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Sacrament

by CRB and Ladyhawk Baggins

11 July 1420sr

Frodo woke in the morning cradled lovingly in Lily’s arms. He nestled closer to her.

Ilúvatar, he prayed, how grateful I am for her. She is such a gift... a precious gift. Joy and comfort are mine again, because of her.

He wondered if he should wake her for first breakfast but decided she would wake when she grew hungry. A smile spread across his lips. She forgets to eat when her mind is busy with other things, but she doesn’t usually sleep through a meal. How I love you, dear Lily. Please forgive me for not speaking yet of what troubles me, but I’ve not yet found the right words. Grateful I am, indeed, for your patience with me.

The sun creeps higher above the horizon, beloved. Mayhap I’ll prepare your first meal of the day, if for no other reason than that you love me.

As Frodo eased away from Lily, she stirred and softly mumbled incoherent words.

“Shhh, Lily-sweet. Sleep.” Frodo smiled as she stilled.

---------

Lily awoke to the smell of sizzling bacon. It seemed Frodo had risen before her and allowed her to sleep in. She blinked drowsily in the sunlight, giving herself a few moments to become oriented to the new day.

Frodo glanced over and noted her stirring and sighed in relief. He was beginning to worry she was overtired, but she had not been sleeping alone for very long before she noticed him gone. He smiled warmly and wished her good morning.

Lily breathed in the freshness of the morning air and returned his greeting with a sleepy smile. She stifled a yawn. “First breakfast smells wonderful!”

“First breakfast?” Frodo chuckled. “You slept right through first breakfast. It’s time for secondies.”

Lily’s eyes widened. How had she slept so late? She blushed, embarrassed.

Frodo noted it and added quickly, “I could not bear waking you, my love. You looked so peaceful. Not to worry; the ponies are ready. We have only to eat and then be on our way, with very little time lost at all.”

He gave her a reassuring smile and plated their breakfast while she crossed the little clearing to the stream and splashed water on her face, stretching as she went, then laced her vest.

Lily was careful to hide any tiredness she felt. She did not want to linger in this place that brought her husband so much pain and fear. There would be more opportunities to rest later. She knew in her heart they would win through this together, in time, but for now he endured burden enough without fretting over her.

For himself, Frodo felt rested, but very uneasy for the coming day. He wished he could talk with Lily, but the only words that came to mind were those associated with memories he was desperately endeavoring to bury. He did not want his wife to bear the burden of those; until he was past this part of their journey, it was not fair to require her to take on any more for his sake than she already had. And yet he needed her now more than at any other time since their wedding.

Marriage... I took a vow to be completely honest with her at every moment, he thought. But I cannot subject her to this, no more than I could willingly subject her to the darkness I carried. Surely Ilúvatar does not expect me to share every bit of misery I feel, at all times? He felt somehow trapped by his decision to keep so much from her. But he did not know how to share it. How could he share what he could not express?

It was time for them to move on. Absently he helped Lily up onto Merry, but did not linger as he usually did. Lily usually bent down low to kiss him after she was up in the saddle. He would stretch up as far as he could, to meet her halfway for the kiss. This morning he could not bring himself to do it; he was not happy, and it would feel like a lie. I shan’t lie to her, he determined. I’ll hold true to that much of our vows. But it was not enough, he knew, and he felt sorrow at disappointing her in this small shared ritual.

Lily felt bereft of his warmth -- not just his embrace, but the closeness they shared between their hearts. She could sense that Frodo had been gradually building a wall around himself, in an effort to protect her. How could she help him to understand she wanted him to share all of himself with her, including the unpleasant parts of his life? Each time he opened to her, and she to him, peace filled her heart. The not knowing frightened her. She had shared in his darkness from the moment they met until their wedding day. Its final attack, as terrifying as that had been, was momentary. This created a deeper fear. How long might he feel this way?

Gandalf would not have encouraged this trip for Frodo if there were not some safe way past his pain by journey’s end. Lily searched her heart for all that she knew of the wizard. She came to the conclusion that the path ahead for Frodo was not likely to be the obvious one; such was Gandalf’s way. As they rode, Merry keeping a steady pace with Strider, she spent the quiet of the day turning the riddle over in her mind.

A freshening wind picked up, threatening rain. The sky was growing cloudy. Lily wondered if they would have to stop if there was a heavy rainstorm. She knew next to nothing about ponies and how they behaved in rain.

As they continued on their way, Frodo became increasingly uneasy. He grew more and more quiet, unless she asked him a direct question. She knew that tonight might be worse than last, if things were allowed to run their course and she did naught. She did not want to intrude on his thoughts, but neither did she want him drowning in them. Last night had surely been a warning. She prayed she was ready, and that she could help him.

When Weathertop first came fully into view, Frodo pulled Strider to a halt. After pointing it out to Lily, he stared in complete silence at the crumbling watchtower, its dark outline stark against the clouded sky, as if unable to believe it was truly there. The ponies shifted restlessly as their stop lengthened. Then Frodo urged Strider into a brisk walk.

For most of that day, they could see it from the road. Frodo kept his face turned away from it, and though it was not a cold day he pulled his cloak and hood tightly about him. Lily worried; it was as though he were endeavoring to hide.

She heard him mutter, “How can nine months have passed and nothing have changed?” Then he lapsed back into silence.

Frodo increased their pace to a faster walk, as if to pass the landmark as quickly as he could without actually running. The ponies were on the verge of a trot, and Lily was glad he kept them from it; she would have been completely sore the next day if it had come to that. She had the strong feeling Frodo would have let Strider go into a full gallop if she were not along.

Ilúvatar, what do I do? Lily wondered. Are You listening? Are You there? Frodo taught me You hear every prayer, but do You truly? I need guidance. My dear husband seems utterly lost to me, and I don’t know how to find him and help him home, to me... to us, and our future... Why is there only silence in my heart?

She struggled to push her worry away as they stopped for the evening. At least it had not rained; she was grateful, since she imagined that sleeping on wet ground would not be pleasant.

Frodo took care of the ponies, gathered water from the small stream, and scouted out a soft place for their bed.

Lily cooked a light dinner over their small campfire. She suspected Frodo’s interest in food now would be no more than it had been yesternight. Indeed, he did not seem to notice the smaller portions, eating absently and in silence.

Frodo was dimly aware once again of his gratitude for Lily. She did not need constant chatter. It brought him some modicum of peace. He felt bone-weary, and yet dreaded going to sleep. He had some vague memories of nightmares from the previous evening, and hoped he had not disturbed Lily. She had not mentioned them; it occurred to him then that she would not, unless he asked her. He knew he was not himself -- her understanding and her care were something he loved and appreciated, and here he was, avoiding her...

Lily sat by the fire and watched as Frodo checked the ponies and then checked them again. He also checked the edges of their camp, several times. It had been a long time since she had seen him this restless, and she still had not thought of any way to help him. Small talk was out of the question. Frodo would see through it instantly, and anyway it would not help. He sat across from her, staring down into his hands. She could bear it no longer.

“Frodo?”

He did not seem to hear her.

“Frodo?”

The tortured blue eyes that looked up into hers from across their campfire made her catch her breath. Lily searched her soul for the courage to help him face his fear and for the strength to share it. She swallowed hard and started again.

“Frodo--”

“Yes, Lily.” Frodo’s voice was soft.

He had retreated behind a mask; his face was almost expressionless. But she heard the fear in his tone, and her heart went out to him.

“Frodo, would you pray with me? Like we did at the Shirebourn?”

She breathed a small sigh of relief as he slowly nodded, but he did not move. She joined him, sitting on his side of the fire, and turned to the west. Reluctantly, Frodo turned to face west with her. His eyes were focused on the ground; he would not raise his head. Lily slipped her hand into his, but he barely took it, and she struggled to keep her composure. He had not been this closed to her since his horrible bouts with the darkness, months before.

He almost choked on half-whispered words. “Lily, how can you want to share this with me, when I have kept so much from you?”

She laced her fingers in his. In immediate response, and despite himself, his fingers tightened around hers, so much it almost hurt her hand. Still, he could not bring himself to look at her.

“Frodo, my love--”

Tears started to flow down Frodo’s cheeks. Lily wished more than anything that she could kiss them away and in so doing kiss away all his fear and pain. She took a deep breath.

“You have shared with me what you thought you could, and only as much as you thought I could bear. But my darling, you do not need to protect me from your past, or from your grief over it. I am already safe from it. I need only you, all of you, as much as you will give me. You shared with me all of your joy and grief on our wedding night. I wanted both; I wanted everything you are and have been, not only the happiest moments. I want to help you. Let me help.”

Frodo sighed a deep ragged sigh. He was confused; he could not sort out his feelings. He did not even know what to pray for, nor how to tell this to his wife. He sighed again, and attempted to address the one thing he was certain of.

“O Ilúvatar, Creator. I give thanks for Lily...” His voice broke.

Lily still held his hand tightly as she continued their prayer. “...I give thanks for Frodo. Please bless us with your strength and give us courage to overcome the fears that face us. We give You praise and thanks for all your blessings on us...”

Frodo pulled his hand away from hers, but then took her in his arms and held her tightly for a moment. Then he rose, and hurried away to the edge of their camp nearest the ponies, looking up into the night sky at the stars.

For a brief moment, Lily felt all alone. Her memory flashed to the previous night and Frodo’s words, “I must do this alone! Alone...”

Lily smiled softly despite her sadness for her husband; she was not alone, and of course he was not. Neither of them would ever be alone again.

She resumed the prayer again in her heart and received strength; she took comfort in the very fact that Frodo did not wander off into the night. He stayed close by, never venturing farther than the edge of the firelight. The ponies were cared for and the camp secured. As usual, he had spread their bedroll over the softest patch of grass he could find, as well as adding a good measure of extra grass for their comfort.

Lily waited for him there, but did not lie down. She kept a silent vigil for him, and would not rest until he did.

Frodo had planned to stay awake all night. Some vague memory of standing guard slipped into his mind; he wanted to do anything to keep from going to sleep. He stared at the sky, for how long, he could not say, though from the shifting of the stars he guessed several hours had passed. Something about the dark was tugging at his mind, if he could only push past the memories to find it.

He thought again of his wife and what she had tried to share with him... a gift of love and understanding that he did not know how to accept. “Ilúvatar,” he whispered, “Thank You for Lily. I must see to her, now, though she probably sleeps. How terribly long this night shall be.”

Frodo sighed deeply and turned from studying the night sky, expecting his wife to be curled up in slumber. His fears of the day were momentarily forgotten as he saw her. My sweet, beautiful Lily, he reflected. You are not asleep at all.

She was sitting up on the bedroll with her knees drawn up close to her and her arms wrapped tightly about them, resting her chin on her knees. Lost in thought, she stared into the fire.

He had not wanted to be alone tonight. Gratitude and love for her surged again in his breast, and he swallowed hard against sudden tears. He crossed to where she sat waiting for him.

Lily looked up and met his gaze, her eyes full of love and concern.

Frodo offered a weak smile as he stood over her.

“Lily, dearest, you must get some sleep.”

His wife shook her head slightly, still meeting his gaze, her face resolute but kind. She did not make any move to lie down.

“I shall join you shortly,” he ventured. “I only want to take another look around...”

His heart was nearly torn in two by the look that clouded Lily’s face. He knew she endeavored to hide it, but it was too late; he had seen the fleeting ache of loneliness there. What to do? If he did not keep watch, how could he continue to hold to his promise to keep her safe? He could not shake the feeling that something was watching them, waiting only for a moment of carelessness... He could not let her be harmed, yet he was hurting her now by being away from her.

He hesitated for a moment and then relented, sitting down beside her. “You must sleep, Lily. Please close your eyes. I promise not to go anywhere.”

She whispered hoarsely, “Not without you, Frodo.”

There was not a trace of anger in her tone. She only wanted to stay by his side tonight. She only wanted to help, and he knew it.

When he found his own voice again it was rough. “I’ll stay.”

Lily then laid herself down and allowed him to cover her with the blanket. She smiled at him once, and then looked up at the night sky and endeavored to see it as he did.

Frodo wrapped himself in his cloak, much as he had the night before, and lay down with her, a small space between them. He feared he might sully her, as though the memories might somehow affect her, even through the merest touch. He knew there would be nightmares tonight: whether sleeping ones or waking ones, it did not matter... it was all the same. His mind had been assaulted today by vivid scenes from Weathertop, scenes he had hoped never to see again in his life.

He lay on his back, his eyes open wide to the night sky. Though he did not look at her, he knew Lily was doing the same.

Lily chose not to be hurt when Frodo did not take her into his arms as she had hoped. Her heart whispered that he feared hurting her, mayhap in the throes of bad dreams. She thought of how he had cried out and wept the night before, and could not bear the thought of him facing such agony again.

The minutes seemed to pass slowly, but it was not long before she felt her husband trembling next to her. She knew he was not asleep. She longed to draw close to him, to help him and comfort him, but she waited, knowing if she allowed Frodo to lose himself in her it would only delay the coming storm. There must be another way.

Lily searched her mind. How could she help him? This was not the darkness, but his own past. She must somehow bring him back to the present. There must be something she could talk about with him, until he felt able to express his own worries... some interest of his which had not been part of the Quest. Her eyes searched the darkness of the clear night sky above them. For a moment she stopped looking at the blackness that seemed to envelop them and noticed instead the vast blanket of tiny stars which were everywhere, in every part of the sky.

Lily’s question emerged fully formed, without any conscious effort on her part. Her voice was small and clear against the deep silence that surrounded them. She turned her head to look at him.

“Frodo, tell me of the stars.”

Lily saw her husband start in surprise, and she briefly touched his arm in apology.

He sighed gratefully and turned to look at her. She had pulled him out of some deep and unhappy place with one clear question. He drew his arms out from his cloak and rested his hands beneath his head, looking at the night sky again, but in a new way. He began to answer her. Lily thought he sounded dream-like, as though he were thinking aloud.

“I learned almost all I know about the stars from Gandalf and Elrond. I learned some from Bilbo as well, but of course he himself learned it from the Elves. Did I ever tell you that Aragorn can travel anywhere he wishes in Middle-earth with only the stars as his guide? He needs no maps...”

Lily let him continue, lulled by the voice she loved so well. As she asked him a question now and again to clarify some point or other, she heard his tone slowly change; he was becoming more relaxed, and her heart was glad. If she could keep him thinking only about the stars--

She remembered the question she had been holding inside for many months. Frodo had promised to tell her about it on that magical night by the Shirebourn, and again when Sam told the tale in April.

“Frodo, tell me about Eärendil,” she queried softly.

Lily could feel her husband’s gaze, but she kept her eyes carefully directed to the stars overhead. Frodo hadn’t yet touched her, let alone taken her in his arms, but she could feel him edge his body closer to hers, as if seeking her warmth. He seemed to settle in for the tale.

“Eärendil...” Frodo repeated. He took a deep breath, and began to tell her the story.

“Eärendil is a Quenya name -- Quenya is High-Elvish... there’s also Sindarin... that’s what Legolas speaks when he isn’t using the common tongue -- that is, our Westron. The name Eärendil means ‘sea-lover.’ He was born thousands of years ago, in the First Age. He was Adan of the Third House -- oh, and I should tell you, Adan is another word for Edain. Edain is a Sindarin word which means ‘the second ones’ -- you recall I told you once that the Elves were the first-born of Creation?”

“Yes,” replied Lily.

“Yes, well, the Elves are the Eldar... that’s Quenya for ‘people of the stars.’ They were born first in Creation. The Edain are mortals, such as Men, and ourselves, born second; or, the Firstborn and the Followers. The Elves are sometimes a little jealous of us, Lily. They don’t die unless the earth passes away, or unless they are killed. They cannot die of any illness, nor from old age. Long, long ago, some Elves grew tired of living, and they began to call our mortality the ‘Gift of Men.’ They sometimes also call death the ‘Gift of Ilúvatar.’

“Death is the special fate of mortals, and Ilúvatar placed this on us at our making. He wanted the desires and fates of mortals to extend beyond their lives here. The Elves have no such fate. They may travel over the Sea to the West -- that is, to the Uttermost West -- but still they do not die unless the earth dies. They go to the Grey Havens if they wish to have more peace than they can find in Middle-earth...”

Lily shifted to her side, propping herself up on her elbow so that she could see Frodo’s face better and still see the stars. “The Grey Havens...” She paused a moment, and carefully maintained an even tone, remembering the touch of fear she felt that morning, twelve days ago. “...it’s the place you told me of at the Free Fair?”

“Yes, they sail from there out onto the High Sea...”

“And into the West, but the Elves cannot die as we do. Unless they are killed,” she repeated solemnly.

“That’s it... well, they can also die of a broken heart... that’s been known to happen, in the past...” Frodo turned his head to smile at his wife. He loved her for her curiosity and her willingness to learn. He shifted to his side as well, in order to see her face, and when he was settled he continued.

“When mortals die, they go first to the halls of Mandos, but then they pass to an unknown destiny beyond the Circles of the World.”

“And you learned all this from Gandalf, Elrond and Bilbo?” Lily wondered at it all. She wished she could see his eyes more clearly. The firelight only teased her with a dimly lit view. She knew the blue depths would be filled with bright interest.

Frodo nodded. “And Legolas, and Arwen as well; many Elves spoke to me of the Creation, and of Ilúvatar and the ancient truths... Gandalf knows most of all; as a Maiar, he was created before the Elves, and bless him for his patience: he let me question him throughout the summer and into the fall as well as on our journey home. Where was I... Oh, the Second Gift. So the Elves only know that we mortals die, and go on to some greater freedom they cannot share... We are very blessed indeed, Lily. I suppose it sounds odd, but I am happy to be mortal, if it means going on to another life, nearer to Ilúvatar.”

“I don’t think it’s odd at all. I find comfort in knowing we’ll be closer to our Creator.”

Lily extended her hand to touch him, but withdrew it. He seemed to be coming back to her from wherever he had been, but she didn’t know if he would accept her touch just yet. She bit her lip to keep it from trembling.

Frodo had seen the gesture. His beloved, who always gave everything, was holding back, for him. He had started this; he would need to finish it. He reached out his hand and tenderly touched her cheek.

“I am more blessed now than I ever dreamed I could be. I have life, I have health, and I have you. And beyond death, the second life. I cannot imagine more than that.” He slowly withdrew his hand.

She was grateful for his touch.

“We’ll be together after death, then, Frodo?” She knew the answer already, for he had spoken of it before.

Lily delightedly became aware of his arm stealing across her waist. She allowed herself to relax for the first time since morning, realizing only now just how very nervous she had been, as though she had been holding her breath. He tightened his hold on her almost imperceptibly, and she closed her eyes briefly, relief flooding through her, then realized he was speaking again.

“Yes, it’s what I believe, Lily-sweet. As far as any of us knows, that’s what will happen. We’ll be together forever because of our vows. No one has been able to disprove the second life, and since we have no evidence to the contrary, I believe it wholeheartedly.” He held her closer yet.

Frodo was so pragmatic, Lily mused, and yet a dreamer, all at once. She felt suddenly overcome by the desire to kiss him. But she wanted even more to keep his mind on the story.

Ilúvatar is kind, Lily reflected. He had given her the answer she sought -- how to help her husband -- it was all held within a simple question about a star, the very star she had wished on every night for so many years, dreaming of her beloved, never daring to hope her dream could ever become real.

She shivered once, and was about to ask him another question when he continued.

“Do you know that in the Second and Third Ages -- we’ve come to the end of the Third Age, Lily; Gandalf said we’ll be entering the Fourth Age soon. The beginning of the end of the Third Age was -- was the destruction of the Ring, but...”

As Frodo’s pause grew longer, Lily thought quickly. “What were you saying about what happened in the Second and Third Ages?”

“Oh -- the Second and Third Ages, yes... In those times, there were actually some Men, especially some of the Númenóreans, who did not believe there was a second life. And so they called death the ‘Doom of Men’ rather than the ‘Gift of Men.’”

“But to be thankful is to know,” Lily murmured softly.

“Yes, dear Lily, it is so true.”

“How could the Númenóreans have felt so ungrateful?” she wondered aloud.

“Mayhap they were afraid...”

Frodo fell silent again, and Lily worried about his distraction.

“Please, tell me about the Númenóreans? Goodness, dearest, this is already far more detailed than what Samwise shared with us in April. I remember him telling us about Eärendil sailing the skies in a ship, with a bright jewel on his brow, and someone named Elwing, I think she was the wife of Eärendil... I can’t recall much more than that but bits and pieces.” She searched Frodo’s eyes. “This is a tale, isn’t it, dearest? Not a true story...?”

Frodo’s eyes captured her hazel ones. His voice took on a pleading edge, while his hand upon her waist grew tense. If she did not believe this, why should she believe what happened to him on the Quest? For he knew that the Quest itself, full of strange creatures and enchantment and singular events, would seem like mere legend in times to come. Even now, it would be deemed nothing more than an unnatural tale to those living in the Shire.

“Lily, no, sweet, you must -- I need you to -- I’m asking you to please believe this, all of this. Please trust me. This is history. It is not legend, nor a child’s tale. Can you--?”

Frodo still held her gaze, and Lily was taken aback by his sudden intensity. Yet it was easy for her to read the truth there in his eyes, wide with anxiety, his brow furrowed.

“Yes, I believe you,” she stated firmly. “I would have taken you at your word, in any case, but the truth also shows plainly within you, dearest. I am sorry I could not sense it from the very beginning of the story. Please do go on. I am truly sorry.”

Frodo’s anxiety fell away, replaced by a relief so palpable Lily felt it wash through her in waves. Her husband closed his eyes, as if to gather his composure, then sighed once, and kissed her forehead.

“Thank you,” he breathed, his expression still serious. “I have no idea where we’ve left off in the story...”

“The -- the Númenóreans,” Lily recited. “Some of these Men didn’t believe in the second gift...” She matched his tone, determined to show her husband she held every faith in him. Memories of her old doubts about the Phial of Galadriel still burned within her; how she had hurt him during their courtship, and how he had forgiven her. She forced herself back to the present. “You were -- I asked if you could tell me more about the Númenóreans...”

Frodo had relaxed somewhat, and turned thoughtful, searching his memory. “I don’t know very much about them, really. Aragorn would know... and Faramir. And the Elves, of course. Elrond has lived through the First, Second, and Third Ages... he is well over 5,000 years old, Lily... You can ask him as much history as you like when we reach Rivendell. He knows it by heart. He lived it...”

Frodo’s voice drifted off, and she watched him turn a little to gaze up at the stars.

“I cannot conceive of that,” Lily marveled.

“Yes. It is difficult to grasp.”

Lily was endeavoring to understand and remember every detail. She became so enrapt with Frodo’s story that at first she did not notice his attention slip. Then he loosened his hold on her.

“Dearest Frodo,” she pleaded as gently as she could, “tell me more of Eärendil.”

“Oh! That was where we started! I’m sorry, Lily. Where was I?”

“You were saying Eärendil was one of the -- Adan -- Edain? He was born in the First Age...” She felt Frodo reclaim his earlier hold about her waist.

“Yes, that’s right, and in those days the Edain were tall and fair and strong. Their spirits were noble; they were fierce in war, and they shunned all dealings with -- with evil. In about the fourth century of the First Age, the Edain were drawn to the Light of the West. They were called Elf-friends, and entered Beleriand. Many of them entered the service of the Eldar -- the Elves -- and they fought valiantly in the Wars of Beleriand. In Beleriand the Edain loved the Elves, and they learned much wisdom from them. They were given greater nobility still when there were two marriages between the Elves and the Edain -- that is, Beren and Lúthien, and Tuor and Idril.

“Tuor was a mortal, and Idril was a Noldorin Elf -- yes, that’s right -- she was of the Noldor.”

Frodo seemed to be recalling the fact to himself, Lily decided.

“In the spring after they were wed, their son Eärendil was born.”

“This all happened so long ago!” Lily was entranced. “It truly happened, but it feels so far away, and unreal.”

“Yes, it’s true. It was so long ago,” Frodo repeated thoughtfully. “At least by the reckoning of hobbits...”

He smiled, then continued. “Their son Eärendil was numbered among the mortals, the Edain. He must have chosen mortality. You already know that those born half-Elven and half-mortal may choose? Yes, of course you know that... you know about Arwen and Aragorn.”

Frodo suddenly became still. They heard the wind blowing through the leaves in the nearby trees, and heard crickets chirping in the distance.

“Aragorn saved my life on Weathertop that night. He saved us all. Me. Merry and Pippin. Sam... dear Sam.”

Lily noted that Frodo had withdrawn his hand from her waist and was now touching his shoulder. He began to rub it absently, as though it hurt. She prayed it was only remembered pain, and not more. The need to acknowledge it swept over her. But how to do so? She did not want him to be lost in it. As the silence stretched on, Lily knew she must press forward.

“Yes, dearest. How well I know of Aragorn’s brave deed, and I shall thank him forever, for saving your life.” She nearly kissed him, gazing into his eyes. He was staring, however -- somewhere off into the distance. He was looking at nothing. She must keep him talking, and she was so fascinated by the stories; it was a joy rather than a burden to draw them out of him.

She settled a little closer and asked, “Please tell me more about Eärendil...”

Frodo hesitated for a moment as if lost in thought. He then dropped his hand from his shoulder so he could hold her snugly once more about her waist.

Lily closed her eyes.

He noted this and smiled softly, then continued when she opened her eyes again.

“Many of the Edain in Eärendil’s time were killed, decimated really, by the hordes of Morgoth...” he stopped, then started again. “...Eärendil sailed to Aman, and requested the aid of the Valar... it’s difficult to explain what they are, but they were created by Ilúvatar in order to help finish the creation of the World. There are fourteen Valar, seven male and seven female. The Valar gave aid to Eärendil, and he was able to defeat Morgoth in the Last Battle. The last remaining Edain sailed to Númenor and became the Dúnedain. Aragorn is a descendant of that line.”

“Aragorn is in this story, too?” she was becoming more amazed by the moment. “I’m confused, I must confess, Frodo. Why was it that the Valar gave Eärendil special help?”

“It’s quite complicated, and sometimes I get the facts confused. Let me see ...Eärendil had married Elwing. Elwing had been born half-Elven and chose to be Elven, immortal. Their two sons were Elrond, who chose to be Elven, and Elros, who chose mortality.”

“Elrond! So our Elrond -- the one who saved you -- was named for him, then?”

Frodo laughed, and she sighed; his laughter was like music, and she had missed hearing it today.

“No, dearest Lily. Our Elrond was not named for that one. He is that one. He is Eärendil’s son.”

Lily opened her mouth, but no sound came out. She closed it again, and stared at her husband. The silence was thick between them.

“I know... it seems impossible. I owe you a kiss now, Lily. You made me laugh.”

Lily smiled. “Frodo, may I save it for the end of the story? I want to hear the rest. Please, tell me.”

“All right! But I won’t forget! At least, let me kiss your hair...” He embraced her again tightly, planting a gentle caress above her ear.

She barely noticed it in her excitement. “I -- I can scarce take it in... He is the son of Eärendil?” she repeated wonderingly.

“Yes -- remember, he’s more than 5,000 years old... but you won’t be able to see that when you meet him. He doesn’t look any older than Aragorn.” Frodo grinned as Lily’s eyes grew wide.

She shook her head. “I try to imagine someone being that old, but it’s beyond my ken.”

“I know. It’s difficult to comprehend, from our point of view, Lily. Are you ready to hear more?”

“Oh, yes, please!”

“Where were we, then?”

“Eärendil... he was one of the Adan. Born in the First Age.”

“Yes! Well, Eärendil loved the Sea... as his name attests. He was drawn to it.”

Lily could not explain where her question came from. “Like you?”

Frodo started, then considered. “In truth, not like me, not in the same way. Yes, I should like to see the Sea, someday, but Eärendil truly longed for it, more than anything. He wanted nothing more than to spend all his days exploring its vastness. His parents set sail for the West and never returned, but he sought some way to follow them to Valinor. He was long away at Sea, when an urgency to return home overcame him.

“Elwing, his wife, had cast herself into the Sea when their city was overrun by the evil sons of Fëanor. They wanted her Silmaril.”

“Silmaril?”

“The three Silmarils were the most beautiful and bright jewels ever made. They were made by Fëanor, and their inner fire was made of the blended light of the Two Trees of Valinor -- the Blessed Realm, Aman. They were hallowed by Varda -- they shone from within. The Trees are gone, but the Silmarils yet shine. No mortal or unclean hand or evil may touch them, for if they do they shall burn and wither.”

Lily shivered at the statement; at the same time she thought of how Frodo himself shone from within, unlike anyone else...

Frodo was not sure if her shivering was a reaction to the story, or if she were cold. He arranged his cloak over them both, as a precaution.

Lily smiled gratefully at his concern. “So, Elwing had one of these jewels? How did she get it?”

“It was given to her by her father, Dior, who was the son of Beren and Lúthien.”

“Of the song Aragorn sang to you!”

“Yes.”

“But how did they get it?”

“Mor -- Morgoth stole them from Fëanor.”

“Morgoth? Is it the same who wars against Eärendil’s people?” Lily whispered, chilling once again.

Frodo saw it, and protectively pressed his hand more firmly to her waist. “The same. He fought against the Valar and Ilúvatar, almost from the start. He could have been one of the Valar, but for his choice to rebel against Ilúvatar. He declared himself king of Middle-earth, and stole the Silmarils to place them in his crown.”

“But if he was evil, did the Silmarils not burn him?”

“Yes, his hands were terribly burned...” Frodo shuddered.

“You need not tell me of it...”

“It’s all right, for I think you’ll be happy knowing more of the story... Lúthien would not allow Beren to continue alone in his Quest to retrieve one of the Silmarils. Just as -- as you’ll not allow me to be alone...” Frodo’s voice trailed off as he studied Lily’s face.

“No, I’ll not...” She met his steady gaze, reflected by the firelight.

“He endeavored to leave her behind, to spare her the dangers, but she would not be left.”

“Just like me.”

“Indeed, beloved... exactly like you...”

Frodo suddenly ached with love for Lily, and nearly kissed her, but refrained. He knew that within the space of one fervent kiss, he could become carried away, and it would not be fair to her. He would not be with her, not fully; he was far too distracted in his thoughts. Lily appreciated all of him; he had learned this during their niwealdor.

He saw Lily reading all his thoughts, and thanking her in silence he slowly kissed her hair, only once. Then he found his breath and his voice once again.

“Together, Beren and Lúthien fought Morgoth’s servant, Sauron--”

“The same as--?”

“Yes. And they won past. Lúthien caused a sleep to fall over Morgoth and his court, and Beren, using Sauron’s knife, freed one of the Silmarils from Morgoth’s crown. Then the kingdom began to awaken and Beren and Lúthien were trapped inside the walls, but the Eagles came and helped them escape.”

“So they stole it. Were not their hands burned?”

“No; though Beren was mortal flesh, the Silmaril deemed him clean and worthy.”

“Why were they stealing it?”

“It was the bride-price set by Lúthien’s father. Lúthien eventually gave it to their son Dior, and Dior gave it to his daughter Elwing, who married Eärendil.”

“Thank you. I’ve got them all placed in my mind now. So why did Elwing cast herself and the Silmaril into the sea?” Lily nestled closer to Frodo, her head pillowed against his breast.

He breathed in the lovely perfume of her hair, and needed to think harder about the story in order to continue.

“Though the evil sons of Fëanor sought her, they could capture neither her nor the Silmaril...”

“Did it not rightfully belong to Fëanor’s sons?”

“No longer. His house was cursed for starting the Kinslaying.”

Lily shuddered. “I don’t think I want to hear about that.”

“We are in agreement, dearest Lily... When Elwing threw herself into the Sea, Ulmo, the Lord of the Waters, helped her. He is one of the only Valar to take a special interest in Ilúvatar’s children. He helped Elves and Men directly, several times. He turned Elwing into a bird, and she flew by the light of her Silmaril and found Eärendil. Elwing told him of the capture of their sons and the destruction of the havens of Sirion. With three crewmembers, they sailed to Aman. Eärendil bound the Silmaril upon his brow. By its power they were able to traverse the Shadowy Seas. Eärendil, though a mortal and thus not permitted in Valinor, went before the Valar to plead mercy for the peoples of Beleriand.

“The Valar granted his request. By rights he should have perished, for he was mortal and should not have set foot on Valinor. But Ulmo spoke for Eärendil, declaring he was born for this purpose. Because of Eärendil’s love for both Elves and Men, the judgment was stayed. Elwing was also spared, though she placed herself in peril because of her love for Eärendil. You see, before Eärendil’s journey there was no choice for the Half-Elven. Mandos declared they and their sons, Elrond and Elros, would need to choose. And though Eärendil preferred to be considered with Men, he was weary, and gave the choice to Elwing, his wife. She chose to be of the Firstborn, and then her husband chose likewise. Then the Valar set Eärendil and his ship to sail the sky, and though Elwing chose not to go with him, preferring the earth, she lives in a white tower built near the Sundering Sea. Did you know she takes the form of a bird and flies up to be with him whenever his ship nears? At sunrise and sunset... His light is a sign of hope to all those in Middle-earth oppressed--”

Frodo took a deep steadying breath. “--To those oppressed by evil.”

Lily raised her head up so she could look into his eyes. “Oh, Frodo, can it all be true? I know it is -- it’s the loveliest tale I’ve ever heard--” she exclaimed, amazed and close to tears.

Frodo held her and pushed an auburn curl behind one ear, speaking softly. “Yes, it’s true, and it is indeed lovely. Eärendil is still sailing in the sky. The Silmaril in his brow is the brightest light in the heavens; he is the star most beloved of the Elves -- his light has great power. Yes, dearest Lily. Eärendil is still there.”

A tear slid down Lily’s cheek. She fought to speak.

“Dear Frodo, the story is so beautiful. I -- it’s difficult to understand it’s real... Please, show me the star again!”

Frodo turned a little and pointed out Eärendil to her again, as he had at the Shirebourn.

“He is also called Bright Eärendil, Eärendil the Mariner, and Eärendil the Blessed. He has more names yet -- the Morning Star, the Evening Star, and Gil-Estel.”

Lily was still fighting back tears. “Frodo, I wished on the Evening Star for you every night, since the first day I met you! I cannot believe -- and he is the father of Elrond? Our Elrond?”

“Yes, beloved. And his bright light is the same light held within the Phial of Galadriel. And it was given as a gift to me, to light my way...” His voice lowered. “‘...In dark places, when all other lights go out.’”

Lily was overcome with weeping, and turned to her husband, who held her and kissed her temple. Eventually she calmed, but was no less moved.

“It will be dawn soon, Lily. Look, the stars are fading now.”

She glanced up. “We shall see them once more, when the night returns... I’ll never look at stars the same way again. Thank you for telling me the story...” She hesitated a moment, and then added, “I love you.”

Without reserve, Frodo gathered her fully into his embrace. As lightly as the gentle approach of the coming dawn, his lips caressed hers.

“There, that is the kiss I owed you from before,” he murmured, gazing into her eyes. “I love you.”

Lily then kissed him deeply, and he returned it gently, savoring her sweetness. With some difficulty, he broke the kiss.

“We’ve talked all night, beloved,” he murmured, when he could speak again. “What say we make an easy day of it, and only travel later in the afternoon? We needn’t rush today. And we both need our sleep.”

“It -- sounds wonderful,” Lily heard herself reply, and she fell asleep, completely at peace in his arms.

Frodo paused and drew back a little, considering her in the early morning light. She was where he wanted her to be, but after the last two miserable days, how did it happen? He was too tired to sort things out now. He decided to let the fire die out rather than leave his beloved’s side to tend to it; the ground all about them was covered in dew. He surrounded Lily with his warmth, and fell into slumber, his breathing matching hers as the Sun broke over the distant mountains.