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Sacrament

by CRB and Ladyhawk Baggins

17 July 1420sr

While Lily prepared their breakfast, Frodo explored the riverbank for a suitable spot for bathing the ponies. His wife had asked if she could help with the task.

Although he would be glad for Lily’s company, Frodo was somewhat nervous about the prospect of her helping with the ponies. After last summer, he knew Strider could be led into deep water and wouldn’t mind it at all.

Merry and Pippin are another story altogether, he fretted to himself, gathering up the three lead ropes. I don’t know how either of them will behave around water, and I’ve not forgotten what the Rohirrim taught us -- that some ponies don’t mind a bath, while others abhor it.

He glanced at his wife and smiled. She was having a one-sided conversation with Merry, telling him of their plans for the day, casual as could be. Merry was listening, that was clear enough; his ear twitched toward her. Frodo smiled again when she rubbed Merry’s velvety nose as she spoke.

Lily helped Frodo lead all three ponies down to the river’s edge. She tethered Merry and Pippin off to the side, while Frodo led Strider into the river, and stopped in the shallows.

“We’ll start with Strider, Lily. With any luck, Merry and Pippin will watch closely, and mayhap be more inclined to behave. Do you want to wash him, or shall I?”

“I think I’d like to watch myself at first, though I could hold the lead rope.”

“A good idea.” Frodo began to work as he spoke. “Now, start with his head, and work your way down.”

Strider willingly lowered his head to make the job a little easier.

Frodo grinned. “Good lad. You’re an easy one to bathe, aren’t you Strider... there, that feels better, doesn’t it? Many an animal dislikes getting their head washed, because it’s easy to get water in their ears... but Strider here is well trained, not to mention I’ve always been careful not to get any water in your ears... haven’t I, lad?”

“He trusts you,” Lily stated simply.

Frodo paused. “Yes, I suppose he does.”

“Is it easy for a pony to trust?”

“I don’t know. I imagine they learn what they’re taught... much as a child might. They like to know what’s what, and to know you’ll take care of them, protect them, ease their hurts, feed them, and help them feel more comfortable... What we’re doing now is washing away the dirt and sweat of our travel.”

“Won’t they just get dirty and sweaty again tomorrow?”

“Yes, but we’re cleaning away the deeper dirt which is ground into their coat and down next to their skin. Rubbed-in dirt, and whatnot, can irritate their skin and cause sores. Tomorrow, we’ll be starting over fresh, so to speak.”

Lily nodded and stroked the pony’s nose. “All finished?”

“Indeed. Good lad.”

The pony moved quickly out of the water into the long green grass along the shore. Before Frodo could tether him to graze, Strider dropped to his knees, then lay down and rolled in the grass on his side, only to get up and lay down again, rolling on the other side. Finally, he stood and shook himself from his head to his tail.

“Frodo!” Lily gasped in horror. “We’ll have to wash him again! Look at him!”

Frodo laughed. “He’s content as can be, my sweet. Not to worry. He’s quite all right. The dirt on top of his coat like that won’t do much harm, and it’ll come off with a quick brushing. Remember, the purpose of the bath was to get to the ground-in dirt and sweat. In truth, Pippin, with his pack, needs it the most, but I’ve not the faintest idea how he’ll be around water, so we’ll bathe him last. Merry’s next.”

The pony was nervous at first, but calmed when he heard Lily’s voice. Frodo helped her clean his face and then his neck, always scrubbing downward. He guided the cloth in her hands in a circular motion across his withers, and down his back. She could not reach his croup, the top of his rump; Frodo needed to scrub that for her. Then they started at the front again, scrubbing the pony’s shoulders and chest, and moving along his sides. Frodo taught her to be very careful around the flanks, because they were so sensitive.

Finally they scrubbed his belly, and down each leg. Lily was delighted by the gleam of Merry’s white coat after the bath, but was exasperated in the next moment, when Merry joined Strider in a roll. Frodo laughed at her reaction, and finally Lily had to laugh as well; there was nothing for it, after all.

When Pippin’s turn came to be led into the water, he at first would have none of it, balking, but with gentle coaxing and patience, soon even Pippin was clean, though not for long; he too took a roll in the grass.

Lily had enjoyed watching Frodo’s gentle handling of each pony. At the end of it she stifled a giggle, since her husband had ended up almost as wet as the animals were. Then she gazed longingly at the river, wishing desperately for a bath herself.

Frodo noted it, and after their next meal, he beckoned her to follow him a bit upstream. Lily glanced back at the ponies, which were now grazing contentedly, lazily swishing their tails. She smiled; they won’t be going anywhere for a while.

---------

Lily happily paddled and played in the pool of clear water, warmed by the morning Sun. At first she was disappointed when Frodo left her alone there, but then she was grateful... she enjoyed letting her thoughts flit like the dragonflies on the water, and lost track of time.

Frodo finished his own bath farther downstream. He was accustomed, since the Quest, to bathing in ice-cold rivers and streams, and on this trip he had thought nothing of taking a quick bath after caring for the ponies each night. Lily had worried for his health, but he assured her he was inured to the cold, and besides, it was invigorating.

He had thought about bathing with Lily today in the sun-warmed pool, but decided it wasn’t the best idea. Being with her in that setting would have been almost overwhelming for him, and he knew she was not yet feeling her best. He admitted ruefully he knew better than to torment himself, and her, unnecessarily, even as thoughts of her loveliness created a deep ache within him. He sighed to himself, and finished his bath.

The day was drifting on, and Frodo knew her little pool would soon be in shadow, no longer warm but cool. He adjusted his braces, and slipped on his waistcoat, then gathered up clean clothes for her, in case she wanted them.

Frodo’s heart warmed when he found her there, playing in the water with childlike joy. He loved her innocent nature. He wondered if his new bride would truly ever know how much he loved her...

When Lily finally noticed him, he was standing on the shore with his arms folded, smiling at her. Then he laughed, but just as quickly caught his breath as he noted the look in her eyes.

She paddled closer to the shore, then giggled gleefully as Frodo backed away. He hadn’t yet cleared the bushes between the forest and the river’s edge when Lily landed a well-placed splash, laughing outright at her husband’s now bedraggled appearance.

“Why did no one warn me not to interrupt a lass at her bath?” Frodo lamented, the tugging of a smile at the corner of his mouth belying any real irritation. “By the way,” he intoned, “your dry clothes are there on that rock.”

Frodo stripped off his now-dripping waistcoat as he strode back to their camp, smiling to himself. It was good to hear her laugh like that again.

When Lily returned, she found Frodo lying on his back on their bedroll. His left hand was behind his head and his right was lying on his chest. Asleep, she noticed his missing finger; when her husband was awake, she did not. How odd... why is that? she wondered, then gazed at him again.

The top three buttons of his cambric shirt were unfastened. His waistcoat was spread on a nearby rock. She noted it was nearly dry, and smiled. How I love his good nature! she sighed.

She stood for a while, watching him quietly, and realized he was sound asleep. If it were another day, she would have enjoyed waking him.

Lily noticed the athelas-infused water next to the campfire. Frodo had already prepared it so that it was ready for her. She took advantage of the opportunity, and by the time she finished, there was only a little water left in the kettle, which was now cool enough for her to pick up. She carefully poured a bit onto her brush and began brushing her hair.

Frodo awoke, and watched his wife for a few moments as she gathered her hair, applying long brushstrokes until it shone. Then she brushed only the curled ending of each tress as it lay on her palm. He loved the colour of her hair, especially in this afternoon light. He remembered how soft it was, and then decided it would be best to avoid that line of thought.

When he stretched, and breathed in the smell of the athelas, Lily heard, and turned to see him. She smiled. “You’re awake.”

Frodo smiled back. “Then I’m not dreaming.”

Lily blushed, and returned to brushing her hair.

Frodo watched for a moment longer, and found himself asking, “May I?”

Lily nodded as she smiled and held out the brush.

“Yes, you may.”

As Frodo took the brush in his right hand, Lily turned back again and sat cross-legged on the bedroll with her skirt tucked about her. Frodo knelt behind her and poured a little more of the water onto the brush. Then he gathered a handful of curls -- they were indeed as soft as he remembered. Then he grinned; the memory was only from early this morning...

Frodo could not hide his broadening grin, and was glad she could not see him. He began to brush with the same slow stroke he had seen her use.

She closed her eyes in contentment. “I cannot remember the last time someone else brushed my hair for me -- oh, that feels wonderful--”

Frodo smiled to himself. It was best not to tell her how much he enjoyed simply being this close to her, let alone being able to touch her hair... another time. But he did want to say something to her.

“Lily, may I ask a question?” He continued brushing.

Lily giggled. “Yes, I believe you just did.”

Frodo chuckled in return. “Yes, but it isn’t the one I wanted to ask.”

“What is it you would like to know?”

“I find myself a trifle confused.” Now that it came to it, Frodo was finding it difficult to say the words.

“It’s about...” Frodo could feel his face warming; I’m going bright red; his blush deepened.

Lily glanced over her shoulder at him and was astonished.

“Frodo! This is so unlike you. What is it you want to ask?”

“I usually ask Sam these questions...”

Lily smiled to herself. My dear Frodo, what in the world would you do without Sam? She realized she was finding out...

“It’s something I’ve noticed but don’t understand... The athelas has wonderful healing powers, and the last few evenings it seems to have eased your discomfort -- but only a little. I’m puzzled that it isn’t more efficacious.”

Lily was surprised, and yet she knew she should not be; he was so aware of her. She thought back to her evening baths with the athelas, if they could truly be called that, and realized he was right. She sighed.

“I am not sure I understand it myself... I am always grateful you prepare the water for me. I do feel a soothing effect from it...”

Frodo stopped for a moment. “Perhaps I should not have asked...”

Lily considered her reply. “It’s all right, dearest. I’m just trying to sort things out. Please don’t stop brushing.”

Frodo resumed the steady strokes through her hair.

Lily sighed and continued, “Truly, I’ve never thought much about it, but then I am not as well acquainted as you with the effects of the athelas. I was just thinking you had seen its healing effect on -- on your own body, and on the battlefield wounds of others.

“Now, you are faced with me... There are no wounds, no life or death injuries. Looking at it that way, mine must seem a simple ailment and yet, as you have said, the athelas does not have the same effect. Perhaps it is because this is not a wound... In a way, it is an indication of life, or the possibility of life... it’s nothing that requires healing. Truth be told, you will no doubt hear me complain each time about the discomfort--”

At this, she turned to him, and Frodo stopped what he was doing. She looked at him with a slight smile.

“--but in reality I am grateful for it. It means I am able to bear -- our children. I’m happy that my father taught me to try to find something to be thankful for in almost everything...”

Despite herself she touched his cheek. She knew Frodo would be able to read her eyes; he seemed able to do so perfectly already, she reflected. He will know I’m not yet ready. I only want to touch him.

Frodo shifted the brush into his left hand so he could touch her cheek as he spoke, his voice low.

“Your father was very wise, Lily. I will be forever indebted to him, not only for giving you life--” at this, he smiled “--but also for teaching you how to find the good in everything, whenever and wherever it may be found. It is so much a part of why I love you.”

Lily blushed. “I miss him.” She gazed at Frodo, but held back her tears.

“Of course you do.” Frodo struggled with the memory of her father’s last moments, then realized he was grateful Lily had not seen him thus, bleeding...

“I -- I only wish I had been allowed to know him, and your mother... but I think that in knowing you, I know a great deal about them.”

He withdrew his hand from her face, then eased her hand from his cheek; he made sure to kiss the back of her hand, and not her palm. Still her eyes closed. He hoped again he had not overstepped...

Lily opened her eyes and saw that Frodo had become very quiet. He looked so thoughtful; or was it sad? She suddenly worried that perhaps she had spoken amiss: she had mentioned the war. Why did she get so muddleheaded at this time?

She bent her head. “I’m sorry, Frodo, I should not have mentioned the war; I wasn’t thinking...”

Frodo realized that his silence had been misinterpreted, and smiled to reassure her. “Lily, it’s all right... I was not thinking of that at all. I was only thinking again about what you said... and I’m sure you’re right about why the athelas didn’t accomplish what I expected. What you say makes perfect sense. But it also reminds me that there is so much I do not know... will you always be this patient with your curious husband?” He smiled again, knowing what her answer would be.

“Dearest Frodo!” she laughed, the relief evident in her expression. “If you ever cease to be curious I should think perhaps that you were ill, and that some athelas might be in order! Please don’t ever stop being curious...” She touched his cheek once more, and then turned again, so that he could continue to brush her hair.

Frodo felt her relax as he resumed. He fell into a slow methodical pattern, the repeated motions having something of a hypnotic effect. The late afternoon Sun was warm... was it still July -- ?

“Frodo? I think my hair is mostly dry now. You needn’t continue -- thank you.” Lily turned around when she felt him stop. She took the brush from his hand, then noted his odd, trance-like expression...

“I was daydreaming.” He laughed softly. “I think brushing your hair was putting me to sleep... if I ever have trouble getting to sleep at night, I’ll know what to do now.”

“The Sun is warm... wait! I remembered who last brushed my hair for me.”

“And who was that?” Frodo stood up and stretched, then offered her his hand.

She looked up at him, taking his hand. “It was Rosie, on the morning of our wedding day. She was helping me prepare for our moment...”

Frodo lifted her gently up to him. She came into his arms of her own accord, and he held her. For a while they were silent.

“Where would I be now if you had not waited for me?” he whispered against her ear. “What would have become of me? I was dying, Lily.”

“I know. I was dying too, but in a different way. We were brought together of a purpose. Gandalf told us it was always meant to be a part of Ilúvatar’s Music, His design... I love you so much, my dear Frodo...”

“I love you, Lily-sweet.” He held her more tightly.

They could hear the River Hoarwell, and birdsong; all else was still. It was enough.

---------

As Frodo helped Lily prepare dinner, she found herself pausing after he gave her, once again, exactly what she needed without having to ask.

“How do you do that?” she smiled.

“How do I do what?” he returned, and Lily saw his eyes lit with love... the love never left his eyes. Never. For the first time, she realized it, and knew in her heart it would ever be thus. It was exhilarating, thrilling, calming; daunting.

Lily sighed deeply, her mind and heart still striving to understand how she had been given Frodo, for whom love, in all its many forms, was as natural as breathing.

He was waiting for an answer, and had seen her faraway look, and tilted his head slightly, as if to ascertain her thoughts. She endeavored to meet his eyes, but suddenly it was difficult, almost too intense. It was not painful, but was more the case that she might faint... she became aware she had stopped breathing, and with an effort she brought herself back to him, and willed herself to breathe, once more... not to faint. She smiled wanly, blinking once before managing to ask him a question.

“How do you know just what to give me before I ask it?” she queried gently, and this time their eyes locked; but then he closed his for a moment, as if overcome himself by what had passed between them. To her surprise, he blushed, looking down.

“It isn’t difficult... I’ve watched you... there are certain things you always do in the same way...”

He lifted his dark blue eyes once more to her hazel ones, and she needed to blink, and swallow, forcing herself not to glance away. It was clearly going to be one of those days...

For Lily, no words he had ever said aloud could match the eloquence of his eyes. Now she was spellbound, the sensation of falling into him strong; strong, and lovely. She could not express the delight she felt, and did not resist her desire to lean forward and kiss her lover’s cheek.

Lily sensed the surge of love rising up within her husband, his reaction to her simplest of kisses. Dearest Frodo, she pondered. She had not been able to give herself to him for three days, and it was wearing on them both, but she felt it more strongly within him, a desire even sweeter than her own, if that was possible. Then she almost laughed, realizing her inability, at least, in this moment, to match the tenderness and longing within her beloved. She was still suffering somewhat from the whims of her own body, her monthly course still dampening her spirits; but it would not be much longer, and she would be able once again to meet his desire with her own... I must stop thinking on it, she lamented.

Lily giggled, and Frodo joined her. Whatever her secret was, she was not telling him, and he accepted it. She would tell him later... whenever and wherever did not matter. They had all their lives before them...

“You’re not going to tell me what you’re thinking, I can see,” he laughed. “Please, do tell me as soon as you may. It makes my heart hurt--” at this he smiled broadly, and it seemed to light up the entire clearing where they stood “--in the strangest fashion, not to know your every thought.”

A light blush crept across Lily’s cheeks, followed by a pleased smile.

“Is that a mischievous glint I see in your eyes, my sweet?” Frodo grinned.

Lily lowered her eyes and concentrated on what she was doing.

Earlier in the day they had come across a blackberry patch; now she was sprinkling a light dusting of sugar on the berries they had gathered, for their dinner afters.

She glanced at Frodo. “Would you like to hear another story from when I was only a wee lass, dear heart?”

“Yes! Please do tell! I so love your stories!”

His eyes lit up even more, if such a thing were possible, and it took her breath way.

“Lily, what is the matter?”

“Nothing at all, beloved. Everything is fine, indeed... Where shall I start? Let me see...”

Frodo picked up the bowl of sugared blackberries. “Would you like to sit near the river, to tell me your story?”

“Yes, I’d like that. I’ll fetch the blanket.”

They made their way toward the riverbank in silence, the touch of their interlaced fingers all that was necessary for happiness in the time it took to reach the perfect place.

The Sun was bright but not too hot, only invitingly warm as it sank toward the horizon.

Frodo set the bowl aside and together they spread the red blanket for themselves in a spot not shaded by the surrounding boxwood and sycamores. He helped her to sit, then joined her, but he sat facing her, rather than the tiny rapids of the fast-flowing Hoarwell. Its own water-music was the only sound they heard but for their own breathing.

“I think it’s hopeless, Lily.” Frodo wore a mischievous grin, but it was lazy, as well.

“What’s hopeless?” she returned. It could not be anything serious, not with that amused expression on his face. The corner of her mouth turned upward as she waited.

Lily watched intently as he cradled her left hand in his right and kissed it gently, then held it against his breast, his smile fading as he met her eyes.

“I didn’t want to let go of your hand... not even to spread the blanket, just now. I’m hopeless... mayhap helpless is a better word. I love you so much...”

Lily sensed the strength of Frodo’s longing, as well as his restraint.

He leaned close, touching her mouth with his free hand, feeling the softness there.

“Please, Lily, may I kiss you, only a kiss...”

It was not a question. She nodded once, smiling softly. His dark lashes lowered as his beautiful mouth descended towards hers, and when their lips met she felt her breath stop.

“Oh...Frodo,” she began, as soon as he drew back. “That was -- more than wonderful. May I have another, dearest love?”

He smiled and kissed her once more, lingeringly, then pulled away, his eyes unable to leave hers. “I -- ”

“It’s all right. You needn’t say it.” She knew him well enough to recognize he was about to apologize for his desire, something she never wanted him to regret. A reassuring smiled touched her lips as she reached out to brush a curl off to one side of his brow. Even for this -- even at this slight touch, he closed his eyes...

“I love you, my dearest husband. Should we feed each other blackberries, or mayhap it best we simply eat them?” The sparkle in her eyes was only half jesting.

“I think we best not feed each other... you’re so lovely, and that kiss felt so very good... no.” He smiled suddenly. “I think feeding each other would be -- too difficult, for today...”

Frodo turned back to fetch their bowl, then settled resolutely to face the River Hoarwell, as Lily did; he placed the bowl in the small space between them. He selected an especially large blackberry and nearly offered it to his wife before remembering, at the last moment, their decision not to feed each other. He caught the warmth of her understanding smile and blushed.

Lily stifled a giggle. “I remember picking blackberries with Mum when I was ten or eleven, one summer day,” she began without preamble.

“Yes, tell me...”

“She was showing me how not to scratch my hands on the thorns... and our blackberry patch at Deephallow seemed especially thorny that year. We kept it small, since you couldn’t walk between the bushes, unlike the raspberry patch. Their thorns aren’t nearly as sharp... well, you know that... goodness, I’m sure I don’t know why I can’t remember the most obvious of things.... well, I do know...”

Frodo grinned at her, but said nothing; he was enjoying it all too much. She could talk about blackberries and raspberries and anything else she cared to, and he knew he would be happy. He waited for her to choose a blackberry or two of her own from the bowl, before reaching for another; they were good -- very good...

His appetite had improved slowly but surely since they wed, and more these last few days. In fact, he was hungry, truly hungry, for the first time since...

“...since before the Quest,” he answered himself. It was another sort of healing. It had happened so gradually he missed noticing it come on.

“I’m hungry. Truly hungry. I’m not just saying it to please you, sweet. There’s hope for me yet, Lily!” He laughed, and ate three blackberries at one time.

Lily was grateful her stories offered a way for her husband to see himself, if only for a moment, as a simple hobbit, unfettered by the past. She had noticed the steady improvement of his appetite. Then she frowned slightly, bemused. “Soon you’ll have a stomach ache...” she giggled, “unless you slow down, dear heart.”

“No, never... I never do; it’s a gift from my da,” he divulged. “Mum was the one who had a delicate constitution. She ate like a sparrow... Da fretted over her. But she seemed healthy enough...”

She watched his face fall, and he spoke so low she nearly missed his words, with the water babbling, loud as it was...

“I’m sorry,” he murmured, and brightened as her hand briefly covered his. “I was gone for a bit... now you were picking blackberries with your beautiful mum, and she was showing you how to avoid being scratched by the thorns...”

“Yes, and we both took such care! I didn’t get a single scratch, and Mum was so proud and delighted and declared I was better at picking berries than her... I remember sitting down on the ground, to rest for a bit; our backs were stiff from bending over all morning. Mum saw the bee on the ground, next to my hand, but it was too late. Next thing I knew that bee had gone off and stung me. I shrieked, and then I cried. It hurt so much worse than I thought it would. I still don’t like to think on it for too very long for I can almost feel it again.”

Frodo stared at their empty bowl, then raised his eyes to meet hers. “You reacted badly to it? It healed well, I take it?”

“Yes, on both counts. Mum tried to help me. Will and Daisy heard me scream and came running. I fainted, of course, and Will carried me inside. Da was over at Willowbottom building a house, so he wasn’t there that day. They put me to bed. Mum even sent for the healer. There was quite a bit of fuss, I can tell you...”

“You got the hives, then? It was difficult to breathe?” Frodo queried with interest.

“Hives, yes, but the only breathing difficulty was my usual trouble with fainting. How did you know?”

“It happened to Fatty once, when I shared Bag End with Bilbo. It nearly scared the wits right out of me. Bilbo was on a walking trip while Merry, Pip, and Fatty came to visit. I called for the Gaffer, and half the Gamgee family came running. I hadn’t realized how frantic I sounded. Fatty could hardly breathe. Samwise ran off for Mrs. Longburrow, and she had some poultices which helped him breathe again. I tell you, Lily, for a few minutes there I thought I’d lost him...”

Lily watched Frodo’s expression, as he gazed at the little rapids, remembering.

“I felt so desperate. There was nothing I could do but wish, and hope, and cry, even. It’s odd we never knew about Ilúvatar before. I want to ask Gandalf about that, again... why the hobbits weren’t told about Him.”

He turned back to her. “So they sent for the healer for you, it was that bad?”

“You needn’t worry, Frodo. It was not nearly as bad as Fatty’s... Dearest! You should see the look on your face! I do believe your love alone would revive me, no matter what ills may come my way...”

She wanted to kiss the worry from his brow, but settled for touching him, smoothing the furrows there as best she could.

“Frodo? You’re not going to fret about this, are you?”

“No... yes. No... I’ll endeavor not to worry, but... I’ll ask Elrond about it when we arrive at Rivendell. The Elves are masters of healing. I want to know what to have in the smial, on hand, in case Mrs. Longburrow isn’t about...”

“Mayhap athelas would suffice? You didn’t have any for Fatty, when he was ill, did you?”

“No, no. We didn’t learn about athelas till we met Strider... Aragorn.”

“Then mayhap athelas would do.” She smiled, and he finally returned it.

“I’ll still ask Elrond when we arrive.”

“Dear Frodo, sometimes I think you enjoy worrying over me!”

“I wouldn’t call it ‘enjoyable,’ Lily-sweet!” he denied, a shade of genuine protest hidden within the humour she heard in his speech. “But yes, I do worry over you... I love having someone so close to worry over. Does that sound odd?”

“No,” she smiled with a sigh, and kissed his cheek. “No, it doesn’t sound odd at all.”

---------

By the time Frodo finished collecting the ponies, checking them over, and tethering them closer to camp, it was time for supper. Lily had it ready and waiting for him.

Fireflies began to wink in the deepening dusk, as the couple was finishing their supper.

“You can’t get enough of them, can you, dear?”

Frodo was completely spellbound, watching them, and Lily knew it. Even his answer gave it away.

“Enough? Oh, yes, I’ve had enough, thank you... it was delicious. Thank you...” He had not taken his eyes off the fireflies.

At this Lily burst out laughing, setting her plate down on the ground near the campfire.

Finally, he looked at her. “What is it?” He pretended to be indignant. “You’re laughing at me!”

“Oh -- yes, I am,” she laughed, and gradually got her breath back. “Oh, Frodo! You do love those fireflies!”

He was with her again, and smiling broadly. “Almost as much as I love you, but not quite. Tell me, would you like to stay here another day, or move on tomorrow?”

“I think I’m ready to move on.” Another giggle escaped her.

“We’ll be in the Trollshaws tomorrow. Uncle Bilbo had quite the adventure there. He had a run-in with some trolls.”

Lily giggled again, harder, trying not to let it carry her away. She was happy, but very tired. “‘And the Sun turned them all to stone!’ Oh, Frodo, will we get to see them?”

Frodo was genuinely amazed. “Lily! How do you know that story?”

“I heard it at the grand birthday party, or I should say overheard it. Remember I was seventeen then, and so of course couldn’t actually sit with the other children, but I couldn’t resist hanging about and listening in.” Her tone changed as she realized what he was saying. “So it’s true, then -- Frodo, it’s really true?” Her voice was full of wonder.

“Yes, it’s true. If you like, we could camp there tomorrow night.”

“Oh, could we?”

“Yes.” Frodo pushed aside his own memories of the place.

Later, as they settled into sleep, Lily smiled to herself. She was tired tonight, but it was the sort of tiredness that bade well for a good night’s sleep, and she knew she would be able to give herself to him again soon. She thought about telling him, but decided against it. She did not want to tease him, not in that way. She glanced back over her shoulder at her husband and smiled.

“Frodo, tell me more of Eärendil.”

Frodo laughed. He tightened his hold on her and resumed his telling of the story where he’d left off, two nights before.

---------

Lily woke struggling to breathe.

“Frodo. Frodo? What’s wrong?” She shifted, endeavoring to ease her lover’s tight embrace, then she listened carefully to his mumbling.

Gradually, Lily heard his words more clearly; he was calling for his parents. It seems this journey is dredging up more than just memories of the Quest, she sighed. The river must be reminding you of another loss. She tightened her hold.

“Frodo. Frodo. Shhh... beloved.” With her free hand she caressed his face and felt the wetness of tears on his cheeks. Her own concern grew as he did not seem to be settling. “Wake up, beloved. You’re dreaming. Wake up.”

“Mum!” Frodo woke with a start, sitting up abruptly and glancing around frantically in the dark.

“Frodo-love...”

“Mum?” Frodo’s voice was plaintive and full of tears.

“Frodo, it’s me, Lily.”

“Lily? Lily... my Lily...”

“Yes, your Lily, no one else’s.”

“Lily,” he breathed.

They found each other easily in the dark. Lily gently pressed her husband’s head against her shoulder and rocked him.

“I’m sorry, Lily-sweet.” His voice was lower now. “I woke you.”

“No matter.”

“But you’re already not feeling your best.”

“Frodo, what you were dreaming? Do you remember?”

He nestled closer. “My parents. I was begging them not to go down by the river, but they didn’t hear me -- they only smiled and waved...”

“I didn’t know you tried to stop them.”

“In truth, I didn’t. It was an ordinary evening, nothing special, nothing to distinguish it from the rest. They kissed me goodnight, out of sight of the other children so as not to embarrass me, and told me they loved me, just like every night. But they were not there, come morning...”

“But your dream... some part of you still wishes things could have been different... that you could have done something to change what happened...”

“Yes. I know it is foolish to wish such a thing for nothing past can be changed now, but from time to time...”

“You’ve had this dream before?”

“Yes, though it has been a long time since last I dreamt it.”

“I’m sorry, Frodo-love.”

“Whatever for, sweet?”

“This journey is stirring up so many memories...”

“For both of us...”

“Yes.”

Frodo sighed. “We’ll see each other through...”

“Oh, Frodo. I love you so much.”

“I love you, sweet Lily, more than I can ever express.”

They held each other quietly for a time, gradually breathing together, relaxing, and settling, until they gently fell into sleep.