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Sacrament

by CRB and Ladyhawk Baggins

14 March 1420sr

Lily awoke before dawn, and slipped out of bed. She had slept in her clothes, again. There was no time for a bath; some other time, she promised herself wearily.

She found Rose awake in the chair next to Frodo’s bed, her face clearly revealing the sad sleepless hours of keeping watch...

Lily went to her friend and embraced her, then moved quickly to the other side of the bed and sat next to Frodo, caressing his hand, his cheek, looking for any change in him. She felt pain again with each touch. But he was alive; he still appeared ashen and feverish, but he was alive...

“Rosie; oh, Rose...” Lily found the words did not come easily. She looked up and met her friend’s bleary eyes. Rose replied with a sympathetic smile, and let Lily talk.

“Thank you for watching him, and allowing me to rest... I -- I was so afraid he might die in the night. And I thank the Creator my beloved is still here. He is still full of misery, and still so sick, but he is here...”

His right hand was clenched tight into a fist. Rose watched in exhausted silence as Lily stroked the back of his hand, endeavoring to relax it; but it would not. She raised it to her lips and kissed it, then closed her eyes, bearing the discomfort she felt. Then Frodo’s eyes closed as well, in that moment, and two tears fell in tiny rivulets from the corners of his eyes and down his cheeks. His breathing was laboured. He was still restless...

“He closed his eyes there for a moment, Lily,” Rose offered quietly. “He must have felt that kiss, somehow. He hasn’t closed his eyes, but for a blink now and then, since you went to bed.”

“Dear Frodo...” Lily kissed his brow. This hurt more; the pains reminded her of pinpricks, but this reached straight for her soul. She refused to be deterred.

She spoke softly into his ear. “Frodo, it is the morning of the fourteenth of March. You are fighting well. Do not give up, dearest; I beg you. I need you. I --” The tears were starting all over again; it would be another day full of tears. It was horrible not to be able to tell him she loved him.

“I do love him, Rose,” Lily murmured, her gaze still on his face. He was pale but for two patches of red on his cheeks from the fever. His hair was damp with sweat, and darker than ever against his white skin.

“Of course you love him, and he knows it...” Rose assured her.

“Tea, I -- I’ll get you some tea, Rose... no, no, you need to sleep now. Would you like the tea anyway? I’ll make you some chamomile tea. It’ll help warm you, and you should sleep better...”

Rose shifted and sat up in the chair, loosening the quilt which covered her. She had kept the fire going in the grate, but the room still held some morning chill.

“Tea sounds wonderful, and sleep sounds even better, but not yet... Stay with him, Lily. I’ll get tea later. How are you? How do you feel? How did you sleep? I’m tired, but I can’t be as tired as you... I’m not fighting this... this -- darkness, you called it -- I’m not having to fight that.”

“I -- I think I slept some; I tossed a good deal. But some sleep was far better than none. Thank you again, dear Rose, and when Frodo -- when Frodo is well, I know he’ll thank you, also...”

Rose got up, pulling the quilt around her like a cloak, and went to Lily’s side. She sat on the bed behind her and watched Frodo’s face, afraid. I prayed, Rose reflected. I did pray... I wonder if it did any good. It felt strange, talking to someone I don’t know...

Lily still stroked the back of his right hand. Frodo’s eyes were open once more, though only barely. His breathing was still laboured.

“Was he -- was he able to drink at all?” As she spoke, Lily turned his hand over to stroke the underside of his wrist. “Oh!” She gasped, staring at his hand. His fingers were wrapped around Arwen’s gem, vice-like.

“The gem!” she exclaimed. “It’s here, in his hand, on the chain... the chain is broken... Why didn’t I see it before?”

“Lily, it’s plain you’re not really rested at all. I was wondering when you’d notice it. He ripped it off in the night... it was a good hour after you fell asleep. Made me jump up right out of that chair, it did. Scared me but good. He said not a word, and made hardly a sound, Lily... It was the oddest thing. He just yanked it once, hard, and it was off him, and his hand has been in a fist like that, ever since. I tried to get his hand to open, too, but it was no use.”

“Oh, my... oh my. I wonder what it means? I wish I knew more! Oh, I’m sorry, Rose, I still haven’t answered you -- I feel, I feel somewhat restored. Sleep helps. It does.”

But Lily wondered how long she would be able to hold out against the strength of the darkness today.

“And to answer your question,” Rose stated sadly, “no, he couldn’t drink. I tried. Not even one spoonful of water. I’m wondering if he tore the chain off because it reminded him too much of the feeling of that other chain, the one he wore on the Quest. Sam said it -- the Ring -- got so heavy, it weighed him down, like a sack of grain, only worse. It truly is beyond my ken. It was but a small gold trinket...”

Lily gently released Frodo’s hand, laying it down next to him, and covered her face with her hands and wept.

“Lily... I’m sorry, love.” Rose moved from behind Lily to sitting on the bed facing her. Her friend finally raised her tear-streaked face and tried to smile.

“I’m sorry, Rosie... this is -- it’s terrifying. I don’t know how to help him, other than to touch him... I’ll do it for as long as it takes, but if he doesn’t drink in a day or two...” She could not meet Rose’s eyes.

In a moment of insight, Rose recalled Sam telling her about the healing power of athelas, and wished she had some now, but at least there was still some lavender in the pantry; it often served as a balm for those with a fever.

“I’ll be right back, Lily. I’m going to get more lavender and begin steeping it in here; what we used last night is spent. Stay with him.”

Lily nodded, and began to stroke Frodo’s hand once more, placing her left hand on his forehead, and trying to will health into him from her own body -- if it were possible. Just as before, she felt something leave her, some tiny bit of herself. She did not fear the loss. She was not dying, as he was...

Rose carried in a steaming bowl of water containing fresh sprigs of dried lavender, and set it on the end table at the head of the bed. The soothing fragrance of the herb might comfort him, and ease his breathing. She and Lily were soothed by it, for a time, but to all appearances it brought no relief to Frodo.

Lily glimpsed a spot of blood on the collar of Frodo’s nightshirt and remembered the gem and broken chain in his hand. She gingerly inspected his neck and found his skin newly-cut. Her stomach tightened; there were now marks from two different chains...

“Rose, would you please bring me a clean cloth? I need to tend to these new cuts on his neck...” Lily sighed to herself.

Rose heard the underlying urgency in Lily’s voice and went quickly. She returned to the bedroom long enough to give Lily the clean cloth, then retreated to the kitchen. Just for a little while, Rose promised herself. She needed the chance to gather her thoughts.

I know what to do here, Rose reminded herself. She sat before the hearth fire for a moment, staring at nothing, tired and afraid. There was much of Frodo’s illness she did not understand -- truly, all of it, she lamented -- and much she could not do, but she could make sure Lily was cared for, as she seemed to be Frodo’s best chance.

She made more tea and buttered a chunk of fresh bread, bringing the morsel to Lily, who gamely nibbled at it in an effort to please her friend, though she was far too nervous and upset to eat. Then Lily reminded herself of the importance of keeping up her own strength. She dared not risk being careless; the price might be more than she could bear. She finished the bread and tea.

Lily moved to the chair next to the bed, where Rose had kept her watch through the night, and held Frodo’s left hand between her own. With his eyes only blinking from time to time, she could look deep into his soul. The darkness left him open, completely vulnerable, in some way she did not understand. His light, which had ever shone so brightly, was now diminished, like a candle sputtering out. Lily was sick with fear for what might become of him. She felt his misery; but she could also sense his fight against it. And already she felt herself weakening, fading, just as she had the day before. Too soon! It could not be happening so soon --! she thought in a panic.

“O Ilúvatar, help us... send us your aid. Let him be saved. Please...” She struggled to hold back the tears, for when she wept the darkness gained a stronger foothold within her.

Lily crawled onto the end of the bed and began working on Frodo’s feet again, gently rubbing them until her hands ached. Then she bathed her hands in the lavender water and returned to her chair, holding his hand once more. For a time, she rested her head on the bed, praying silently as she listened to him breathe.

---------

At midmorning, as the Sun spilled more light into the room, Lily realized her friend had never gone to rest.

“Please, Rose, sleep -- I shall be fine.”

Rose smiled wanly. “I’ll rest when Merry and Pippin get here -- I’ll be happier that way--”

Frodo suddenly spoke, startling them both.

“Gandalf!” he pleaded, feebly.

Then, chant-like, he murmured, “It is gone forever, and now all is dark and empty...”

As Lily recovered from her initial shock, her heart leapt at the chance to speak to Frodo, and she begged him to answer, but he could not hear her. She noticed tears forming once again in his eyes. Perhaps he could hear, but could not reply... Tenderly, she dried his tears with the cooling cloth, and then softly kissed his brow. Her resolve broke again, and her unshed tears could no longer be kept at bay. Rose wept with her, quietly.

Rosie knew she did not fully understand what Lily saw and felt, but Frodo was gravely ill. He burned with fever, and his face was pale and drawn. His eyes were dull, something she had never seen before in Frodo; not like this. He chilled, and they covered him with blankets, and Lily pressed the wetted cloth to his lips every few moments in an effort to keep them from drying. They continued their silent vigil, dread drawing about them like a curtain.

Where are Merry and Pippin? Rose wondered. It was too soon yet. Too soon for them to have heard the news and gotten all the way to Hobbiton already... She realized suddenly her father would have taken the message himself, trusting it to no one. He probably needed to stop for the night. They must come today; they must...

---------

At midday, although they had not sent for him, Gandalf arrived.

Rose was glad she was the one who answered the door, for if Lily had, she would surely have fainted at the shock of seeing the wizard; Rose was certain Lily had never met him. As it was, Rose caught her breath when she saw him, and she knew Gandalf, though not well. She covered her mouth with one hand, her eyes round as saucers.

She noticed all of a sudden he was all in white, his hair and beard bright as newly fallen snow. He seemed to glow, almost... Sam had told her he wasn’t Gandalf the Grey anymore...

“Gandalf, sir!” she exclaimed, dumbfounded. “How...?”

“Dear Rose -- there will be time enough for explanations, I assure you -- but for now, aren’t you going to invite an old conjurer in?” He smiled down at her.

Rose nodded up at him, speechless, and opened the door wide, inviting him in with a wave of her hand. He ducked low, and swept past her. She peeked outside.

“No need to worry, Rose,” he assured her, still bent over. “It’s an exceptionally cold day, and most of the local gossips are in where it’s warm. Any raised brows on my account are not new, and shall pass quickly enough.”

He was still smiling warmly at her when she turned back to him after closing the door. The chilly air which swept in with him filled her senses for a moment and she seemed to waken. He brought peace; it emanated from him, and Rose was comforted and strengthened by it.

“Gandalf!” she repeated. “I -- welcome, welcome! -- How... But we didn’t send for you... I’m sorry; we didn’t think to, and even if we had, we didn’t know where you were...”

“I promise to tell you, Rose, if you would but ask me again later -- but for now, please excuse my lack of polite conversation. Speed is of the essence, although--” he paused, and frowned slightly, before heading for the master bedroom “--although I wouldn’t want to be accused of being hasty.”

The frown vanished and he chuckled softly, but Rose was not sure why; she could only nod mutely and follow him. He was so tall that in five long strides he reached Frodo’s bedroom door, still bent over to keep from hitting his head on the ceiling beams.

He found a small hobbit-lass, well out of her tweens, and at least a few years past her coming-of-age. She had long waves of auburn hair, reaching almost to her waist, tied back with one dark green ribbon. She glanced at him but did not seem to see him at all, although Gandalf could not be sure. Her eyes, fixed once more on Frodo, were blue, no; green. Hazel, perhaps... She was dressed simply, in a light green chemise, her overskirt and vest a dark forest green. Her feet were crossed and tucked under her chair, and she leaned her arms on the bed, her sleeves rolled up to her elbows.

She was lovely, but bore a tired, careworn look. She kissed Frodo’s left hand, held in her own, and winced slightly, as if pained. She then placed Frodo’s hand gently on his breast, and stood slowly, turning to acknowledge their guest.

“Sir -- I feel I should know you. Oh! Gandalf the Grey! Sir! You were -- you were at Bilbo’s grand party... such remarkable fireworks... Frodo has spoken so -- so highly of you... he told me you are --” she struggled to recall Frodo’s exact words “-- ‘a Maiar, a true wizard, second in power only to -- to the Valar’...”

Her voice trailed away. It was hard to think. She felt as though she were being pulled into two worlds at once: that of Gandalf’s powerful light and peace, and that of a dark place, from which she might never return; but she could not summon the strength to rouse her spirit. She found her voice again with some effort.

“Welcome, sir. I am Lily Burrows.” She spoke in a soft, measured tone. She curtseyed, but Gandalf noted she was unsteady on her feet. “My home is in Deephallow, where -- where the Shirebourn meets the Brandywine. Frodo is grievously ill. I fear for his life.”

She stared up at the wizard’s face as he finally entered the room. He straightened to almost his full height and approached her. She did not notice Rose following behind him. He towered over them, imposing yet gentle, old but young, and shining, in his white robes...

Lily spoke more urgently. “Can you help him, sir?” She glanced back at Frodo, lying so still in the bed, then gazed up at the wizard. “Please?”

Something in her voice and in her face compelled Gandalf to look harder. She possessed the gift of sight...

Surely, then, this was the hobbit-lass Frodo had spoken of in early November, on the day he said the blessing over Bag End. Gandalf smiled at the memory of Frodo’s shy confession of love for her; this, after knowing her but three days...

“Gandalf the White I am called now, though in past times I was called ‘the Grey,’ and several other things that need not be repeated...” He raised an eyebrow, and cleared his throat.

He touched Lily’s arm. “Excuse me, child,” he started, but he stopped, and searched her weary eyes again. He felt some power within her which was akin to his own, although nowhere near as strong. Hers was as a candle-flame to his roaring hearth fire. But he saw that rather than flickering like a candle, her light was constant -- Eärendil came unbidden to his thoughts. She was indeed a most unusual lass.

“Lily, I have come to help Frodo. I shall do my best. Will you help me, as well?”

Lily nodded, slowly. She felt dazed; Gandalf was here... she watched him turn his attention to Frodo, but her vision was not entirely clear... it did not matter, she decided.

Gandalf laid a large weathered hand on Frodo’s head, pulling back slightly in surprise at what he felt; Frodo seemed to begin to stir, but stopped, as if all movement were impossible. Gandalf could see the Ring-bearer was not aware of his presence, but something within Frodo was very aware indeed...

“Please excuse me,” murmured Lily, to no one in particular. She sat on the floor next to the bed, and drew her knees up. Placing her arms on her knees, she laid her head on her arms.

“Lily--” Rose cried, and went to her friend.

Gandalf turned to investigate the commotion behind him.

“Lily,” Rose petitioned again. She was bent low, with her face near her friend’s. Rose glanced up, and then back at Lily. “Gandalf, sir, she’s fainted. I -- can you please help me get her to a guest room? I know she needs to eat and drink -- she’s one of those what needs regular meals or she suffers -- and I’ve tried to get enough into her, but she’s been too nervous... and she needs real rest...”

Gandalf lifted the lass easily into his arms as Rose was speaking.

“Say no more, Rose; we’ll get her to bed.” He strode out of the room and down the hall, keeping his head low.

Rose was reminded of a maidchild’s doll, so small was Lily in his arms.

Laying her down on the bed Rose indicated, Gandalf asked, “Is she well?”

“I believe so, sir, but, -- well, not really, sir. I don’t rightly know... it’s something to do with Frodo. She -- it’s hard to explain. On top of all that, she faints more easily than most, and she’s had no good rest for two days.”

Gandalf stooped down next to the bed. “Rose, would you please bring some cider for her, and some cheese or bread; something to eat...”

“Yes, sir.” Rose hurried off.

---------

Lily felt a touch on her forehead, cool and warm at once. She felt strong hands holding her own, and heard a voice. It was not Frodo, nor Rose. Da?

“Da?”

“My dear child, you have been quite ill.”

It was not Da, but Gandalf. Lily sat up in her bed, in the far guest bedroom. How had she gotten here?

“Frodo! I must go to him!”

“Wait, child... please eat and drink, and listen to me.” He handed her the cider and cheese.

His voice was kind... She gazed up at Gandalf, wanting to do as he bid, yet needing to be near her beloved...

Gandalf saw her hesitate. “I know you want to help Frodo,” he assured her, gently. He looked her in the eye. “If that is so, then eat... ah, much better. Now; I have been able to help Frodo for the present, although I do not know for how long. You are in need of real rest.”

Lily had nearly finished the cider, and felt refreshed already. “Please, I can help him, somehow; I don’t understand how, but I can draw some of the evil away from him. Please, I must be near him. He may die --”

Gandalf restrained her with the lightest touch of his hand on her shoulder.

“Please, eat. He is safe for awhile, I promise you, but yes... he is very ill. Rose told me the story as best she could. Frodo is in danger; I must agree with you -- ah, excellent, you’ve finished your little meal. My, but you eat quickly...”

“Then let me go, I beg of you, sir...” Tears gathered in Lily’s eyes.

“Lily, if you do not rest yourself, you cannot help him. What will become of him if you fall gravely ill? Have patience, child.” He took the mug and set it down, then gathered both her hands in his.

Lily felt calm and peace flood into her. Relief, light, health...

She opened her eyes -- when had she closed them? -- and breathed deeply.

“That is much better.” The wizard nodded, pleased.

“Rose -- Rose needs rest too, sir... we were staying with the Gaffer before Frodo became ill... she didn’t sleep last night; not at all.”

Lily noticed Gandalf nodding to her; he’d heard her, then... he lingered for a moment as he touched her hands. He paused, as if he wished to understand something. Then she remembered nothing more, for a deep sleep came upon her.

---------

“Rose, go back to the Gamgee’s, and rest.” Gandalf commanded, as they stood in the greatroom. His tone was warm, but firm.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Gandalf, but I can’t, not with Miss Lily here. It just wouldn’t look right and proper, if you take my meaning. Mr. Frodo wouldn’t stand for it. You know how the neighbors can talk...”

A satisfied smile crossed Gandalf’s face, then he inclined his head. “You are quite right, Miss Cotton. And what a fine match for Samwise Gamgee you are...”

Rosie blushed and whispered, “How did you know? We haven’t announced it yet...”

“I am one of the Maiar, Rose.” His eyes twinkled. “But quite apart from that, everyone on the Quest knew of his intentions. For he spoke of you, often, when telling of his hopes and dreams. Aragorn told me of a particular night when Samwise was telling Lord Boromir of you. Boromir said Sam was fortunate, and indeed, he is... You were ever in his thoughts. Now, Rose, you needn’t hold back tears... not all tears are evil.

“You also remind me of him -- you possess the same loyalty and devotion -- and you’re practical, as well. Just for a moment, I almost heard his voice in yours.” Gandalf’s smile broadened. “But there is something else now which troubles you; what is it?”

“Mr. Gandalf, sir, I don’t suppose you brought any of that athelas my Sam goes on about?”

The wizard smiled. “Athelas will not serve here, my dear Rose. I was pleased to note you have lavender steeping in the room. Is there anything else?”

Rose blushed. “Well, sir, if it’s not too much of a bother, I’d like to nip down to the Gaffer’s and let him know you’re here, but tell him things are well in hand, and Lily and I’ll be staying on here to tend to Frodo. That should put the Gaffer at ease, and it should be enough to put any possible rumors to rest. I also need to ask him about a new feather mattress; the old one will need to be replaced, and I’m certain the Gaffer will know what to do about that, even if it’s been years since he’s needed to worry about it. He took care of such things for Mr. Bilbo from time to time, you know.” Rosie seemed to be talking to herself for a moment, then she shook her head and gazed up at Gandalf again. “I’ll not be gone long enough to raise too many eyebrows.”

“Though I am not as suitable a chaperone as you, I shall endeavor to serve adequately until you return.”

Rosie smiled shyly and slipped quickly out the door.

---------

Lily awoke when Merry and Pippin arrived at nightfall. Despite their joy at meeting Gandalf, they were in despair when they saw Frodo and heard first-hand what had transpired.

Pippin was immediately affected, tears coming to his eyes.

“But we were just here -- Merry and I -- we were just here visiting him, not more than a fortnight ago. He and Sam were planning the spring gardens... He was fine then, wasn’t he, Merry? Fine?”

Merry’s jaw was set. The others were quiet, and Lily saw a different Merry, trying to cover his fears. He was not the confident, blithe hobbit of the party Before Yule. Nor even the brash one, from years ago, at the Bywater Fair...

“Aye,” Merry answered, finally. He kept his eyes on Frodo’s prostrate form as he spoke. “Aye, Pip. Fine, the way Frodo can be fine... he didn’t say one word to us about any of this. Nothing about being attacked by some sort of darkness, as if he were still on the Quest... I asked him about how thin he’d gotten... he’s much thinner now than he was at that party -- remember that, Pip? -- I asked him about those dark circles under his eyes.”

Pippin nodded, then drew closer to Gandalf, who sat on a cedar chest near the head of the bed. For several moments, Pippin stood gazing at his older cousin; this was too much like another illness they’d seen in him. Then he grasped Frodo’s left hand, and a chill shot through him.

“His hand is like ice! And his face is so ashen; he was going cold like this after Weathertop...”

Pippin shut his eyes. The others did not know if he was praying, or merely gathering his composure. Lily sensed it was both. Pippin opened his eyes, but wanted to close them again. It was hard to see Frodo like this. Very hard.

He looked to Merry. “I remember you asking about how thin he’d gotten, and about his lack of sleep... and I remember him giving us a story about having no appetite. I reckon that was true enough, but he never said why, and the look he gave us when we asked -- well --” Pippin looked around at the rest of them, still holding onto Frodo’s cold hand, hoping to warm it. “He gave all three of us -- Sam, too -- a look that said ‘please don’t ask me anything more about this.’”

Pippin gave a small sad laugh. “And you know Frodo. His face was so clear, his thoughts may as well’ve been hung on a sign round his neck. There’s never any mistaking his meaning...”

“Aye.” Merry turned to face Rose from where he stood at the foot of the bed, fingering the coverlet absently. He tried to keep any sort of accusation from his voice.

“I got the feeling Sam knew a lot more about it than he was letting on... but Sam won’t go against Frodo’s wishes. The subject was closed.”

Rose felt hot stinging tears once again, and could not face Merry. “Aye, my Sam won’t go against Frodo’s wishes. To save his master’s life, he would, but not otherwise. I -- I truly don’t see as he knew how bad this all was. And he knows Frodo best of all, exceptin’ Lily, now...”

Rose moved to the window seat and sat down wearily.

“I wouldn’t feel too badly, any of you,” Gandalf assured them, taking one long draw on his pipe and holding it, as if by doing so he might somehow be able to think better. He let the smoke out all at once, before continuing.

“No one here has understood the depth of this attack more than Miss Burrows; she possesses a rare gift of sight. And she tells me the illness has been going on for months. Since early November, at least. Am I correct, Lily?”

She was sitting on the bed close to Frodo, still stroking his right hand, which clutched the gem unceasingly. For a moment, Lily glanced up at Merry and Pippin.

“I -- yes; since early November at least... November 2nd, it was. The day you Travelers came back to the Westfarthing. I saw it in him, even then; it was frighteningly clear. I wish -- I wish I could say it wasn’t. And he really didn’t want anyone else to be burdened with the knowledge. I couldn’t help but see it, and Sam... well, Sam is Sam, bless him; he knew something was very wrong. But Frodo wouldn’t even tell him much of it.” She bowed her head for a moment and closed her eyes, sighing heavily.

They think I know him so well, she lamented. But they know everything about him; they know his whole life. They knew what really happened to my beloved on that wretched Quest...

She pushed the feeling aside; it was foolish and wrong to envy them. They were his cousins and his dearest friends, beside Samwise... Merry was as a younger brother to him. If Frodo -- if Frodo dies -- no, do not even think that, she chastised herself. If he doesn’t recover fully, he’ll send me away, and I shall never know him as I’d hoped. I want so much to share everything with him, the bad as well as the good. I would help him, if he’d allow it, dear Creator; I’d gladly help him... please, let him live... let him recover... Please.

I shall not cry, she asserted, steeling herself. I shan’t.

For a few moments, there was no sound in the room but that of Gandalf puffing on his pipe, and Frodo’s quiet, laboured breathing.

“Merry.”

“Yes, Gandalf.” Merry started from some reverie.

“Would you please bring me a spot of tea?”

Lily stood, placing Frodo’s hand -- his fist -- gently on his chest, and turned to the others. “Oh!” she fretted. “Where are my manners? Please, let me bring it, I am so sorry. I don’t know where my mind is. Please excuse me.”

She was halfway down the long hall before she heard Merry call to her. He ran to catch up.

“Lily! It’s perfectly all right... please let me do it. Gandalf needs you for something else. That’s why he asked me to get the tea.”

“Oh -- all right. I should go back, then?”

Merry’s eyes shone with concern for her. She was clearly out of sorts, and frantic with worry. He did not know Lily well, but knew Frodo loved her. Their cousin had surprised both Pippin and himself with the news on their last visit. Frodo admitted he felt guilt, at times, for involving himself at all with this innocent lass, so far removed from the Ring, and so much a part of everything he loved about the Shire. They teased him lightly about giving up his freedom. Merry recalled Frodo’s reply: ‘I’ve not lost my freedom, dear cousins. I have found it, in her.’

Frodo didn’t need to tell them he was serious; it showed in his eyes.

Yes, the news was indeed important, and here was the lass Frodo loved so much; tired, yet with some sort of inner resolve evident to anyone who really looked at her... and quite determined to be strong for Frodo; her devotion was obvious. She’d doted on him at the Before Yule party; this was love...

He touched her arm gently and smiled for her. Lily watched Merry’s eyes light up when he smiled. She returned it wearily.

“Yes, Lily, do go back, but rest -- here’s Pip; he’ll take care of you. I’ll bring us all some tea and a bite to eat as well.”

Pippin was at her side. How long had he been here? she wondered. He led her back down the hall to a chair just inside Frodo’s bedroom, but she refused to sit.

“Please rest, Miss Lily.” His voice was calm, and his eyes were kind. He was different now, too, she mused. Not the same Pippin from the tea Before Yule, laughing, joking, and gently scheming to arrange for her and Frodo to be together.

Frodo! Lily’s heart reached for his, sensing again his need. She had been away from him for too long.

“I cannot rest. I must be nearer him, Pippin, please... I must hold his hand; he needs my touch. Please.”

Gandalf glanced up from his vigil over Frodo. “Let her come, Peregrin. Her presence comforts Frodo in some way we cannot measure. We know almost nothing of this illness...”

Pippin nodded and took Lily to where Frodo lay, then helped her sit on the edge of the bed. His cold right hand still held Arwen’s gem, tightly. “Oh, dearest,” she cried under her breath. She thought how tired his hand, his arm and his shoulder must be; how they must ache! Surely Gandalf would be able to help him! Frodo was so pale, more pale than ever, and there were tiny beads of perspiration on his brow.

Pippin left, and returned with a tray, laying it on the chair next to Lily. “Here’s some tea, made to order, from Merry. Frodo told us you take two lumps of sugar.”

Lily looked up, puzzled. Pippin smiled. “He talked about you a lot on our last visit here, Miss Lily. A lot. He didn’t seem to want to talk about much else, and we didn’t mind it one bit... Here’s some seed cake. You’re missing supper! Please, eat... you’ll need your strength; we all do.”

Pippin made sure she sipped some tea and took a bite of the cake, before he joined Merry in the kitchen.

---------

Late that night, after more unsuccessful attempts to get some bit of water into Frodo, Gandalf himself escorted Lily to the guest bedroom, and bade her lie down and sleep. When she did not immediately agree, he sat next to her on the bed and peered down at her.

“Frodo spoke of you in November, when I came and blessed this smial, so that he could live here once more. He loved you even then. He was confused, wondering how it was the darkness was harming you; you and no one else... I possessed few answers for him then. He even hoped for a spell -- some sort of magic protection for you -- from Gandalf the White.” A gentle smile touched his weathered face.

“But...? What about today? Is there -- do you have such a spell today?” Lily’s face held a spark of hope. It shone through her fatigue. But the darkness was wearing her spirit down.

“I’m sorry; it wasn’t possible, then or now.” The wizard still held Lily’s gaze; she could in fact hardly look away, and felt compelled to listen. She knew he was wise beyond anything or anyone in Middle-earth; so Frodo had told her.

“I warned him that a spell would shield you not only from his darkness, but also from his light and love. He grieved. But he loved you, although he could hardly put a word to the feeling then. I do know him well enough -- as well as anyone, with the possible exception of Samwise Gamgee -- to know he never expected to find love at all. His Uncle Bilbo did a fair job of raising him from the age of 21, but Bilbo was -- is --” Gandalf chuckled, “a confirmed bachelor. Frodo emulated Bilbo and shut his heart to the idea of marriage. I do believe his heart has been opened wide by your affection, Miss Burrows...

“And I think mayhap his heart and soul are more vulnerable to the darkness than ever, being more open now than at any time since perhaps those last days in Mordor.”

Lily gasped in horror. “No, oh no, please, I beg you, tell me I’m not the cause--”

“No, dear child,” Gandalf interrupted, “set your mind at ease. In truth, Frodo’s remaining days in the Shire are few...”

Lily’s eyes flew open wide in fear and recognition. Frodo had endeavored to tell her this...

“It was happening well before he met you; well before his soul was awakened... but, my dear,” He went on, seeing the fear in her eyes, “all may not be lost. We cannot see all ends. Only Ilúvatar knows the future. I have myself prayed for guidance with regard to the darkness Frodo -- and you -- are battling. I cannot help but feel that your gift reaches far beyond that of sight into the hearts of others, and may be more profound than any of us realize. But I must be patient, for the Creator answers even the Maiar in His own Time.”

Lily’s eyes shone with tears, full of sudden hope at his words. She opened her mouth to speak, but when Gandalf continued, his voice held warning.

“You are closer to the brink of this dark chasm than you know, Lily. This darkness is perilous; so much so, that three very powerful beings refused to carry the Ring -- Lord Elrond, the Lady Galadriel --” he paused “-- and myself...”

He sighed once, then spoke again. “There were many reasons for this; our power is such that if corrupted, we would have become horrible tools for the ancient evil of Morgoth and Sauron to use as they would...”

Lily stared up at him in tired wonder, trying to grasp the meaning of his words. She remembered the name Sauron from Sam’s story of the Quest, and shuddered.

Gandalf noted it. “Hobbits are unique in Middle-earth. They have --” he paused again “-- they had far more resistance to the Ring’s temptations than any other race. Ilúvatar made them thus. They don’t care too very much for power; Frodo cares for it least of all. And remember, he has far more experience than you at battling this darkness, Lily...

“I believe one reason he is still here with us, still fighting this dreadful assault of evil, is his love for you -- yes... and the power of your love for him. But there is more to this, Lily... Arwen’s gem aids him to an extent, and I cannot dismiss lightly your gift of sight, nor discern the full extent of the part it plays in all this... No matter -- the Creator will reveal it in due time. I believe He brought you together for a purpose, although I don’t pretend to know all His ways. That would be rather presumptuous, I think.”

He smiled affectionately, and Lily attempted to smile as well, but was distracted, hoping to hear more -- to hear the answer she and Frodo longed for. She searched his kind face, and realized suddenly her neck hurt, from craning her head so far back...

Gandalf’s smile broadened. “If you would but lie down, you could still listen to my endless ramblings without getting a crick in your neck, dear child,” he laughed, and then Lily laughed with him; but without warning, tears followed, and she began to weep in earnest. Gandalf gathered her to him, and spoke to her as she tried to control her emotions.

“Dear Lily, you are exhausted, in body and spirit. Eventually, even hobbits succumb to this darkness, and you have seemingly drawn much of it away from Frodo and onto yourself. I entreat you to rest...

“There was a time when I thought differently, but now I feel, in these old bones of mine, mayhap Frodo was meant to be whole again, healed, and able to live joyfully once more. He possesses a great capacity for joy; I know you are aware of this. And you are a great part of that joy, because you love him very much--”

“I do--” she cried, but Gandalf shushed her gently.

“But unless you allow your own soul and body their rest, real rest, you shall not be able to love Frodo ever again, for you shall be dragged down into the darkness with him, unable to help either him or yourself. I was able to refresh your soul, earlier, when I arrived here. But if you slip beyond a certain point, even I may not be able to help you. I am waiting as patiently as I may for the wisdom I seek from Ilúvatar in this matter... in the meantime, you must trust, and you must rest.”

She listened carefully, and had calmed considerably; Gandalf sensed in her now a growing resolve and steely determination.

He continued in a softer voice. “I am able to see well enough to the morrow to know he shall live through the night; beyond that I cannot see. We both know, however, that after three days, even a hobbit cannot survive without water. His body will fail, even if his spirit is still able to fight the darkness.”

Lily stared down at her hands and nodded slowly. This must be a nightmare; it could not be happening. We cannot lose him; I cannot lose him...

“He tried so hard to warn me of this illness...” Lily admitted dully, still staring at her hands. She folded them and closed her eyes, but Gandalf knew she was still listening.

“We shall make a concerted effort in the morning to ask for grace and healing for Frodo. But it is difficult to pray if you are too tired to concentrate, Lily. Frodo needs you more than ever. You are very important to his healing. Do you understand now the value of real rest for yourself, tonight?”

“Yes,” she whispered, “I know, but it is so difficult to be away from him...”

Gandalf smiled warmly. “Offer a short prayer, and then sleep. You’ll not be alone; Miss Cotton shall be near -- you need only call for her -- and I shall watch over Frodo tonight, with Master Meriadoc and Master Peregrin. Will you give me your word you’ll sleep?”

Lily searched the wizard’s face intently, her eyes dry but still red. “You have my word. Please help him.”

“I believe you. And I shall do all in my power to help him.” He rose from the bed, holding Lily’s hands a moment longer to reassure her. His hands were very warm, and comforting...

“Remember to pray before you sleep. The Creator listens, and He is the author of Mercy. Good night, Miss Lily.”

“Thank you, sir. Thank you. Please, watch dear Frodo well... good night.”

Lily observed him bend over double in order to fit under the round door frame as he left the room. She then noticed him look around warily in the hallway before continuing, as if -- she realized he was looking out for the ceiling beams. She giggled once, nervously, as she realized he was trying to avoid hitting his head; in her weary state she had not noticed it before...

Then she cried again. Frodo had loved her, even then... She prayed, attempting to trust, then worried again, and finally cried herself to sleep.

---------

Rose peeked in on Lily and noted her even breathing. She returned to Frodo’s room. “All right. Now that you lads are here, there’s work to be done.”

Merry and Pippin glanced at each other and back at Rose. They stood together and approached, stopping in front of her. “What do you need us to do?” Merry asked kindly.

Tears gathered in Rose’s eyes. She shook her head fiercely and cleared her throat of the lump forming there. “Thank you... Lily and I gave Frodo a bit of a cat-bath last night, but not thorough, if you take my meaning...” She blushed, lightly.

Pippin laid his hand gently on her shoulder for a moment. “We’ll see to it.”

Rose smiled in gratitude. “I’ll help you get everything ready. I’d also be obliged if we could trade out the bedclothes again...”

Merry and Pippin glanced at each other and then at Gandalf. “Do you think you could help with that, Gandalf?” Merry asked.

“Indeed,” the old wizard murmured, his attention fully occupied by the feverish body in the bed.

Pippin heated water, while Merry found a clean nightshirt for Frodo, and Rose brought fresh linens, towels, and washing cloths.

Rose watched, impressed, as Pippin carefully pulled back the covers and Merry began unbuttoning Frodo’s nightshirt. “Do you need any help?” she wondered aloud.

Merry looked up at her. “It’s all right, Rose. We helped care for him and Sam when they were brought back...” He stopped short, his eyes wide, unsure of how much Rose knew about what happened in Mordor, in those final days before the Ring was destroyed, or even after the rescue.

A tear escaped down Rose’s cheek, and she quickly brushed it away. “Thank you, again...” she whispered.

Merry shrugged. “Why don’t you get some rest? We’ll take care of it from here... Rose, at least lie down for a bit. We’ll call you if we need anything. I’m guessing you haven’t seen a bed of your own since you got here... Please... We really are able to take care of him...”

Merry’s expression changed to one of sudden understanding. “You’re keeping watch for Lily... All right, then -- why don’t you take up a spot on the window seat -- at least it’s a bit more comfortable than that chair you’ve been setting in.”

Rose nodded and settled herself on the cushioned seat.

Pippin found a quilt and draped it around Rose’s shoulders, murmuring, “You may as well be comfortable.”

Her eyes glistened again with unshed tears. She shifted, tucked her feet under herself and pulled the quilt tightly about her body, settling in to rest for a few moments.

Gandalf moved to situate himself between Rose and the bed, while Merry and Pippin went to work washing their cousin. Not a word was spoken. Gandalf lifted Frodo -- completely limp, but for the hand still clutching the gem -- from the bed, while Merry and Pippin pulled off the bedding and the feather mattress, replacing it with one found in the near guestroom. They remade the bed with the bedclothes Rose had brought, and Gandalf gently laid his terribly light burden back on the bed. Merry covered Frodo with the clean coverlet, while Pippin began gathering the bedclothes for washing.

Rose uncurled herself from her spot on the window seat and joined Pippin. She reached for the linens, but Pippin shook his head, so she led him to the bathing room, where the two of them set to work washing the laundry. They were soon joined by Merry, who lent a hand, and they worked quietly together. Merry and Pippin draped the bedclothes over the larger drying racks, while Rose hung Frodo’s clothes over a smaller one. Rose stoked the wood-burning stove, while Merry and Pippin emptied the water from the washtubs.

They returned to Frodo’s room together. Merry and Pippin settled in chairs, and Rose took her place on the window seat. She noticed Pippin’s head bobbing as he fought to stay awake.

Rose stood and crossed over to him. She gently touched his shoulder, hoping not to startle him. Pippin glanced up at her with a weary smile.

“Pip, why don’t you take the window seat? I’ll take myself off to Sam’s room for a bit.” She smiled warmly and glanced at Merry and Gandalf. “You seem to have things well in hand.”

Pippin’s smile was grateful. “I think I’ll take you up on that. Merry’ll take the first watch and then he and I’ll trade. We’ll wake you in the morning -- that’ll be all right, then?”

Rose nodded and slipped into the hall, leaving Frodo in the care of Gandalf, Merry, and Pippin.

“Gandalf?”

“Yes, Meriadoc.”

“What are we going to do, Gandalf? What’s ailing Frodo? I’m -- is he going to die? He can’t go on like this without any food nor water, especially water... Rose said Lily’s been using a soaked cloth to give him a bit of water, but we all know it’s not enough. What can we do for him?”

Merry was glad Pip had already fallen asleep, curled up on the window seat. His tears would only have upset his young cousin.

“Frodo was my older brother, from the day I was born to the day Bilbo adopted him... he’s the only brother I’ve got, Gandalf...”

“I know that, Merry.” Gandalf’s voice was soothing. “This illness is a vestige of the Ring and of the hold It had on Frodo.”

Gandalf touched Frodo’s brow, and the once-bright eyes, now red and dulled with fever, closed briefly, as if he were comforted by the touch. When the wizard removed his hand, Frodo’s eyes opened once again; to Gandalf it seemed almost as though he was afraid to sleep...

“We need some warm water... not too hot... and another cloth... Do you know where the lavender is?”

Merry shook his head. “Rose and Lily have taken care of keeping lavender steeping in the room.”

“Pity,” Gandalf sighed. “Never mind. We’ll continue what Lily started. We’ll use the wetted cloth to cover Frodo’s eyes for a bit, and mayhap it will ease the dryness. Then, Merry, we shall wait till the morrow, and if he shows no signs of healing, we shall be praying for him very hard, indeed. I would have preferred all of us to pray together for him tonight, but Lily is very important to his healing, and she needs true rest. She’ll be needed in the morning, more than she knows. Or, mayhap she does know... I can give comfort, and some aid, but I cannot give anything like full healing to Frodo, much as I would wish it.

“On the morrow, I shall be as much in need of the Creator’s help as any of his creatures, if Frodo is to improve. Lily has some very real part to play in this, though I don’t know precisely what.”

Merry only nodded, his countenance weary and sad. “I’ll get the water and see if I can’t find the lavender. How hot?”

“Not as warm as you’d take a bath in, but warmer than you’d drink.”

“Like tea that’s more cream?”

“Yes. Merry -- when you get back, why don’t you sit and talk to Frodo for awhile. It may help.”

Merry smiled, weakly, and left for the kitchen.

Quiet descended once again in the room, but for the crackling of the fire in the grate.

Gandalf the White lit his long pipe again, settling in for the night-long vigil. His eyes, old but not weary, never left Frodo. The hobbit lay still as death, as Arwen’s gem glowed faintly in his right hand.