me...
It seemed too strange to be true; but Frodo had seen more in the past year, along with his companions, than anyone in the Shire. Yes; he could believe it was true.
Lily sat up, and he did not try to stop her. Then she tried to stand. He watched her closely.
Sure enough, she was unsteady on her feet. Frodo rose quickly and supported her until she found her bearings.
Lily could not stop thinking of his haunting pleas for help outside, on the cold road.
"Frodo, please sit, I beg you."
He felt so lost that he sat down again without protest, without even any mental debate to slow him down.
Lily felt much better than she had all night. Her mind was clearer. She felt stronger and more calm. She wondered greatly at this. There must have been events a few moments ago of which she had no memory of either.
She poured a fresh mug of hot tea and brought it to Frodo, who was staring at nothing in the fire.
"Here, Frodo... please drink it. Please." She made sure it was firmly in his hand before letting go of the mug.
He drank obediently, going through the motions. He was not really with her now. He was somewhere else, deep in thought.
"I would like to hear of your adventure," she offered. "I overheard Samwise Gamgee saying something about a quest, earlier today. I was at the front window and saw him in the street, talking to Farmer Cotton."
Frodo looked up and blinked. "Sam? Samwise Gamgee? How is it you know Sam?"
He wasnít agitated... Lily sensed overwhelming curiosity; it was strong even in the face of his present sorrow.
"He is promised to Rosie Cotton, who lives next door. She is a good friend to my cousin Violet. Iíve met him a few times here in Bywater, while visiting here with Violet...."
"You know Sam?" he repeated, as if he hadnít really understood what she just said. She did not sense he was accusing her of any lie.
"I canít say I know him well," she replied, "but yes, I feel I know him. He has a pure heart. Rosie is very lucky to have him."
"Dear Sam..." Frodo sighed audibly. Lily had never heard a voice so far removed from the present. "Sam has the purest heart in all the Shire. Rose is indeed fortunate."
"How do you know Sam? Have you known him long?"
Frodo finally smiled, but at the fire, not at her. His gaze was still so far away...
"Iíve known Sam almost since his birth."
He finally looked up at her. His eyes were so compelling that she sat down next to him, this time not afraid to do so, nor even aware of her actions.
Frodo did not look away from her now. "Sam is my best friend. He was my gardener and my servant, but more than anything in the world he is my best friend. He knows me better than I know myself. He saved my life so many times; I cannot count them all..."
The intensity in his eyes was almost painful to behold; he was pleading with her to believe, and to understand.
"Frodo, what happened to you, that would require Sam saving your life so many times? You can tell me; I will listen. I will not shy away, even if it is ugly."
What had he just said? Had he said that? He must have; her eyes were suddenly welling with tears. But was she happy, or sad?
"Lily, that was far too bold of me. I donít know what possessed me. Please forgive me."
In reply, Lily could only weep softly. She put her face into her hands, then got up and walked as far away from him as she could within the confines of the small parlour.
He got up to follow her, setting the tea mug down on the way.
"Iím truly sorry to have made you cry. Please..." Frodo wanted to hold her, to comfort her, but he did not dare. I donít understand what is happening to me, to both of us, he thought. Emotions he could not identify, new emotions, were seeking entrance into his heart and mind. If she does not wish to be touched, he thought -- if she misconstrues the comfort I might offer, then any tiny chance I might have of seeing her again will be crushed.
For it was plain to him now; he very much wanted to see her again. But I cannot, he thought. I donít wish to hurt her...
"I must go now, Lily. Iíve upset you tonight, and that is the opposite of what I wanted for you. Weíve only just met. I wish you well. I wish you happiness. Stay inside tomorrow. Stay away from the windows, even... there may be stray arrows..."
She turned to him, her eyes red-rimmed again with tears, though to him their lovely hazel colour shone through clearly.
How could she keep him here, if only for a moment longer? "I wanted to ask you about your -- your quest -- your adventure. If you go now, when will I ever hear the story?"
"Ask Samwise when this is all over. Sam will live through this, or there is no Creator -- and I know there is a loving Creator. Ask Sam. Tell him I said it was all right to tell you. He will tell you all you might want to know or need to know. You may also hear much that youíll wish you hadnít... you may wish you had never heard my name or seen me. I do not know. I cannot tell you the story myself. Not now. I donít know when I shall ever be able to tell it... perhaps many months from now. Please understand. I would like to tell you, and I can see you are sincere, and brave, to want to hear it. But I cannot."
Again, his eyes, almost begging for understanding...
"I -- wonít ask you again," she said. "Iíll ask Sam... thank you... But please, can you tell me... what is the darkness you carry? I can see it; it is painful. It tears at your soul."
Frodoís curiosity once more overcame his misery. "How can you possibly know that?"
"I was born with the gift of sight. My parents discovered it when I was still quite young. Your heart is pure, like Samís. I can see it. But you are in terrible pain. What is it?"
Frodo was astounded at her news, and at her gift. "You really can see, canít you? Can you see if I may ever be rid of this?" Such hope filled his face that it seemed to brighten the space between them, as if a light shone through him.
"I cannot see into the future; I am sorry. I wish I could tell you the answer. I would give -- I would give much to help heal you in some way. To help take the darkness from you."
Her words moved him so, for a moment he could not find his voice. He looked at her with wonder. "But why? We barely know one another."
Fear for her crept into his heart. Was it indeed possible he really could be a danger to her? The thought of it cut him deeply. He had known her for only a few hours...
He was more confused almost than he had ever been; but no matter what had taken place tonight, she did not deserve to be subjected to the darkness in his soul. As soon as she was really stable, he needed to get away from her. He hesitated.
"Not that I would refuse healing, if it were somehow possible. But I have been told by very wise souls, Men and Elves, that I cannot be healed."
Lily hesitated. "I feel I have known you for many years..." Donít ruin this, she thought to herself. He may still want to see you...
She changed the subject. "Elves... someone told me once about Elves, or tried to. Do they truly exist?" She really did want to know.
What have I to lose? Frodo thought. The worst she can do will be to laugh and turn me out and never see me again. And anyway, I feel somehow I am a danger to her; I should not linger.
"Yes, there really are Elves. Ask Sam. He is an expert on them." Frodo smiled wanly. He noticed she had not laughed at him, nor made any move to turn him out.
"I must go now and I think -- I think I should not see you again," he continued. "I believe the darkness I carry may be harmful to you in some way. I am sorry. I would like -- I would like to have seen you again."
There, he had said it. Again, she did not laugh. That look returned to her eyes. Longing. His heart believed it now. His mind could not believe it or even understand it, but his heart believed. Why must he be plagued with this dark curse? Why could he not be just an ordinary hobbit, someone who could be near her and cause her no harm?
Frodo had seen her face reflect misery at his announcement that he should not see her again, and then joy at his words, ĎI would like to have seen you again.í Yes, it was indeed longing.
If he were honest with himself -- whatever that phrase could mean for him since the Ring -- then he was warmed by the longing in her eyes. And if he were not only honest but brave, he would admit he felt something very akin to the same longing for her.
"The Shire is in danger now, Lily. Please remember what I said about staying away from the windows. I wish the best for your father and brother. May Ilķvatar protect them."
Again, that strange name, thought Lily.
"Frodo. What about you? Will you be careful?"
"I hadnít cared at all before tonight. I did not care whether I lived or died. I needed to stay alive tomorrow, for there is still much good that can be done without raising a sword. But beyond that, I did not care. I think now, I do."
He turned and headed for the door. He simply had to go. There was nothing for it.
"Please, please be careful," she begged, heedless of her tone.
The supplication in her voice caused him to turn back and face her. He could feel her concern envelop him. It moved and strengthened him.
"I will be careful, Lily."
"Despite the danger you say you pose to me, I -- I wish --" She used all her courage. "I wish I could see you again."
Frodoís eyes lit up just a little, a look of gratitude and near-disbelief revealed clearly on his face. She could see he actually did believe her, and she was grateful as well. Perhaps she had not been a fool to wish on that star every night for the past twelve years.
He took her left hand in his right, forcing himself not to show any embarrassment at his disfigured hand. That would only upset her. He bowed and kissed the back of her hand, lightly, and Lily was taken back to that moment when she felt her life had really begun, with the same kiss on the same hand, many years before.
"Fare well, Lily. I will not say goodbye." He smiled again just a little, and met her eyes once more before opening the door to go.
"Fare well. I will not say goodbye, Frodo." She smiled in reply, but tears stung her eyes, along with the freezing night air.
He was gone, then, but the world had not ended. There was hope. She would talk to Sam. She turned and picked up his cloak, and held it to her face. There was hope.
Frodo made his way back to the Cottonsí, only a few steps away, and went inside. He knew he would not sleep at all in what few hours of the night remained. If he lived through the battle, he would find Gandalf and ask him if anything could be done to protect Lily from his accursed darkness. He wanted to see her again.