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Sacrament

by CRB and Ladyhawk Baggins

15 March 1420sr

Lily woke at dawn, feeling somewhat rested, but uneasy. She guessed it was nearer seven o’clock than six. The smial still slumbered quietly. She thought she heard the crackling of flames, and turned; a fire had been lit in the grate.

Someone had put heated water into the washbasin. The warmth of the water as she washed her face and hands should have been a comfort, but Lily shivered. She smoothed her dress, then made her way down the long hall to the master bedroom. She saw the door to Sam’s room closed. Rose must still be asleep.

For a moment, she wondered where the others were, then decided it did not matter. Disjointed images from the past two days flashed through her mind. The piercing whistle of a tea-kettle startled her. It whined for a moment or two, then stopped.

Approaching the master bedroom, she paused in the doorway, afraid at first to look at Frodo. Gandalf was here, and Merry... Merry was slumped in a chair at the foot of Frodo’s bed, with his feet propped up. His chin rested on his chest; he was asleep.

Without looking up, Gandalf murmured, “Good morning, Lily.”

Merry started awake and glanced around, then rubbed his eyes with his fists.

“Good morning, Lily; Gandalf,” Merry smiled, stifling a yawn. He leaned forward in his chair to study Frodo; his cousin appeared no better at all, and Merry forced himself to quell the fear in his heart.

As he had the day before, Gandalf sat on the cedar chest, near the head of the bed; no chair in the room was large enough for him. His head was bowed, his eyes closed. Lily knew he was praying. He held Frodo’s left hand; her beloved looked so very small next to the wizard...

“Good morning, Gandalf, sir... Good morning, Merry.” She paused, afraid to ask after Frodo. Her heart whispered she did not need to ask. He was the same; she could feel it. Even standing here, in the doorway, she could feel it... No. He was not the same. He was worse.

The center of her world lay awake still, his eyes shining with tears, and vacant, save for loss and pain.

Lily felt the darkness, its power stronger than ever; it grew more intense with each step she took closer to Frodo. She stopped for a moment, closing her eyes and gathering her strength, or trying to... It was no good. The darkness was stronger than she was. The sickness entered her as she approached the bed. It was seeking her... it was almost alluring, almost tempting; it spoke to her in soothing tones.

She walked slowly to the side of the bed opposite Gandalf, and sat on the edge of the bed next to Frodo. He was more pale than ever. She would not have believed it possible. His fine beautiful skin was white...

“Yes,” she realized aloud.

Gandalf opened his eyes and studied the scene playing out before him, and Merry sat up straight in his chair. Yes, what? he wondered.

“Of course,” Lily continued. “This is how it should be. He is with the Ring now. He is happier with the Ring than he ever was with me...”

Than he ever shall be with you, assured a voice. He loves only the Ring. He wants it. He told you. It is precious to him. He is better off just as he is; nearer to death...

“O Ilúvatar!” The cry was wrenched from her throat. She reached for Frodo’s right hand, still holding fast to Arwen’s gem. His hand was hot now, hot with fever; she kissed it, and darkness assaulted her. She fought harder, resisting it with all her might, and praying. I must save him, we must save him; he cannot die! “Ilúvatar, help us!” Lily broke down and sobbed, her cry slicing into the utter stillness of the room.

Lily felt the heat radiating from Frodo’s brow even before she caressed him there. Her tears fell on him.

I am faint, her weary mind intoned. I must stay with him. She whispered hoarsely as she controlled her tears. “O Creator... give the Darkness to me...”

She gasped for breath, and shook as she sobbed. Planting a trembling kiss on his brow, Lily noted a fine layer of perspiration lending a faint sheen to Frodo’s skin; his dark hair lay in damp ringlets. She dimly felt the moisture on her lips.

Lily tenderly kissed his brow again; with each kiss, she stiffened, shocked by pain. She was unaware of Gandalf’s intent observation. Nor did she notice Merry, watching with horror in his eyes, nor Pippin, entering with a tea tray. Merry stopped Pippin with one hand and shook his head at him in an unspoken request for silence.

Unable to stay the tears coursing down her cheeks, Lily searched Frodo’s face. “Dearest Frodo, I love you; give me the Darkness, and I shall take it.” Her sobs were mere whispers now, urgent and beseeching.

Evil reached for her. What remained of her vision captured nothing but grey, all around... only Frodo was clear, and suddenly to her he appeared whole and well, shining. She saw his eyes close for only a moment, then open again, and she felt him stir, a little, under the coverlet. Her hearing diminished to nothing; but no matter -- she did not need it. Frodo looked to be trying to speak -- to speak, to her -- but I cannot hear, she thought absently. How beautiful he looks. But why is he saying ‘no’? His lips are moving. ‘No,’ he seems to say... why? No matter. I shall take the Ring and keep It for him, and he shall be safe, forever...

The evil pulled at Lily again; it called to her, gathering her into Itself. It was comforting; she would be with Frodo here.

She laid her cheek on Frodo’s breast. Her eyes were blinded. It was dark. All dark. It was just as well. Frodo was better off without her... oh, to sleep... It beckoned to her, seductively.

Then she lay completely still.

“Gandalf, whatever’s happening, stop this!” Merry cried.

“Yes, it is time now; time it was stopped.”

Pippin set the tray down on the bureau and joined Merry at the foot of the bed.

The wizard stood and dropped Frodo’s left hand to lay both his hands on Lily’s head. She was still as death on Frodo’s breast.

“I draw you out as poison from a wound. You have no power here. Come out of her.”

Rose stopped stock still in the doorway. “What in all the wide earth--?” She ran for Lily, but Merry deftly caught her as she passed, and held her back.

“Wait!” Merry insisted, under his breath. “Please, Rose, wait. He’s trying to help her.”

Lily’s hands grew limp, with Frodo’s right hand still resting between them. Gandalf closed his eyes. She moved not at all.

“Gandalf, please sir, what has happened to Lily?” Rosie’s steadfast courage gave way; tears stung her eyes.

Pippin approached Lily’s side cautiously and eyed Gandalf, waiting for instructions, while Merry endeavored to calm Rose.

“Rosie, it’s -- it’s all right. He’s -- he did this once before, on the Quest. King Elessar -- Aragorn -- told us of it. We weren’t there. I’m sure -- I’m sure Lily will be all right.” Merry swallowed hard and hoped he was not wrong.

Gandalf finally raised his head and opened his eyes. To Rose, Merry, and Pippin, he appeared terribly weary as he gradually removed his gnarled hands from Lily’s dampened hair. He gazed over at Pippin, standing next to Lily’s still form.

“Lift her off him, Pippin, easy now... good. Take her -- she won’t wake just yet -- you’ll need to carry her back to her bed. Rose, please attend to Lily. She’ll awaken in a few minutes, I expect.”

“Frodo?” sought a small voice.

Lily woke to someone lifting her away from Frodo’s body.

“Well, Miss Burrows!” Gandalf chuckled, still weary, but satisfied. “You have surprised even a wizard. There is much more to you than meets the eye. Come here, child.”

Pippin helped Lily stand. With faltering and uneven steps, she was led toward Gandalf’s side; Rose grasped her other arm to help steady her.

They released her into Gandalf’s embrace. “May Ilúvatar bless you, Lily. I think you have given our dear Frodo a reprieve. Take a look... it’s all right.”

Lily hesitated, then eased away from the folds of Gandalf’s robe to face her beloved. He was not truly asleep, but his eyes were closed, as if resting a moment... the faintest hint of colour, barely visible, tinged his cheeks.

“Frodo, my love,” she breathed, and reached for him again; but Gandalf stopped her with the merest touch of his hand on hers.

“Not yet, Lily. Not yet. You need rest, once again, or the illness shall certainly claim you.”

Lily gazed up at him, disconcerted, and Rose was angry.

“Will someone please tell me what this is about?” she demanded, then softened slightly. “But first please tell me, how is Lily, really?” She directed her question to Gandalf.

“Please pardon me, dear Rose. Meriadoc and Peregrin here will explain things to you, and get some tea into you as well --” at this, he gazed sternly at the cousins “-- and Miss Lily, you are to have some as well, along with a bite of breakfast -- no, do not give me that look; you cannot return to this room until you have taken some nourishment and rested. We still have difficult work to do today. Frodo has been given a reprieve, but only that.

“You’ll notice his breathing is growing more shallow, and a bit more rapid. The lack of water is exacting its toll as we speak.” Gandalf sighed deeply. “Today he shall live, or die.”

“No, no!!” Lily cried, looking to Frodo and then up to Gandalf in terror.

He laid a gentle hand on her shoulder, and looked into her eyes. “We can accomplish nothing today without the Creator’s divine Providence. We can do our part, to the best of our abilities, but Frodo is in His hands, as he ever was.” He gazed down at Lily, then at the rest of them. “As are we all.”

---------

Merry and Pippin did as they were told, and prepared some fresh hot tea and breakfast, ensuring Rose and Lily ate. Gandalf wanted only tea, refusing food as he kept watch over Frodo.

“Thank you, dear Pippin,” murmured Lily, as he refilled her mug, then poured more water into the kettle, and hung it over the fire. “I think this will be the last one, though... I need to nap, or Gandalf shall not allow me near Frodo again today... we cannot lose him... oh, Rose!”

She embraced Rose as they sat together at the trestle table in the kitchen near the hearth. Rose held her and stroked her hair, but Lily did not weep. In truth, she felt more well and whole than she had since before February 25th -- the day she and Frodo spent too much time together -- mayhap even since before November. Lily wondered greatly at this.

Merry returned from taking tea to Gandalf. He fetched a mug of tea for himself and found Pippin staring into the hearth fire.

“Pip, what’s the matter?”

“Well, Merry, I’m just thinking about what Gandalf said... today Frodo will live, or die... when Gandalf says that... well, I’m frightened. I won’t deny it.”

Merry laid a comforting hand on Pippin’s shoulder, and they turned together to join Lily and Rose, sitting across from them. Merry’s reply was pensive.

“I’m afraid as well, Pip; but Gandalf also said we needed to help him today... ‘to the best of our ability,’ he said...” Merry paused to finger a knot in the table. “I wish I knew more about praying, more about how to do it. I haven’t tried it much yet. But I’ll be trying harder today than I ever have before. I -- it’s hard to believe any of this depends on us at all. This has been so sudden... How I wish Sam was here!”

He raised his eyes to Lily. “Miss Lily, you need your rest. Not wanting to be rude, of course, but I’m sure Rose here will help you settle down for a proper rest... Gandalf told me to nag you, if need be.” He smiled for her.

“Merry’s right for once, ladies,” Pippin teased, but Merry, already lost in thought, did not hear it. Then Pippin grew serious. “You’d best be resting now, both of you.”

Lily sighed and stood, and Rose with her. “Thank you both again for the delicious meal. I wasn’t hungry until after -- until after Gandalf helped me... I felt too ill to eat, before...”

“I’m not sure I’d call it delicious; but you’re welcome,” Pippin offered, laughing softly. “You ladies would have cooked real hobbit fare instead of the outdoor grub we can scratch together.”

Lily appreciated his brave face, but she saw clearly the fear both cousins held in their hearts for Frodo’s welfare. She started for the hall with Rose, then stopped and turned back to them.

“Do you know... can you tell me what happened? I feel unexpectedly better -- almost completely well! And -- I don’t know about the Ring, as you do, but I felt... I felt It calling to me. I don’t understand... the Ring was destroyed. How can It be calling to me?... And Gandalf: can you tell me what he did to strengthen me? Though I’m yearning for sleep, I admit, I feel so well... How can this be?”

The cousins glanced at each other. Lily and Rose watched them decide, with only a look, that Pippin would be the one to answer her.

He breathed deep and released it gradually. “Well, Miss Lily, this is none too easy to speak of, but I’ll try. You might find yourself more comfortable sitting down again, and you too, Rosie. I’ll do my best to keep it short.”

The friends exchanged a brief look and seated themselves across from the cousins. Lily and Rose held hands nervously, and waited.

Pippin took a few more deep breaths, obviously weighing his words, and then began the tale.

“It’s hard to tell about the Ring. Sam told you the story of the Quest; am I right?”

They both nodded. Lily added, “Yes, he told us what he called the short version. Frodo--” her voice faltered “--Frodo also said it was not a very long telling of the tale, but for now, it suited best. We’ve yet to hear your stories, and I -- after Frodo is -- is well again, would you tell us them?”

“Surely, Miss Lily, though I’ll let Merry tell those ones. He’s by far the better storyteller. He adds in new bits now and then, embellishments, and such... but I’ll correct him if he gets any of my bits wrong.”

Like a tolerant older brother, Merry shook his head at his cousin’s joke, letting the shadow of a smile tug at his lips, and his eyes softened. He began tracing the wood grain patterns on the table, waiting for Pippin to tell the story.

Pippin leaned forward, gripping his tea mug more tightly in both hands. “But enough of that. Time’s passing, and I don’t want to face Gandalf’s anger; it’s not pleasant, I can tell you.” He smiled, and waited for a reaction from Merry, but none was forthcoming, and Pippin began to wonder what was wrong.

He sighed and started over, addressing Lily and Rose once more. “After a while... how shall I explain this... Frodo wore the Ring on a chain around his neck, but he didn’t possess it anymore. The Ring possessed him. It -- it owned him, from what he’s told us. And he says precious little about it even to us, truth be told...”

Lily noticed no one reacted to the word ‘precious’ at all. What had Sam said? She struggled to remember. He told her the word nearly drove Frodo mad, it was uttered so often... Samwise also said Merry and Pippin were fighting Sauron in other lands, far from where he and Frodo and -- she strove to recall the strange name -- Gollum -- far from where they were fighting their part of the War.

Pippin shuddered and began again. “Miss Lily, the Ring poisoned Frodo’s soul. I simply don’t know how else to explain it, or how to make it sound better. He’s very ill; Gandalf told us last night... but you both know this... How I wish Sam was here.”

Rose glanced away to the window and the blue sky outside, and bit her lip in an effort to hold back the tears threatening to form in her eyes. Lily squeezed her hand.

“I’m all right,” Rosie assured them under her breath. “Please go on, Pip.”

“Well, you must know something about the Ring yourself, Miss Lily. I’d think Frodo would’ve told you; hasn’t he?”

“One might think so, but Frodo speaks of it hardly at all. He mentions the darkness, the evil, the shadow... but in truth, he’s only spoken of the Ring twice to me.” Lily voiced this without bitterness or rancor. “It seems far too difficult for him to share... it’s easy for me to sense his reluctance to speak of it.”

“Well, then--” Pippin paused, thinking. “Let me try to tell you what Merry and I believe happened this morning; but I need to go back just a bit, first, to something what happened on the Quest. We heard this tale from Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli, after the Quest was fulfilled.”

Lily noted his choice of words. Fulfilled. Not finished, or done, or over with. Fulfilled. Somehow Frodo did not seem to share the same feeling about the Quest. She wondered at this. Perhaps the Ring’s poison...

“Gandalf commanded the evil spirit of a great wizard--”

“Saruman?” Lily questioned. It was the only other wizard name she knew; Frodo had spoken of him on their long walk in November.

“Yes, that’s right. Gandalf released King Theoden of Rohan of the evil possessing his soul, but it wouldn’t at first come out of him. So he commanded it to leave... it had to obey him.”

“What I would give to have seen that. I loved him.” Merry’s soft interruption caught them all by surprise. “Do you know today was the day he died; a year ago? March 15th, it was... we fought to protect him in the battle. Theoden was my king. He was Eowyn’s king, and more a father to her than an uncle. He was very much like a second father to me.”

Merry looked up at them. His eyes glistened with unshed tears. “Go on then, Pip. I’m wasting time. I won’t lie; I fear we may lose Frodo today, and I don’t want to be the cause of it, using precious time...”

“Right, then...” Pippin hesitated. “Miss Lily, from the sound of it, we think Gandalf did something like that for you this morning. It seems the evil or darkness or whatever it is that’s still in Frodo got hold of you somehow. It was plain you were slipping away, and quickly, truth be told. We -- we were all frightened. We only heard your words, but mayhap the Ring, or the darkness it left behind, was talking to you, and mayhap you were talking to it... but Gandalf told it to leave, and it did. Well, it left you anyway, and Frodo looked better... eased, like the weight he carries isn’t quite so heavy... that’s all.”

Pippin stopped, unable to go on for a moment. “I truly think you ought to get that nap now...”

Lily smiled wanly. “Yes, dear Pippin, thank you. I still don’t understand how the Ring could talk to me or to Frodo if It’s destroyed, but we may never understand... Mayhap Gandalf could tell us -- later, I mean. Good morning, dear gentlehobbits.”

Lily and Rose found their way to Lily’s room, leaving the cousins alone in the kitchen.

“Pip, I wish I knew the answer to her question.”

“So do I.” Pippin sighed heavily and stood, stretching. “But let’s go see to Gandalf and Frodo then, shall we? Mayhap he’ll let us take a watch for him.”

Merry followed his cousin down the hall. “We can ask, but he’ll say no. We can keep him company, at least.”

---------

Lily slept soundly for better than three hours. When she woke, she went immediately to Sam’s room, where Rose sat on the bed. Lily knew she had not slept.

“I was going to indulge in a cat-bath with a washcloth in the bathing room, but there’s no more time now, Rose. Something woke me. I believe it’s time...”

Rose only nodded.

They entered the master bedroom together.

Frodo lay still and pale under the gold and green leaf-patterned coverlet, Arwen’s gem still clutched in his right hand, his eyes once again open, but unseeing. Lily steeled herself not to panic, and not to weep. Frodo needed all the strength she possessed. She could waste none of it on her own feelings.

“Lily, how are you feeling?” The wizard smiled, warmly. “Have you eaten, yet?”

“I haven’t much appetite, sir.”

“I understand, but please, eat a little something. Peregrin has tea and bread and butter here for you; eat what you are able.”

Lily ate most of the bread and drained her cup, a bit uncomfortable with everyone watching. Suddenly, her heart swelled with gratitude; they cared for her.

Pippin took her mug and plate and laid it on the end table, as Gandalf was opening a small green velvet pouch with a gold tie string. It was tiny in his large hands.

“Thank you, Merry, for retrieving this,” Gandalf murmured.

Merry nodded.

Lily gasped when the wizard gingerly withdrew a phial of glass from the pouch. Merry and Pippin stared in open wonder.

Like Lily, they could not turn away from the beauty of the white light in the phial, blazing out in Gandalf’s hand, as if a star lived inside it. It was dazzling, so bright that it hurt Lily’s eyes. Rose shielded her own eyes with her hand, as from the noonday Sun.

This was the Phial, then, the gift given to Frodo by the Elf-Queen, Galadriel. Truly, starlight lived within it. Lily thought such a thing impossible only a few days ago, and told Frodo so... She still burned inside at the memory of that moment; how she doubted his words, and hurt him...

“Lily, Rose... come and sit, both of you. Lily, please sit opposite me.”

“Yes, sir.” Lily slid into the chair he indicated. For the time being, she steadfastly avoided looking at the face of her beloved. She reminded herself that she needed her strength, and could not afford to break down; not now.

“Meriadoc and Peregrin, I want you seated here, next to each other...”

Without a word, the hobbits sat together on the side of the bed nearest Gandalf. They could not look away from the Phial, although they were forced to squint, and Merry began to raise his hand to shield his own eyes.

“I suggest all of you not look directly at the Light of Eärendil. Beautiful as it is, it is not safe for your eyes; not for long. You’re better off closing them. But first -- Rose, please take the seat next to Lily. Good. Friends who pray can often do wonders for another who is ill, through Ilúvatar.”

Frodo taught me all I know about prayer, Lily realized with a shock. I would know nothing of the Creator, but for him... Tears stung her eyes. She swallowed once and conquered them. Then she wondered if she would ever see her beloved again, well and healthy. Or alive.

The darkness reached for her again. She closed her eyes more tightly, and suddenly felt the temptation to shut her soul as well; but this would not help Frodo. She would keep her soul open, and ignore the fear which was inching its way into her heart.

“Gandalf, sir? Please forgive my -- interruption... I -- may we begin soon? The darkness is -- It’s growing.”

“Place your left hand over my right as I hold the Light, child.”

For Gandalf, tall as he was, it was not even necessary to lean over the bed to reach her hand. Lily reached for the wizard over Frodo’s still form and placed her left hand atop the weathered one holding the Phial. Light entered her at the first touch; she felt it, the opposite of the terrible darkness...

“I see you draw strength from this already; good. You needn’t lean over at all, Lily. I am able to reach you without effort. We shall be praying for a while. I want you to be comfortable, or as comfortable as possible, under these circumstances.”

Perhaps they would be able to save him after all. She felt hope return, and thanked Ilúvatar. Still she felt Frodo’s misery. It was there, like a buffeting wind blowing in a coming winter storm, from deep within him. Lily found the courage to look at Frodo once more. His fever had returned... she started to speak again, in her fear and haste, but Gandalf began to instruct them.

“Rose, take Lily’s right hand in your left. Good. You may place your right hand on Frodo’s there. Rose--?”

“Yes, sir.” Rose’s voice quavered. She laid her right hand gently on Frodo’s, his hand which for two days had not released Arwen’s gem. It felt cold to the touch now, although his cheeks were red with fever again; yet now he was not perspiring.

“There is no need to fear, Rose. What afflicts Frodo cannot harm you.” Gandalf then looked Lily in the eye.

He knows, Lily realized. He knows it is only me... the others are not harmed by Frodo’s darkness. They cannot even sense it... perhaps it is my gift of sight? she wondered. But no matter...

“Please,” she began. Something was slipping away from Frodo... his mind? his soul? his life?

Gandalf knew it too. “Dear companions, follow my instructions, quickly. Pippin, you’re nearest Frodo there. Take his left hand, and then join hands with Merry; Meriadoc, give me your right hand.” The wizard’s left hand swallowed Merry’s small one.

The Phial blazed more brightly now, amazing the hobbits. All of them closed their eyes.

Frodo’s eyes closed as well; one tear flowed over his fevered cheeks. Only Gandalf saw it, and for a moment the wizard was overcome with sorrow for his friend. But there was no time for it now...

“Good,” he encouraged the others. “We have an unbroken circle now. You may pray silently. Pray first the Creator’s Will be done. This is most important; keep it foremost in your thoughts. He answers in His own Time, which is not our time. Nevertheless, we must trust Him. Otherwise all is in vain.

“Next, ask for the evil to be taken away from Frodo’s body, and from his soul. I have never seen this sickness before; it is akin to his illness at Rivendell, but it is not the same. We cannot be more specific in our prayers, for now, knowing so little of this affliction. Do not fear any harm for yourselves; I perceive only part of this malady, but that much I can see. Lily, you may not fare as well. I shall not keep the truth from you; but I think you know this already.”

Lily could not open her eyes; the light of the Phial pained her even through closed eyelids. But her voice was clear as she replied. “Yes, I know it. I am ready. Please --”

“We are nearly ready, Lily... All of you, pray also for guidance and wisdom in this struggle; for indeed that is what it shall be. Pray for strength, for Frodo and Lily, and for yourselves. Can you remember all this?”

“Yes, Gandalf,” the cousins replied in unison. Pippin surrendered to the tears, and allowed them to slip from his closed lids.

“Yes,” answered Rose finally, in a small voice.

“We shall begin. Eärendil, blessed Mariner, aiya elenion ancalima. Elbereth the fair, aiya elenion ancalima. Bless the prayers we offer now...

“Holy Creator, Eru, Ilúvatar, hear the prayers we offer. We do not presume to come to You, trusting in ourselves, but in Your great Mercy. We pray for Your Will to be done in our lives, and in the life of Your servant, Frodo. He has served You well. We pray for the evil to be taken from his body and his soul. Grant him health in body, mind, and spirit. Grant us wisdom and guidance to follow Your ways. Grant us the patience to wait and listen for Your voice. Give strength and succor to Your servants, Frodo and Lily. Author of Mercy, impart to them Your healing... let the Light of Your servant Eärendil illuminate our paths, when all other lights have gone out...”

Frodo stirred, but only Gandalf saw it; the Phial’s light was still far too bright to be borne by the hobbits’ eyes. Lily felt him stir, so close they were. He could not move without her noting it, even with her eyes shut tight against the light of the Phial. Her spirit soared for a moment, but then the darkness assailed it, as if aware of the joy she felt. She strove to pray and to fight the formless shadow at the same time.

All of them started and gasped at the sound of Frodo’s parched and flagging voice; all but Gandalf.

“You’ve left out -- one of the chief characters... I want to hear more -- about Samwise the Brave...” Gandalf noticed the hint of a smile, full of deep pain, touching Frodo’s lips. His eyes remained closed; another tear fell.

“Frodo!” Lily cried softly, then stopped. She must pray, not only for Frodo, but for herself...

Gandalf, conscious of Lily’s struggle, took some of her darkness onto himself. Awareness grew within him: he could provide some measure of physical healing for Frodo, through the Creator, and he could lift the darkness from Lily’s soul. But he could not take the darkness from Frodo... Lily could; but could she take all of it?

“I am glad you are -- here with me, Sam...” Frodo’s tone took on a wild urgent edge; his breathing was becoming increasingly shallow. “Here at the end -- of all things...”

Frodo attempted to take a deeper breath, but could not seem to get one. “Let us forgive him... For the Quest... is achieved, and now all is over...”

Lily knew Frodo must be playing out some scene of the Quest: Sam was with him, as was -- Gollum, the creature -- but his breathing was so laboured...

“I cannot see the Shire. Oh, Sam! -- I cannot see the Shire!” Frodo’s voice cracked on his parched throat.

The Light blazed on in Gandalf’s hand.

Merry and Rose sat resolute. Pippin was unable to bear it, and his tears fell more freely, without a sound. He kept his eyes closed, and continued to pray. They had not been in Mordor with their cousin and friend. They could not know what it was like for him, or for Samwise.

Frodo sat up suddenly, his eyes wild and determined. He seemed not to see the Phial at all.

Lily’s eyes opened as well. She was unable to resist the temptation to look on her beloved. His pain seared into her; she shut her eyes tightly and offered a prayer that Frodo would not lose his way...

The darkness edged in once more, nearer to her heart, closer to her soul... help me, Creator, spare me, so that I may help him. Spare my beloved, heal him...

Lily felt the darkness retreat, but remain nigh, as if waiting.

”Aiya elenion ancalima!” Frodo shouted, to the amazement of the others, and he attempted to raise his right hand, the gem still clutched within it.

Rose eased her hold on his hand slightly, allowing him to move hers as he willed. She did not want to let go completely; Gandalf spoke of an unbroken circle...

Terror filled Lily’s heart. Where did Frodo get this strength? I am exhausted... Mithrandir, please help me. She wondered at the strange name... she fought the ever-prevailing weakness.

But Frodo had not finished. He fell back against the pillows, heavily, and his voice faded.

“They’ve taken -- everything, Sam,” he lamented; his voice was tired, like the whisper of dry autumn leaves. “Everything -- I had. Do you understand?” His voice rose. “Everything! The Quest -- has failed, Sam. We cannot escape -- only Elves can escape. Away -- away out of Middle-earth -- far away, over the Sea. If even that -- is wide enough -- to keep the Shadow out...”

Lily burst into tears, her eyes still shut tight, and laid her head on Frodo’s breast. She realized the strength to use his voice -- much of it -- was coming from her. She felt herself languish now. It would be so easy to rest...

Then she quieted, her tears ceasing almost as soon as they had begun.

Frodo seemed to rest for a while, but Gandalf noticed his eyes were only half closed, and his breathing was painfully laboured as a result of his exertions.

“Sam... is there anything -- left to drink?”

Lily attempted to raise her head from his breast, but faltered. She had not the strength. Her hand still lay atop the wizard’s, the Phial within his firm grasp. She wept again, feebly, partly for joy at the sound of Frodo’s voice, and partly for the pain she felt washing over her from the evil... Mithrandir!

Gandalf discerned her cries. This is a near thing, he admitted to himself. A very near thing. He would not lose her. He did not intend to lose either of them, if it were the Creator’s will they be spared...

Lily heard Rose speak, and at the same time, she perceived a voice inside her head. ‘Lily’ -- it said; or perhaps it asked? Was it Frodo’s voice, or someone else’s? Darkness burned into her.

“Gandalf, sir...” Rose entreated, her voice trembling.

“Yes? Pray within your mind even as you speak to me with your voice. You may do both at once.”

Rose opened her eyes, forgetting for a moment, and shut them again immediately. “I wish -- I wish my Sam were here. He’s always had a way with talking to Frodo. And he was there with him, in all of that misery. Frodo would listen to my Sam if he were here, I know it.”

The wizard paused for a long moment. “You have given me an idea, Rose. Thank you. Go on with your prayers.”

“Yes, sir.” She bit her lip hard, to keep the tears at bay. ‘Creator...’ she prayed in her mind, ‘how I wish my Sam were here.’

Gandalf shielded most of the Phial with his hand. Much was happening at once. Lily was slipping away into Frodo’s darkness, and Frodo was on the brink -- of recovery. Gandalf felt it. All at once, he realized, one could be traded for the other; or could they? They were so intertwined...

To the hobbits, the room seemed suddenly gloomy, almost dark, such was the contrast between the blazing Light of Eärendil, and the now-concealed Phial. Gandalf’s hand was so large, he was able to wrap his fingers around it wholly. Only beams of light peeked out, escaping through the tiny spaces between his fingers.

They instinctively opened their eyes, now that the painful Light was hidden; all but Lily, who lay motionless, her head still on Frodo.

“Continue to pray silently, dear friends,” urged Gandalf gently. “I want you to pray for Lily to be restored to health. Please do this unceasingly, regardless of what may be said next, or by whom.”

Merry and Pippin nodded, then finally Rose. Their prayers for Lily came easily; they feared once again for her.

Lily lay in a dark dream. An eye of flame filled all her sight; her soul was draining of hope. Frodo. No. Ilúvatar. Mithrandir. No...

All the hobbits save Lily suddenly heard Sam’s voice, and despite themselves, paused in their prayers to glance at the doorway, but Samwise was not there. Puzzled, they turned back to their prayers.

“Master Frodo? The Eagles have come. They’re taking us away from here.”

Rose could not contain a soft gasp. It was Gandalf, speaking in a voice that could easily have been Sam’s.

Gandalf sensed their scattered thoughts and increasingly scattered prayers.

“You’re supposed to be prayin’ for Lily now!”

That was Sam’s voice as well, as angry as when coneys invaded his garden. It was a command from Gandalf. They intensified their prayers for Lily.

“Did you hear me, Master Frodo? The Eagles have come!”

Gandalf noted Frodo’s steady breathing, and the calm in his voice.

“Sam?” He turned to Gandalf, his eyes open but still unseeing.

Rose tightened her hold on Frodo’s hand and prayed more adamantly than ever for her friend, who lay there on Frodo’s breast, her face deathly pale on the cornflower blue of his nightshirt.

“Sam?” repeated Frodo; his breathing continued to ease.

“Yes, Master Frodo. We’re in Ithilien now, sir. We’re resting. They’re taking care of us. The Quest is over. Everything’s going to be all right, sir. We can go home.”

Rose fought back tears. Her Sam was still helping his dearest friend, even when apart from him...

“Sam...” The merest of smiles graced Frodo’s countenance, but the wizard could see his charge was not yet aware of his surroundings. He was not even aware of Lily, lying on his breast.

Gandalf spoke once more, his own voice returned.

“Meriadoc, release my hand, lad... don’t fear, all is well now.” His voice was as weary as Merry and Pippin had ever heard it.

Merry let go.

Gandalf turned to Pippin. “Release Frodo’s hand, Peregrin, and Merry’s hand as well. Take this Phial in both your hands and cover its Light. Mind your eyes. You and Merry place it back into the pouch. I need to help Lily now. Rose, I’m going to give you Lily’s hand, just after I release the Phial.”

He laid the Phial into Pippin’s waiting hands. Merry had the pouch ready. The Phial was not nearly as bright, once free from Gandalf’s hold, but it still hurt to look upon it.

Gandalf had no more time to spare. He eased Lily’s hand into Rose’s, and then gently laid both his hands on Lily’s head. Rose saw him close his eyes for what seemed a very long time. Their task finished, Merry and Pippin observed the scene uncertainly.

“We’re supposed to be praying for Lily now, remember, Pip?” Merry urged.

“Oh!” Pippin closed his eyes once more in prayer.

Lily stirred on Frodo, then raised her head. To Rose, Merry, and Gandalf, whose eyes were yet open, it appeared she was gradually recovering.

Yes, determined Gandalf. She is safe.

“Lily Burrows. Open your eyes, and come back to the Light.”

Lily’s eyes fluttered open. She raised her head slowly, unsure of her surroundings.

“Let me help you,” Rose offered, and she helped her friend sit up again. Lily gazed at Frodo’s face as she continued to waken.

Frodo’s eyes, by degrees, focused. Arwen’s gem fell out of his right hand onto the bedcovers as his fingers released their terrible two-day hold. He turned bleary eyes toward the wizard, whose smile could not be contained.

“Gandalf?... where is Sam?”

At this Frodo paused, apparently summoning strength to speak again.

“...and where is my Lily?” He was too weak to say more.

“I am here, beloved.”

Frodo turned to the sound of her voice. A small light of joy came to his eyes, and tears streamed down Lily’s cheeks at the sight.

“Here, dearest, drink a little,” she urged.

Rose handed Lily a cup of water. As Gandalf held Frodo up, Lily pressed the cup to his lips. He sipped a little, and then a little more. Finally, he drained the cup. The more he drank, the more tears poured down Lily’s face. Her hand shook.

Frodo gasped for air and coughed once as Gandalf eased him back against the pillows. He took several deep breaths, then struggled to open his eyes again.

“Lily?” he whispered. “What happened?... Are you well?...” He took several more deep breaths.

Gandalf smiled wearily. “All shall be answered, my dear hobbit. For the time being, you must rest. Sleep now.” He touched Frodo’s brow.

For the first time in three days, Frodo’s face became peaceful, and he slept.

Lily fainted, and could not be revived for some time.

---------

Gandalf allowed Pippin to carry her to the far guest room. Rose followed close behind, wiping joyful tears from her cheeks as she went.

“She will recover fully,” Gandalf assured them, before Pippin carried her away. The wizard’s voice was drained of all vitality. “I have taken the darkness from Lily once again; because she was here, Frodo’s spirit has been refreshed and healed, for a time. I could not give him lasting healing today; it was not in Ilúvatar’s plan. I believe now only one person may accomplish that, with the Creator’s help. I am hoping I may hear an answer or two in dreams, as I sleep. Offer your praises and thanks to Him, my dear hobbits. For indeed He aided us...

“Frodo will need tepid water, whenever you can manage to get him to drink it,” Gandalf went on, his voice turning to something like a strained whisper. “If you must, wake him every few hours to give him the water. I go to rest, now.”

With that, Gandalf bent over and disappeared into the hall leading to the back door. It was the only place he would not block a needed door. Stretched out full on the hard wood floor, resting his head on his arms, he fell immediately into a deep sleep.

Pippin returned from carrying Lily to the guest bedroom.

“She’s asleep, then?” Merry asked.

Pippin nodded. “Aye; sound asleep. I’ve never seen a lass faint before. Not something I’m used to, much...” He grinned at Merry, trying to hide his own fatigue.

“Well, dear cousin, Gandalf’s back to talking in riddles again, but he’s napping now, so my question’ll just have to wait.” Merry sighed. “I see you’re as tired as I am, Pip. Let’s say a prayer of thanks, as Gandalf suggested. I can’t believe what we just saw.”

“After that, we need to set a watch over Frodo,” Pippin acknowledged wearily. “But... you take the first watch, Merry... Age before beauty, Master Brandybuck...”

Merry laughed first, and Pippin joined him.

---------

When Lily awoke, Pippin fed her, gave her some cider, and told her to go back to sleep, on Gandalf’s orders.

She slept through that night, dreaming strange dark dreams of a flaming eye, and bright dreams of Frodo, awake and whole.