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Sacrament

by CRB and Ladyhawk Baggins

13 March 1420sr

Lily awoke early, worrying about Frodo. She endeavored to shake off the dread settling in her heart. Frodo would be all right...

Then her thoughts drifted, and she remembered yesterevening, and smiled.

Frodo had collected Strider and brought him to the house to load Lily and Rose’s baggage at the same time they packed. In truth, there was not much to bring, and they could have carried it themselves, but Strider was there. Lily hated being separated for even that long, but Frodo could not help her pack, so it suited, overall.

The five of them then walked to Hobbiton together, with Frodo leading Strider. Night had fallen, and Lily reveled in being able to hold Frodo’s hand the whole of the way, without a care as to what folk might think.

Will saw Bell home, and returned to Bywater, while Frodo, Lily, and Rose continued on to the Gaffer’s; they dropped off the bags, and headed back to the stables together. After settling Strider in his stall with an extra portion of grain, and an apple fed from Lily’s hand, the three of them walked back to the Gaffer’s.

As the Gaffer welcomed them into the smial, Frodo thanked him for inviting Lily to visit along with Rose. The old hobbit was a little uncomfortable having the Master of Bag End in the smial, and muttered something about hoping no one thought him getting above himself. Rosie thanked him for inviting them to come and stay, as it provided a convenient way for Lily and Frodo to continue to visit each other until Lily returned home at the end of the month. The Burrows children would be gathering then, to celebrate their parents’ anniversary. The old gaffer blushed to his toes when Lily kissed his cheek and thanked him for inviting her.

The Gaffer settled their bags in the bedroom they’d be sharing, and fed the trio a bit of bread, cheese, and cider. He exclaimed and laughed when Rosie presented the goods they’d brought with them: more cheese, dried fruit, several bottles of ale, and a bag of Old Toby, for him.

Rosie had encouraged the Gaffer to speak of Sam, and they listened to him talk of Sam’s birth, and the first few years of his life. They laughed at the tales of his toddler-age antics, as good-natured then as now.

Lily pushed away her weariness until after the ten o’clock hour. Frodo glanced at her from time to time, assessing how much longer he could remain with her. Finally, she could no longer hide how tired she felt. Even Rosie could see it, and suggested they all turn in for the night.

Before she could continue, Frodo suggested he leave Lily and Rosie alone the entire morning, so they might settle in undisturbed. Lily readily agreed. Rosie was confused; it seemed so sudden, and the whole reason for this arrangement was to allow the couple to be closer together, more often. But she supported their decision without question. It must be those plans Lily wanted to tell me about, she concluded.

Against her better judgment, but with a gentle smile, Rosie encouraged them to say their goodnight on the Gaffer’s front porch; it would give them more privacy provided no one was spying for news. With Frodo Baggins as part of the mix, she knew well enough the gossips in the neighborhood were about. She could only hope they were busy with readying themselves for bed.

Frodo led Lily by the hand out the front door and stopped. He looked up at the stars and the Moon overhead. It was not yet full, and was partly covered by skiffs of high clouds.

Lily gazed up at Frodo and tightened her hold on his hand. He lowered his head and captured her eyes, easily seen in the light of the Gaffer’s front porch lamp. She reached up her free hand and caressed his cheek with her fingers, then let them stray over his lips. He kissed her fingers, and she smiled up into his eyes.

Frodo sighed deeply and gathered her into his arms. Lily wrapped hers about his neck and gazed up at the stars and, tired as she was, offered a prayer of gratitude in her heart at being with Frodo here, in this moment. She peeked over his shoulder and could see the tree atop Bag End silhouetted against the night sky, so close... She struggled to contain the shiver of excitement she felt as she realized again all her dreams were coming true. Though she felt the darkness edging closer, she refused to acknowledge it. Nor would she allow it to dampen her soaring spirit. Her arms tightened around Frodo’s neck, and he held her closer.

Neither spoke for several moments. Frodo cleared his throat nervously, but when he spoke his emotions were plain. “Lily... I--” his voice caught.

Lily searched his eyes and noticed the tears glistening there. She smiled for him, sharing what he felt without words. Frodo saw her start to reach up -- he read the kiss in her eyes -- and lowered his mouth to meet hers. She caressed his lips with her own, slowly, savoring his closeness and acceptance. Their kiss goodnight grew warmer and sweeter with each passing moment. The aching desire flared, and they broke their kiss, both aware of the need to stop, and reluctant to do so.

“It will be all right, Frodo dearest,” Lily whispered. She was still a little breathless from their kiss.

The doubt Frodo felt shone in his eyes, but he nodded.

“Dear Lily...” He sighed, and the corner of his mouth lifted in a smile. “I am wholly unable to resist your hope.” He searched her eyes for a moment. “In the light of your courage, I gladly surrender to your strength of spirit... it’s so beautiful, Lily; it shines in your eyes. Thank you for carrying the candle for us both.”

“Frodo...” Lily smiled, softly, and raised her chin. “I shall continue to hold your hope for you -- for however long it is needed -- there’s room enough in my heart.”

Frodo released a shuddering breath. “Lily, never could I have imagined a gift such as you. I shall never be worthy--”

“Shhh, there is ever only you for me, no other... remember that, always.”

He softly caressed her lips with his own. “I’ll remember.”

“Tomorrow...”

“Please, send the Gaffer in your stead, just in case; please...”

Lily searched his eyes and smiled. “When the Gaffer returns to tell all is safe, we shall have elevensies together.”

“What if--”

“We shall face each moment as it comes.”

“You don’t know, Lily, what it is like... how bad it may become...”

“No, I don’t, but I shall not give it the satisfaction of winning, no matter what is required of me, dearest Frodo.” Her voice took on a determined edge.

She felt the hope flicker more brightly in Frodo’s heart. They met in another kiss, each endeavoring to offer the other sweet assurance, until they finally drew apart.

“I shall see you on the morrow, Frodo dear,” Lily affirmed.

“On the morrow,” Frodo whispered.

They released each other with a sigh. Lily watched him walk down the lane toward Bag End, and he glanced back at her until they were lost to each other in the shadow of night.

---------

Lily noticed the dawn light creeping in through the window of the Gaffer’s smial. It had been all she could do to go to sleep yesternight, and even then, she slept restlessly. Now, she stared at the ceiling, debating whether or not to wake Rose, and trying to distract herself in any way she could from the nagging concerns crowding her mind. She and Rose were sharing Sam’s room while he was off on his forestry work; all the pine wood in the newly-built smial still smelled so fresh...

There was nothing for it. She hated to disturb her sleeping friend, but needed to share her worry, for it was growing; Lily felt more fear for Frodo with each passing moment.

Rosie assured her she didn’t mind the earliness of the hour and tried to ease Lily’s concerns, but they only seemed to increase. And though Lily endeavored to put on a brave face during first breakfast with the Gaffer there, Rosie knew her friend felt none of the peace her face reflected.

Lily’s distress and fear deepened as they put the last of the clean dishes away.

Just before eight o’clock, Lily put on her shawl and stepped outside to inspect the Gaffer’s new garden, knowing it would still be mostly dormant.

There was only a slight chill in the air, and if one stood in a patch of sunlight, it would have been comfortable enough; but Lily did not feel any warmth. She examined the small green blades of the tulips and daffodils which were peeping through the fresh-smelling earth. The crocuses were in bloom already, and the lovely roses -- pink, red, and white -- had never stopped blooming, so the Gaffer said, except for two very cold freezes they’d had in January...

Sam’s mallorn was already tall enough to be seen easily from the garden. Lily smiled. The local residents were happy the mallorn was there, but no one was happier about it than Frodo and Samwise.

Even this brought Lily no respite from her uneasiness, and she went back inside, shivering slightly. No matter what else she tried to think on, Frodo returned to her, each time more insistently. Something was terribly wrong.

She found Rose in the kitchen, sweeping the floor. The Gaffer had just returned from fetching fresh cow’s milk from the neighbor at #1, in exchange for some of his own winter potatoes, or taters, as he referred to them.

With the cream ladle, Lily skimmed most of the cream from the bucket of milk and added it to the week’s worth already collected. She poured it all into the butter churn, filling it half way, then sat down and started the steady, methodical motion that would turn the cream to butter. It gave her something to do.

She separated the butter from the buttermilk, glad it was ready after only a half-hour, and carefully worked it with the paddle until it was done. Rose was just starting in on the ironing, humming an old tune as she worked.

“Rose? Would it be all right, perhaps -- do you think the Gaffer would mind checking on Frodo before second breakfast, rather than after?”

A sharp rap on the door interrupted them. Rosie opened the door with Lily at her side to find Farmer Cotton on the doorstep, panting heavily.

“Da! What is it? What is wrong?”

“It’s Frodo -- I came up to let him know there’s a family in Bywater what needs a little extra help. I know he put me in charge of taking care of it, but I like him to be in the know on what’s being done with the extra stores -- but that’s neither here nor there now -- when he didn’t answer the door, I thought he might be in the back of the smial, seein’ how as you and Lily were here, I knew he wasn’t off wanderin’ -- so I went on in -- he’s lyin’ abed -- didn’t seem to know I was even there -- never seen nothin’ like it -- he’s holdin’ onto some sort of gem, white, it was -- hung about his neck. He’s going on and on. I couldn’t make no sense o’ none of it. He needs help.”

Lily’s face paled. Rosie stated calmly, “Thank you, Da. Lily and I’ll go see to him. Please, would you send word for Merry and Pippin in Crickhollow to come as soon as ever they can...”

Cotton could not hide his confusion. “Shouldn’t we be sendin’ for a healer?”

Rosie pursed her lips, trying to decide how much to tell him, as Lily stood mute by her side, her eyes far away. She knew Lily wanted to run to Bag End at this very moment and grasped her hand.

“Merry and Pippin are his kin. If Sam were here, he’d know what to do, but he’s not, and I’m not rightly sure where to find him today. But I know where Merry and Pip are, so please, could you send for them? I reckon it’s something to do with the Quest, and mayhap those two will know best what to do.”

Her father hesitated.

“Don’t worry, Da... I think Lily and I can handle it as well as anyone, for now -- what with Lily’s mum having the fever last year, and the help I’ve been able to give the Gamgees, especially after Sam’s mum passed on...”

Farmer Cotton was finally convinced by his daughter, and gave her a quick nod. He turned, and headed down the lane at a trot.

Lily whispered to Rose, “What about the Gaffer?”

“No need to worry him just yet; let’s you and me check on Frodo before we worry anyone else.”

They walked arm in arm to Bag End, trying to appear calm and at ease, in case there were prying eyes about. Rose briefly knocked and walked in, as she did each time she visited Bag End since the return of the Travelers.

The smial was silent and mostly dark, the curtains still drawn shut. Memories of the tea Frodo held Before Yule flooded through Lily’s mind. She would have liked to linger over some of them, but there was no time for woolgathering.

“Rose,” she whispered, “isn’t the master bedroom that way? I’m almost certain...”

“Yes, down the long hall almost to the end, and then left. I’ll look in the other rooms, just to be sure he hasn’t wandered, and get a few fires started to warm up the place.” She shivered. “He really shouldn’t let it get so cold. Sam’s always having to light fires for him. It’s almost like he doesn’t notice the cold at all...”

Lily padded down the hall and remembered where she was. His room was almost dark. The curtains were drawn shut here as well, and the fire was completely dead.

Lily’s heart clenched as she took in the sight of Frodo stirring restlessly in his bed. She went to him and brushed his damp hair off his forehead with her fingers. He seemed half in a dream, delirious and feverish. His eyes were open, but unseeing; Lily saw grief there, and torment.

Rose entered the room, and they stood for a moment trying to assess what sort of fever this was. Lily knew.

As Rose pulled back a small corner of curtain to allow some bit of light in, Lily pushed away the wretched feeling welling up within her, and sat on the bed beside her beloved. Frodo did not recognize her... no -- he could not even see her, nor Rose... he could not see them at all. Lily clasped his left hand in both of hers; it was cold to the touch, and yet he was feverish. The touch hurt her, and she recoiled slightly in surprise.

She fought back tears and called to him.

“Frodo!”

Frodo turned to the sound of her voice. Lily was taken aback by what she saw in his beautiful eyes, now so full of torment; but he was looking through her, not at her. To her surprise, he spoke.

“Lily? No... no...” he cried softly. He was in pain, both in body and in spirit; she felt it as though it were her own, and yet not...

He released the gem at his throat and reached for her, but his hand dropped to his side, weakly.

Then he was gone again, taken by the darkness.

Lily sat in shocked silence, unable to speak, unable even to think.

“He’s still wearing yesterday’s clothes,” Rose noted, under her breath. She must stop standing about; she needed to act, for she sensed something had gone badly amiss, and knew staying busy kept her fears at bay. She would help Lily, and Frodo, as best she could.

She squared her shoulders. “Lily, dear, take off his coat and waistcoat and braces; we’ll get him under some quilts for now, and take care of the rest later.”

Lily began to remove the coat, gingerly, freeing first one arm and then the other. Rose returned to the bedside after starting a fire in the grate, and helped Lily ease Frodo gently toward her, then away, until he was completely free of it. Lily handed the crumpled coat to Rose, who shook it lightly and hung it in the wardrobe.

Next Lily carefully unbuttoned Frodo’s waistcoat, and slid it between him and the bedclothes until it was at his waist. She gently freed each hand and then pulled the waistcoat out from under him, again handing it to Rose, who laid it on the floor by the door.

“May as well wash it,” she stated matter-of-factly. “It’s not the only thing what’ll need washing before all is said and done.”

After only a moment’s hesitation, Lily unbuttoned the braces in front and then eased Frodo on his side, so she could release the buttons in back as well. He was so light... She moved the braces out of the way and eased Frodo back against the pillows, then laid the braces on the table by the bed.

Again, Lily eased the damp hair away from Frodo’s forehead. Rose stepped beside her and with a quick nod they pulled the bedcovers down a short way, and then moved Frodo’s unresisting form to ease the covers free. Together they shifted him against the pillows, propping him up a little in the hopes of helping him breathe without so much effort. Rosie stepped aside and allowed Lily to draw the bedcovers up over Frodo, finally clasping his left hand in hers again, hoping to warm it. Each touch hurt a little, but Lily did her best to hide it from her friend.

Rose fetched two chairs, but Lily did not sit; instead she knelt beside the bed, and prayed, still holding Frodo’s hand. She’d noticed the discomfort the illness brought as soon as she stepped into the smial, but had pushed it away in her consuming worry for Frodo. Then that moment when he spoke to her...

Now she took a deep breath and steeled herself with another prayer, one for her own protection. She opened herself fully to his pain, and immediately felt it, in waves, assaulting first Frodo and then herself.

Then she felt It, gasping in shock and in horror as Frodo’s pain struck full at her soul. He was drowning in loss... loss, and pain -- It was gone; It would never again be his. It was gone. Gone... how could it be? You fool, how could you have let It go? Why were you not more aware? Gone! I have lost It, my Precious, lost It, and my life is as nothing! Please... no... I cannot have lost It, I loved It, It was mine, It was all I had, It was all I needed, It was everything to me. It loved me, It cared for me...

“Lily!” Rose’s cry cut through the haze of grief and pain in Lily’s mind. But Rose’s voice was so far away.

Rose pleaded, raising her voice. “Lily, please, you’re frightening me -- speak to me -- please...”

Summoning reserves of strength she did not know she possessed, Lily dragged herself away from Frodo’s pain, and gradually released his hand; gradually, to ease the new loss he would feel. His right hand edged its way back to the gem about his throat, finally grasping it again.

Lily’s tears began to fall, for she knew he was now in more pain than before, missing her touch, her healing. His soul was alone once more, his eyes unseeing, and so full of misery... sickness threatened to overwhelm her. Between his terrible aching loss, and the darkness, resisting her...

“Rose... oh, Rose!” Lily cried, tears coursing down her cheeks. She gazed up to her friend in supplication. Rose helped her up from where she knelt, and held her as she wept, trying her best to comfort her, but bewildered and frightened by all that was happening.

Lily stood encircled by Rose’s warm arms for a while and attempted to calm herself, to allow the illness to subside, if it were possible. Rose’s care and concern always helped her, and in no small measure. She was vaguely aware that Rose had helped her to sit down in the chair nearest Frodo.

“Oh... Rose...” Lily became fully aware of her friend again. She turned to Frodo’s still form, but did not touch him... not yet, not so soon...

Lily touched her hand to her forehead, fighting dizziness.

“I shall have to be careful, dearest,” she murmured, searching for any hint of recognition in his eyes, and finding none. “I cannot help you, beloved, if I become ill myself.”

Rose drew her chair closer to Lily’s, and wrapped her arm around Lily’s shoulders.

“Lily, what are you saying? What makes you think you’ll take sick? Do you know what ails him? Is it catching? Do we need to call a healer?”

For the moment, Lily could not make any reply.

---------

Lily began to confide in Rose, telling her of the strange happenings between Frodo and herself since the first night they met again in November. Rose knew something was amiss with Frodo because of Sam’s occasional sadness when they talked of him, although Sam would not speak of it directly. Now she was learning what Sam already knew. She promised Lily her secret would be revealed to no one, not even to Sam, but Lily felt quite certain Sam knew at least this much about his friend.

They were frightened. Other than the simplest measures of comfort, they could not help Frodo, for this was no ordinary fever, to be eased by poultices and healing vapors. Lily washed his face gently, trying to cool him. He did not seem to feel anything, not even the cooling touch. She held his hand, kissed his brow, and whispered to him. Nothing. Frodo could neither eat nor drink; when she and Rosie attempted to give him a sip of water, he began to choke. Lily took a clean cloth and soaked it in water, then gently pressed the cloth to his lips, parched with fever. In this way they attempted to give him some bit of water. Although Frodo’s gaze was empty, giving no hint of reaction to their care, Lily felt sure this provided him some comfort; it must, she assured herself. It must.

At length, Lily broke down and wept once more, piteously. Rosie gave her what comfort she could, bringing her tea, and holding her as she cried. She brought food for them. Lily endeavored to eat as much as she could, but food seemed somehow abhorrent. Without doubt, she was taking Frodo’s illness onto herself, slowly but surely.

Rosie encouraged her to take her afternoon rest after tea, promising to fetch her should Frodo become worse. Lily could not express her reluctance but knew she could not help him if her own strength gave way, and they already knew she could not yet bear the whole day with him. With the darkness intensifying, it had grown increasingly difficult to spend even half days with him.

Lily did not sleep well. The meager restoration she gleaned from her short rest seemed as nothing once she stepped into Frodo’s room again, and the illness washed over her. Something whispered she should leave, and rest some more, but her heart ached to help the pain-racked soul of her beloved. She pushed the illness away once more and settled in her chair close to Frodo.

Rose told Lily of the Gaffer’s visit while she slept. He would make a point to tell the neighbors that Rose and Lily were together, taking care of Mr. Baggins in his illness, and it was probably something brought on with the coming of spring. The Gaffer had guessed it was probably much more serious, and even asked if he should send for Sam, but Rose did not want to worry him, and surely didn’t want the neighbors panicking about some strange, dread illness brought back from faraway lands.

Frodo lay very still, but he was not sleeping. It seemed he could not, for he had slept not at all since their arrival that morning. Lily watched the play of emotions in his eyes, and none of them were comforting. He closed his eyes for brief moments, and her heart leapt at the thought he might rest; but she swiftly realized he would find no respite until this darkness passed, or was somehow taken from him. Tears fell from Frodo’s eyes as he dreamt of, or fought, some unseen terror.

Lily’s voice broke. “Frodo, I miss you, so much...” She turned her tearstained face to Rosie. “He is not here with us, Rose. He is far away, somewhere else... we must get him back! Oh Rosie, I am so afraid! I must pray again. Surely the Creator will take pity on him. Won’t He?”

Rosie nodded to reassure her friend, but in her heart she did not know what the Creator would do. She had heard Sam pray now and then, and knew it brought him comfort, and in some way, peace. She attempted it from time to time, but was still mystified by it; even the words -- pray, and prayer -- felt new to her. But she would help Lily in any way she could.

Lily remembered back to the first prayer she had ever heard, offered by Frodo there at the Shirebourn in February. He had thanked Ilúvatar for her! What could she do for him now? Tears welled again in her eyes. What if her prayers were not answered?

She prayed for well over an hour. Frodo’s sleepless gaze was wild at times, as if he saw something so horrible he might scream. To Lily’s great surprise he sat up several times as evening crept through the smial, afraid, as if he expected something or someone to approach. He cried out several times in Elvish. ‘Elbereth’, he had called... Lily remembered the word from their first night together in November.

Lily and Rose endeavored to spoon water into Frodo’s mouth every few hours. At times he was able to swallow one spoonful, but never more than this, for his body seemed to reject it; a second spoonful set him to choking again. They were bewildered. Lily fretted and struggled not to weep.

The day stretched into endless night, and as it did, Lily knew she was weakening. This was more darkness than she had ever faced, and she was afraid. If something became of her, would Frodo die?

He seemed to settle for a time in the late evening, even releasing his hold on the gem, though his fingertips still touched it. He was less agitated, not as restless... but Lily knew his quiet was due to exhaustion. She could feel it.

Rose stood and stretched. “Now’s as good a time as any, I reckon.”

Lily glanced away from Frodo for a moment. “What?”

“We need to change out the bedclothes and get him into a clean nightshirt, seeing how as everything’s drenched in sweat.” Rose chose not to say the rest, quite certain Lily would understand. “Have you ever bathed an adult in bed?”

Lily nodded, her eyes clouded. “My mother, when she had the fever; before she passed on...” Her glance strayed to Frodo’s face again. She whispered, “Will he be all right? He will, won’t he?” She again turned tear-filled eyes to Rose.

Rose was sure of only one thing. “Lily, don’t you be giving up on him--” she began sternly.

“Don’t you worry, Rose.” Lily smiled wanly. “I’m just tired. Don’t mind me.”

Rose eyed her friend carefully. “Would you like me to take care of bathing him? Would that be easier?”

Lily thought a moment. “No, thank you, Rose. I need to care for him. There is so much I cannot do for him; but this much I can.”

She paused, and when she spoke again her voice was distant. “I remember how I felt, caring for my mum. I remembered her bathing me in bed when I was sick as a child. It was comforting.” Lily smiled. “Last year, though she suffered from a fever, she wasn’t so sick as to not be embarrassed by me washing her and seeing her in a state of undress, so I learned certain parts could wait to be washed and to dress her without exposing her. I’ll never forget the gratitude in her eyes.” Lily’s eyes misted with tears.

“She didn’t mind Da washing her, though she hated feeling so helpless... so he did the thorough washings. In truth, she was sick for several weeks. Will came home, when we saw she was getting worse. We took turns caring for her, but as I lived in the house, it fell to me most often...” Lily looked Rose in the eye. “It never felt like a burden, Rosie. It was... a privilege to care for her.” Lily’s voice trailed away and her eyes wandered back to Frodo’s face.

Weariness was taking her. “One of the last things I did for my mum was wash her and change her nightdress. She smiled for me as I brushed her hair. As soon as I finished, we all gathered in her room. We were all there. The healer told us she wouldn’t last much longer. Da and Will held her hands. Daisy and I sat at her head... Daisy laid her hand on Mum’s forehead, and I stroked her hair. She seemed to like that... I think it brought her comfort. Poor Hal, he hardly knew what to do; he and Daisy had only wed the month before, in early December. He was very attached to Mum; she helped him win Daisy’s heart... I remember he just stood behind Daisy with his hands on her shoulders, and was trying not to cry.

“Mum smiled at each of us, and told us she loved us; she told Da last.” Lily’s voice caught, and she took a deep breath. “Da leaned over and kissed her. She smiled for him, and was gone.”

Tears slipped down Lily’s cheeks. She glanced up and found Rose hurriedly dashing tears of her own away with her hands. “Rose,” Lily smiled, softly, “I’d like to care for him, if I may.”

“But it’s a little different with a lad...” Rose reminded her gently.

“I know,” Lily assured her. “Remember, how Will caught the fever at the outset? My Mum caught it a week after we returned. It was well over a year ago now, just after Yule... You sent us a post, and Mum and I came up to care for Will. Thankfully he was only sick a few days, but Mum taught me what to do, and how to be discreet...”

Rose nodded and sniffled. “I remember, now. All right then, I prepared extra water when I made our tea. I’ll fill the carafe and bring some towels and fresh bedclothes.” She placed the washbasin on the table next to the bed and left to gather what they would need.

Lily kissed Frodo’s hand, willing to take on the added pain it caused her. She then released his hand to search for a clean nightshirt for him. She found several in a drawer in the bureau, and chose a blue silk that reminded her of his eyes. She laid it on the chair next to the bed.

Rosie returned with the carafe and poured steaming water into the washbasin, then disappeared into the hall again. Lily loosened the bedclothes, to make them easier to remove when the time came. She pushed the illness away again, but it was taking its toll on her, and required more effort each time.

When Rose returned with several clean towels and clean bedding, she handed the towels to Lily, a couple of which were washing cloths. She then laid the bedclothes under the clean nightshirt.

Rose laid a hand on Lily’s shoulder; she glanced up and searched her friend’s eyes. “Thank you, Rose. I could not have done this alone.”

“Shhh, Lily, never you mind. You’d do it for me, if it ever came to that.”

Lily pushed the coverlet down to Frodo’s waist. “Frodo, dearest, Rose and I need to wash you and get you into a clean nightshirt and bedclothes. We will be as gentle as ever we are able.”

He gave no reply, but she had not expected one.

“Rose, we’ll need to work quickly so he doesn’t become chilled. Please wet a cloth for me while I get his shirt off.”

Lily nimbly released each button. She eased his right arm out of the sleeve. At the outer edges of her thought she realized he usually gave her his left hand to hold, not his right. She paused a moment to hold the marred hand in her own, then kissed it and lay it on his breast. Then she eased the left arm from the sleeve. Her breath caught in her throat.

Rose was instantly at her side. “Lily?”

Lily lifted anguished eyes to Rose and then turned her gaze back to the scarred shoulder. She reached out her hand, and tentatively touched the scar. She and Rose both started when Frodo shuddered and whimpered. Lily covered her mouth to keep from crying out as tears welled in her eyes and spilled down her face; Rose touched her shoulder and spoke soothingly to her, until she regained her composure.

They worked together to slip the shirt off, rolling Frodo to one side. Again, Lily’s breath caught, as she saw the marks etched by the lash on his side and back, reddish-pink against his fair skin. Rosie whispered, “I remember Sam telling us he’d been whipped, but I never really imagined...”

Lily swallowed her tears and held out her hand for the washcloth Rose had prepared. She gently washed his back, all the way down to the bedclothes and his waist. Then the two worked together to roll him towards them so Lily could wash the rest of his back.

For the first time she noticed the angry red welt around his neck. Lily thought quickly and realized he must be pulling at the chain about his neck. Then she noticed impressions from individual links left on his skin. The chain that left these marks had to be heavier than the slender chain he wore now... the Ring...

“Rose, would you please add some lavender to the water. A chain from a necklace has cut a bit into his skin.”

Rose disappeared down the hall for only a moment and then added several sprigs of lavender to the water. “It’s kept in the pantry. I’ll show you later, so you’ll be able to get it yourself...”

Lily’s eyes questioned her.

She smiled at her friend. “You’ll need to know, when you live here.”

Tears streamed down Lily’s face, but before she could say anything Rose continued. “I think the water’s ready.”

Lily sniffed and smiled in return, dipping the cloth in the water. She felt Frodo flinch as the water first touched the angry red marks. He released a small sigh as the lavender eased the hurt, but his breathing was still labored.

She eased him back onto the clean towel Rose had laid on the bed to protect him from the sweat-soaked bedclothes, then covered him with another clean towel after bathing his chest and arms. Somehow, someday, when this was all over, when he was well again -- Lily was unable to contemplate the alternative -- she would put some proper weight on him. She knew his present illness would only cause him to lose more weight; he did not have it to lose.

Rosie touched Lily’s shoulder as she eased the coverlet down a little further and released the buttons on his breeches. She pulled the coverlet back up to his chest and turned to Rose.

“Hold the coverlet for me.”

Rose did as she was asked and watched curiously as Lily slipped her hands under the coverlet at the foot of the bed.

“I’ll grasp the cuffs of his breeches at his knees and ease them off, but if you don’t hold snug, the coverlet will come with them.”

Rose smiled. “I wonder if he’d blush?”

The worry on Lily’s face eased. “I think he would, but I don’t want to find out.” She deftly pulled the breeches from under the cover and handed them to Rosie, who added them to the waistcoat and shirt for washing later.

Lily lifted the coverlet just enough to wash Frodo’s lower legs. She took a little extra time to wash his feet, rubbing each in its turn. “Mum loved it when I worked on her feet. She hurt so much all over, but rubbing her feet always brought her a little relief...”

“Did you catch the fever as well?” Rose wondered aloud, as her friend continued to wash Frodo, adeptly accomplishing the job with the towel still covering him.

“No, I was spared.”

“How did you keep from catching the fever yourself?”

“I’ve always needed to be careful, what with my trouble with fainting. I learned long ago to take care of myself properly, though I never could have survived the life of a farmer’s wife, or the like. If Da had not done so well, allowing me to live a relatively easy life...”

“Your life doesn’t sound like it’s been all that easy...”

“Rose, you’re a hard worker, and I could never keep up with you. You’ve seen me today; I tire so quickly...”

“Yes, but this is different...”

Lily searched Rose’s eyes as she completed the task of washing Frodo. “In some ways, yes, but for me, it feels as though I’ve lived all my life waiting for this moment...”

Rose shrugged. “Mayhap you have been.” She helped Lily change the bedding out, carefully moving Frodo, still draped in the large towel. They knew he must be dressed and covered in quilts again, before he chilled.

Rose shook her head in wonder. “With the towel under him and the towel atop him, he’s completely covered. Any more tricks you know?”

Lily smiled weakly. “A few.” She reached for the fresh nightshirt, unbuttoning it all the way down. Her smile broadened at the question in Rosie’s eyes. “Another trick.” She slipped Frodo’s left arm into the sleeve of the nightshirt, rolled him towards herself and smoothed the shirt part way down his back, as far as his waist. She eased Frodo back and then rolled him away from her to pull the other sleeve free. After easing his right arm into the other sleeve, she smoothed the material down his back to his waist again.

Rose watched with interest as Lily then buttoned all the buttons.

When she finished she looked up at Rose. “Are you ready?”

“For what?”

“To help with the magic trick.”

Rose smiled. “Ready, and curious as can be...”

“Help me sit him up... lean him against me... thank you.”

Lily wanted to cry again as she felt both his fever and the slight weight of him against her. She bit her lip and forced her emotions back. She did not want him to sense her grief, if in fact he could sense anything at all.

She smoothed the shirt down his back to his waist once more. “See that the hem isn’t caught in any folds.” She could not hide the tremor in her voice. “I’m glad it’s silk; it makes it much easier. Now, make sure we can grasp the side seams freely and fold the towel down. Good. Help me lay him back. Thank you, Rose...”

“Well, I’ll be,” Rose exclaimed in quiet wonder. “Aren’t you clever.” She quickly moved to the other side of the bed.

They grasped the top and bottom towels with the side seam of the nightshirt between them on either side and began to ease them all down Frodo’s body. When it reached to just below his knees, the nightshirt began to pull against his shoulders.

Rosie took the towels and other items to be washed out of the room. Lily eased the clean bedcovers over Frodo. She felt the weariness weigh on her, and she settled on her chair next to his bed again, clasping his hand in hers.

---------

Sometime in the morning, past the two o’clock hour, Lily fainted.

As if he sensed the loss of her, Frodo’s hand strayed to Arwen’s gem, grasping it firmly.

Rose watched and shivered, as a chill went through her. Suddenly, without Lily’s mindful presence, she felt more afraid than ever for Frodo. She revived Lily, and walked with her to the far guest bedroom, then begged her to eat a spot of bread and cheese, and to drink.

“I’ve not forgotten what you told me, Lily... you can’t help him if you’re ill yourself. I’ll watch him till morning. You sleep now. I will try to say some prayers until you awaken again.”

“Oh, please, Rose, do... thank you...” Lily paused a moment and searched her friend’s eyes. “I shall never be able to thank you enough --”

“Hush, now. You know as well as I, this isn’t about owing. This is what friends do for each other. Sam and Frodo both would tell you that...”

Tears glistened in their eyes as they shared a warm embrace.

Lily slept then, not because she wished to, but because her body was too weak to stay awake.