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Sacrament

by CRB and Ladyhawk Baggins

23 July 1420sr

Lily stirred and rubbed her cheek against Frodo’s breast. He smelled wonderful, and she breathed in deeply of him. This must be a dream; it could not possibly be real. She was awakening, and he was here, and he loved her...

She felt his hands gently caress her back, and the warmth of them made her want to stay where she was, forever... warm, his hands, and strong, and gentle...

She heard no rain. With her eyes tightly shut, she murmured, “I do so hope it isn’t raining today...”

Frodo chuckled deep in his chest, a rich sound which she felt against her cheek. She felt him kiss her hair, and heard his smile. “You haven’t opened your eyes to see...”

“I’m afraid to look.”

“No need, beloved; I’ll tell you.” He whispered close to her ear, his breath warming her, as his hands had moments before. “It’s a glorious morning.”

Lily raised herself up and blinked at the sunlight streaming through the cave’s entrance. She smiled. “Never would I have believed birdsongs could bring so much joy. They sound so happy. Happier than I’ve ever heard them.”

Frodo met the sparkle in her eyes. “Dear Lily... I think I know why they sound so much happier. You are in love. And so am I.”

He kissed her mouth once, lightly, and then he smiled at her; her soul was warmed. She nestled close to him once more and sighed.

“I could die happy, here in your arms,” she murmured.

Frodo felt her contentment, his love for her rising within his breast. He smiled as he countered gently, “Please don’t do that, my love. I couldn’t live without you. But you know that already, I’m sure?”

Lily giggled softly. “Yes, I know it. I shan’t die, dearest Frodo, not for ages and ages, I promise.” She sighed again, lacing the fingers of her left hand into his right. “How long have you been waiting for me to awaken, beloved?”

“Not long...”

Lily knew her husband had probably been awake for quite some time, but would never tell her. She also knew just how uncomfortable the stone floor truly was, and a wave of gratitude swept over her.

“Frodo-love,” her voice caught. She steadied herself with one hand on the blanket beneath them and gazed into his eyes, a deeper blue in the obscured light of the cave. “How grateful I am for you, for being so much more than I ever hoped or dreamed... You are ever considerate of my wants and my needs -- to willingly endure the discomfort of this floor, to provide your own self as a pillow for me...”

She was so concerned; so in earnest. Frodo could not bring himself to tell her that no matter how hard the floor was -- and it was -- serving as her pillow was most pleasurable. He decided to say nothing, and was glad, for her eyes were glistening now.

A tear slipped down her cheek, and her husband kissed it away, then she whispered brokenly, “Never -- I shall never be able to thank Ilúvatar enough for bringing you home to me, my love...”

She watched Frodo’s own eyes fill with tears, but he was smiling, as well.

“Dearest husband, might I suggest a bit of athelas this morning.” She laid her fingers on his lips. “No argument. I know you must ache all over...”

Before he could answer, she kissed him. “Beloved Frodo, I don’t even need my gift of sight to discern the truth. I’ve enjoyed you as my pillow, and yet I’m still stiff and sore; I can’t imagine how you must be feeling...” Lily paused.

“...and I am aware you have known much worse...” she shuddered, and offered a lingering caress, luxuriating in the response of his warm lips upon hers. She broke it, then held her palm to his cheek. “How I wish I could wipe away those memories for you...”

Frodo sighed. “Beloved Lily, though the memories are indeed very strong... starkly vivid, at times... my memories of you seem to -- soften the edges...”

He shook himself slightly, and smiled. He was sore, but it was a trifle. Far outweighing any pain he felt was the joy of having her so near, and with each passing moment he wanted her more. This was not the place nor the time, no matter how compelling her kisses were, no matter how sweet and how soft she was, how utterly beautiful...

As quickly as he could, he put all such thoughts away. Their destination was near enough, now. He could wait.

“Are you ready to resume our travel to Rivendell, Lily-sweet?”

“Yes.”

---------

For breakfast they gathered blackberries not far from the cave, discovered when Frodo went foraging after their morning bath of athelas-water. As they ate their fill of the berries, Frodo recalled a stand of cherry trees not more than an hour distant, just off the main road, but before the Ford. It was fall when the hobbits and Gandalf had passed here last, on their way home, but now the trees would be bearing fruit. Cherries would suit well for elevensies, and Frodo knew it would be none too soon for Lily. She would truly be in need of more sustenance by then. He breathed thanks to Ilúvatar. It would be all right; Rivendell was near.

After their meal, Frodo smiled surreptitiously as he watched Lily dress in her best green skirt and vest, saved for this particular day of travel. “You’re quite lovely, Lily-sweet.” He hid the grin he felt inside at the concerned face she turned to him.

“I want to look my best.” She glanced at Frodo, then smiled self-consciously. “I’m fussing, aren’t I?”

Her husband nodded, his face amused.

“Are all Elves like Legolas?” she wondered aloud.

Frodo considered his answer. “Yes and no.”

Lily giggled. “Sometimes methinks you are a bit too much like the Elves. Gandalf said they call you Elf-friend, because you have an air about you like them, and also because you’ve troubled yourself to learn their language.”

“As have you, beloved.”

“Only enough to be able to give a proper greeting.”

“Being able to converse easily in their language is pleasant, but not what matters most. That you’ve endeavored to learn how to greet them properly speaks well of you.” He studied her face. “I am so proud of you...

“You’re lovely when you blush,” he grinned, knowing she was pleased. “Let’s be on our way, Lily-sweet. I want to enter the valley in sunlight. It’s quite a sight to behold, and I don’t want you to miss it.”

Lily nodded eagerly and accepted his help onto Merry, then they shared their morning kiss and a prayer of gratitude that the rain had passed.

---------

Elevensies was well over, and the Sun nearly straight overhead, when Frodo slowed the ponies. Lily could hear the rushing of water, passing over stone. It must be the Ford...

“Frodo, would it be all right if we walked the ponies awhile?”

At first, she was uncertain if he heard her; then he reined Strider in. Merry and Pippin halted as well.

Deliberately, Frodo turned his gaze from the path ahead and focused on Lily. He blinked a few times, as though endeavoring to clear his sight. He gave a single nod. After he dismounted, he helped Lily down, then stared down the road again towards the river.

Lily slipped her hand into his, and searched his face.

Several moments passed; then Frodo looked into her eyes. Carefully, he laced their fingers, and tightened his grip on her hand.

Lily smiled for him and nodded.

The couple turned together and began walking, leading their ponies, who followed eagerly, snorting and tossing their heads as the fresh scent of the river reached their nostrils.

---------

A bend in the road revealed the Ford before them.

Frodo slowed and stopped at the water’s edge. “It’s quite shallow,” he stated matter-of-factly.

Lily felt the memories rushing up within her husband, and his effort to push away the feelings that came with them. She stepped closer to him.

He glanced over his shoulder at the road behind them. “The Nine caught up to us, a ways back.” Frodo met his wife’s eyes, noting the concern he found there. Then with seeming reluctance he looked to the Ford once more, staring at nothing.

“Glorfindel commanded Asfaloth away, with me clinging to his mane -- two of the Nine endeavored to cut us off, but Asfaloth offered a final burst of speed -- on wings, it seemed, he leapt past them and crossed the Ford... but then he stopped, on the other side... he turned, as though daring the Nine to follow him...

“It gave me courage. It was the only time I -- I conversed with them... I tried to defy them -- as Asfaloth did... that’s when my sword, from the Barrows, was broken...

“They started to cross, to come for me... and the water swept down... and it appeared... it appeared...”

“...that there were white horses and riders, in the water?” Lily finished.

“Yes. Lily, the horses, of the Nine... some were lost, at the start, but a few had hung back, but then... then they lunged forward... as though they could no longer endure bearing their riders, and preferred death to serving the Nine... Though later, when I woke in Rivendell, Gandalf told me the truth of what happened. Glorfindel and the others had caught up to us and rushed at them with flaming brands. The creatures went mad.”

All unaware, Lily began to stroke the whiteness of Merry’s neck. “Why would such noble animals as horses choose to serve the Nine?” she wondered aloud.

“Gandalf said they were bred for the Nine--” Frodo shuddered. “He said all manner of creatures chose to serve the Dark Lord.”

“And yet, other animals, like Asfaloth, despised and defied them.”

“Yes, and how I wanted to show the same courage! At the same time, I remember how much I wished to give in, to simply give up, because of the overwhelming despair...” He faltered, his voice drifting off.

“I remember,” Lily murmured.

Frodo glanced at her sharply, then softened. “How could I ever forget how much you have endured for me? I’m so sor--”

Lily covered his lips with her fingers. “I chose to share your burden.”

Frodo released Strider’s reins, gently taking hold of his wife’s shoulders. He gazed into the calm of her hazel-blue eyes. “Have I told you what a comfort you are to me? How you are an unvarying reminder that this is a journey of pleasure, and of joy, not a flight from one dark danger into another? I have told you I know I am safe with you, but you are so much more. You are indeed an anchor for me, my beloved Lily. And I believe you always will be, not just for the remainder of this journey, but in all the days to come, no matter what the future holds for us...”

Lily reached up and softly brushed his lips with her own, a suggestion of a kiss, and felt every last emotion within her husband... regret, joy, hope, love -- for her; melancholy.

“My dearest love,” she soothed. “I ask no more than to be able to share my life with you always.”

Frodo smiled through his tears. “Surely Ilúvatar cares for us... you are here, with me. It is enough... nay, it is more than enough.”

They stood for several moments in a warm embrace, listening to the shallow rapids, and letting the river-breeze play over them, cooling them in its mist.

“Come, Lily-sweet, our guide to Rivendell awaits.” His voice sounded wistful as he pulled back from her arms.

Lily’s eyes widened. “We are being met?”

“All visitors to Rivendell are, my sweet.”

“Where?”

“Just the other side of the Ford, I imagine. They might have met us sooner, if they thought it prudent.”

Lily glanced at the Ford. “But they felt it important we have this time alone?”

“It’s likely. They are remarkably aware... far more than any other race in Middle-earth.”

Suddenly she blushed. “Would they have been watching us?”

“I think not. They’re an unobtrusive people, not given to meddling in the affairs of others.”

Lily smoothed her skirts self-consciously.

Frodo sighed and smiled. “You are so beautiful.”

Lily giggled and swiftly kissed her husband on the cheek. Then he helped her up onto Merry, and he remounted Strider, catching up Pippin’s lead rope.

The ponies splashed unconcernedly across the Ford, easily reaching the other side, and headed up the embankment.

Lily paused and glanced back, suddenly seeing in her mind’s eye her defiant husband on a white elf-horse, facing down nine Black Riders. Fear and pride swelled within her. The image vanished as quickly as it had come, leaving her breathless.

“Sweet?”

“I am coming, Frodo-love.”

She turned her gaze to her husband and smiled.

They continued on for several yards when the ponies’ ears pricked forward, and they halted as one.

A large white horse appeared on the path before them, a fair Elf with golden hair astride the animal.

Frodo smiled broadly, his heart full. It took him a moment to find his voice. He bowed slightly from his waist. “Lily, this is Glorfindel himself, and Asfaloth. Mae govannen, friend Glorfindel! Well met! May I present my wife, Lily, the light of my life.”

Lily’s breath caught in her throat. She bowed her head as the horse and rider approached and stopped in front of them. “My lord, thank you, for all you did for my husband...”

The Elf smiled warmly. “It was but a small thing, my lady. I am honoured to meet you.” He bowed his head slightly, placing his hand on his heart.

Lily had a sudden memory of Aragorn and Legolas, greeting her at Bag End, early in the morning, the day before her wedding to Frodo.

Frodo nudged his mount forward and stroked the nose of the great steed, as Strider nuzzled the horse’s neck. “So, you remember Asfaloth from our last visit, do you, Strider?”

The pony whickered in greeting.

Glorfindel laughed. “Now come, Frodo Baggins, and bring your lovely lady. All Rivendell eagerly awaits you.”

Frodo laughed as Lily’s eyes grew wider. “Come, Lily-sweet. It’s a little ways yet.”

They rode mostly in silence as Lily endeavored to take in the sights, sounds, smells, and feel of the land about her, reveling in the peace which surrounded them.

They stopped once to partake of delicious fare the Elf had carried to them, as if he knew they would need it. No, thought Lily, Glorfindel seemed to know that she would need it.

Frodo sensed her question, and explained the mystery. “I’m certain Gandalf has told Lord Elrond everything -- all we might require. He watches over us, Lily. Like a guardian, for that is what he is. He cares for us, a living reminder of Ilúvatar in our midst. It took me a very long time to understand it. Years, in fact. Am I right, friend Glorfindel? Was it Gandalf?”

Glorfindel nodded once, and exchanged a quiet smile with Frodo at the awe in Lily’s eyes.

---------

Afternoon was drawing to a close as Glorfindel and Asfaloth finally headed down into the valley.

Frodo followed and eased Strider to a halt, then turned in his saddle to watch Lily crest the rise. He wanted to see her face, her reaction, to her first sight of Rivendell in the light of the setting Sun. He was not disappointed.

Lily gasped and leaned forward in her saddle, her face full of wonder at the beauty spread out before them. “It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen, or imagined!” she breathed.

Frodo grinned and waited for her, relishing her enjoyment. “Take all the time you want, beloved. I have known the same wonder at this place. And Glorfindel understands. He’s moved ahead, but he will wait for us.”

He fell silent, studying her expression, then turned to take in the view fully, as she was doing.

Frodo was stunned by the sudden tumult of emotions vying for his attention as he gazed at the splendour of this matchless place. He had expected to feel wonder, and joy, and he did. He was not prepared -- and at this, he felt surprise -- for the grief which was now at war with the joy in his heart.

Here in Rivendell he had truly taken It for his own. What had he been thinking? Had he ever had a choice? Gandalf said -- yes, there was free choice, always, at every moment. Why had he chosen a path which he knew would only bring him sorrow? But I had to take It... no one else would go. Was it then a choice? If no one else would take It, why did that mean I had to take It? Could I not have let It lay there?

No, I could not allow the Shire to be destroyed, he concluded, for the thousandth time. I could not allow it.

“I could not...”

As her husband’s voice broke the deep stillness, Lily dragged her gaze from the valley before her to see the stricken expression of his face. She edged Merry next to Strider, until her knee was touching Frodo’s. He did not seem to feel it. How far away he was!

She spoke softly. “Frodo?”

He came to himself suddenly, taking in deep breaths of the fresh air of Rivendell in high summer. He turned to her slowly, then closed his eyes for a moment.

When he opened them again, he drank in the sight of his wife. She was his new life. The choice he made, in that other life before her, was in the past. She was here, now. She was his future. She was here...

He could not stay his hand from reaching across the short space to touch her cheek. He realized his hand was trembling. Her eyes closed at his caress, and the sight of it made him love her more. Then her beautiful eyes opened, and he was nearly overcome.

“Lily! Oh, Lily! -- I am so glad you’re here with me. So glad... I can’t begin to express what I feel at this moment. If I began to tell it all, it would be nightfall before I was through. I love you so much! So much...”

“I love you, my dearest Frodo. Are you ready to move forward?”

He withdrew his hand from her face with an effort. “Yes, beloved... I am ready to move forward, with you...”

Sudden realization dawned in Frodo’s eyes. “In all things,” he whispered.

“Yes,” she repeated, her voice still soft. “In all things, beloved.”

Words escaped him completely, and he could only kiss her hand. Then Frodo looked forward, facing the valley as it turned all to gold in the Sun. He urged Strider into a walk, and Lily followed on Merry. Pippin forged ahead with a will, sensing that rest and oats and sweet hay were ahead.

---------

As they neared Rivendell, Lily continued glancing about, endeavoring to take everything in. “It’s so different from the Shire, and Bree... and you said Lothlórien isn’t like Rivendell at all, and neither is Minas Tirith, nor Edoras... It’s so difficult to imagine.”

Frodo smiled. “I suppose it is. I forget sometimes how much I have seen...”

The ponies walked a little faster, knowing the journey would soon be over.

Lily craned her neck to see Elves along an upper walkway, above a long bridge crossing a rushing river. Everything before her eyes was beautiful -- even the bridge was beautiful--! It was nothing like the simple stone bridges of the Shire. She looked up again at the Elves, and though they did not seem to stare, she could not help but feel they were all there to see their arrival. It was a feeling she had never known before; nothing else in her life had prepared her for such a welcome. It was lovely, but very daunting. She was glad Frodo would be at her side; she hoped it would be at every moment. And Uncle Bilbo! She prayed he would approve of her... She endeavored to hide her nervousness, for Frodo’s sake. Being worried would not help anything; so she repeated to herself.

Side by side, Frodo and Lily rode into the courtyard. Their ponies’ bridles were quickly grasped by Elves, and then Frodo was helping her down.

Elrond watched their arrival with interest, but he was unwilling to allow anyone to see his own nervousness. He struggled not to catch his breath at the sight of the couple riding in. So, Frodo Baggins of the Shire, this is how you looked before the burden was placed upon you...

Walking beside Frodo, Lily watched one dark-haired Elf swiftly descended the steps to meet them.

Several dozen Elves, both male and female, all dressed in the most splendid clothing Lily had ever seen, stood in a group a short distance away. Their hands were folded in front of them as they looked on in respectful silence, with the breeze softly rustling the leaves in the trees all about them. They seemed... at one with their surroundings, Lily observed.

She endeavored not to stare. They were so tall! -- regal, Lily reflected, with an otherworldly beauty, like that of her husband. She smiled inwardly. None of them, as lovely as they were, were as beautiful as Frodo.

As the Master of Rivendell approached -- for his bearing told Lily this was indeed Lord Elrond -- she noted an unaffected grace in every step he took; there were no wasted movements. He was swift and yet fluid, all at once; she sensed great strength within him, and tremendous age, and, inexplicably, youthfulness. He possessed a great intelligence, as well, and a deep humility, as if he had seen much; mayhap too much. But more than anything else she sensed a sad weariness. His outward manner did not convey this, but because of her gift she saw it nonetheless.

Elrond bowed. “It is a great honour to welcome the Ring-bearer and his consort to Rivendell.”

Even his voice was beautiful, measured, and melodic... Lily wondered if it was her imagination, but Frodo seemed to cringe ever so slightly at the words. Then she noted the short debate on his face and waited, wondering what it was about.

Without a hint of reproach, Frodo replied solemnly, “Thank you, Lord Elrond. It is a great pleasure to be in Rivendell again... But if it’s all the same to you, it would be a far greater honour to be known only as Lily’s husband.”

Lily caught her breath and blushed; then to her surprise Frodo deferred first to herself in the introductions, rather than to Elrond.

“Lily, may I present Lord Elrond, Master and Healer of Rivendell. Lord Elrond, my wife, Lily Baggins.”

She curtsied deeply and spoke softly but clearly. “Elen síla lúmenn’ omentielvo.”

Lord Elrond raised his brows in surprised approval, and bowed in turn. “Well spoken. We have heard of the fair Mistress Baggins and have looked forward to her arrival. The honour is mine.”

“Oh!” The word was out of Lily’s mouth before she could stop it.

Frodo and Elrond stopped short; Elrond had been about to speak, but instead he smiled, waiting for Lily to continue.

“What is it, dearest?” Frodo inquired softly.

Elrond watched them both intently. Frodo’s love for his bride was rich indeed. The Light within him shone stronger than ever; the Elf-lord was pleased.

Lily was clearly at a loss. “I -- oh, please forgive me, I -- please excuse me, Lord Elrond...” She curtsied deeply again, and spoke so softly to Frodo that Elrond could only catch every other word, even with his Elven hearing.

He saw Frodo smile warmly. “Dearest Lily, you may ask Lord Elrond yourself. He shan’t take offense.”

Frodo turned to Elrond. “I have told her the story of Eärendil, my lord, not once, but many times, and she is greatly enamoured of it. She begs your forgiveness for speaking only to me, just now, but she has a question for you...”

The hint of a glowing smile crossed Elrond’s grave face. He had heard parts of Lily’s words to Frodo, who now turned back to his wife, coaxing her gently.

“Go on, dearest. It’s quite all right. Ask him.” Then he placed one hand on her back, and the other on her forearm.

Lily blushed crimson. She forced herself to meet Elrond’s eyes, looking up, and up... he was so tall, she nearly lost her nerve again. But the kindness in his eyes gave her courage. She took a steadying breath.

“Frodo -- my Frodo told me you are -- Eärendil’s son? Eärendil, who is the loveliest star in the sky? He is your father?”

Before he could reply, Lily went on, one tear escaping down her cheek. “I -- I wished on that star, for such a very long time, my lord. I could not pray, because I did not know of the Creator, not until Frodo returned from the Quest and told me of Him... but I wished on that star, hoping for Frodo to return. And he did. He returned, alive, and to me... Eärendil is -- truly your father... it must be true, for Frodo would not lie to me.”

Elrond smiled broadly. She was certainly full of curiosity. The Ring-bearer had chosen well. No, he corrected himself, Ilúvatar had orchestrated this. Gandalf had told him far too little of this singular lass. He wished to know more. There would be time enough.

The Master of Rivendell bowed slightly and placed his right hand over his heart. “You honour me with your curiosity, Mistress Baggins. Your husband spoke truly. Eärendil is my father. I am pleased you care for the story so. Ilúvatar knows the innermost longings of our hearts, but is nevertheless pleased when His beloved children ask blessings of Him, no matter how they ask, and even more so when the asking is on behalf of the wellbeing of another. And I am more than pleased the Creator brought the two of you together, for indeed it is clear you were meant to be so.”

His eyes twinkled, and yet Lily saw, or felt, a deeper sadness, as for a lost love. If she could dredge up the courage, mayhap she might ask him at another time of this sadness. She wished she could help him. Then she berated herself for her presumption. How could she possibly help an Elf lord? She gathered her scattered thoughts, and dropped into another curtsey, her eyes averted.

“Thank you, Lord Elrond. I confess I am at a loss for words; I am in awe... thank you...”

“You are most welcome, Lily. If I may call you Lily--? Excellent. Thank you.”

Elrond turned his attention to Frodo, and set to answering the hobbit’s unspoken questions. “Bilbo begs your forgiveness; he has already retired but shall see you at breakfast. And Gandalf was required elsewhere for some few days, but should return shortly.”

As Elrond spoke, Frodo reached for Lily’s hand, carefully folding his fingers over hers.

“Nonsense!” came a frail, gruff voice, and then Bilbo approached from behind Lord Elrond. “I just nodded off, is all. Think I’d miss the arrival of my nephew and his pretty little bride, did you?”

“Bilbo!”

Lily’s heart tightened at the joy she heard in Frodo’s voice. She hung back, allowing Frodo to greet Bilbo, wrapping his arms around the old hobbit.

“It’s wonderful to see you, Bilbo!”

“And you, my lad! Now, where is she? Don’t keep me waiting now, I’m not getting any younger!”

The pair laughed, and Frodo turned back toward Lily, allowing Bilbo to lean on him as he hobbled forward on unsteady feet.

“Uncle Bilbo, may I introduce my dearest wife, Lily Baggins, of the Burrows in Deephallow.”

Lily curtsied deeply, then looked up at the old hobbit and smiled. “It’s a pleasure to finally meet you, Uncle Bilbo.”

Bilbo took both her hands in his, and Lily quickly kissed him on each cheek. He chuckled. “Believe me, my dear, the pleasure is entirely mine. My eyesight may not be what it used to be, but it’s easy enough to see why my nephew fancies you!”

The couple blushed, and Lily glanced away. “Thank you.”

The old hobbit continued. “Here we are keeping you two standing about in the entryway, so to speak, like strangers! What are you thinking, Elrond? They need to get settled in their room, and ready for dinner! See to it, will you? I’ll see the two of you at dinner, if I don’t fall asleep first!” he laughed, and tottered off in the direction of his room.

Lily glanced surreptitiously at the Elf and noticed that rather than being upset at the commanding speech of the old hobbit, he seemed amused. Then he waved his hand toward another Elf, a maiden, who stepped forward.

“Frodo, Lily, this is Felena. She will show you to your rooms. Should you need anything, ask it of her. Dinner shall be served in an hour. Until then.” Lord Elrond bowed, and Felena motioned for them to follow her.

Lily whispered to Frodo, “Dinner?”

“Yes, it’s supper to you and me; they eat only three times a day.”

Lily turned wide worried eyes to Frodo.

“It’s all right, my sweet, they know of our habit of eating seven meals a day, and provide for it.”

Frodo grinned at Lily’s sigh of relief.

Felena opened the door to a suite of rooms.

Lily was not sure how they got there. She remembered walking, but there was so much to see, all around them, and all of it beautiful. It was as if there was no ugliness to be found here, in anything. She wondered at this.

Now she gasped at the beauty of the rooms Felena showed them. “Frodo, everything is -- is, oh, lovely doesn’t begin to describe!... and everything’s hobbit size!”

She turned to Frodo. “Is this where you stayed before?”

“No, dearest, in fact, I don’t recognize these rooms at all.”

Felena realized some small explanation was needed. Though the Ring-bearer’s gaze was quite compelling, Felena found herself inexplicably drawn to his bride, and directed the comments to her. “Lord Elrond thought you would like to have rooms close to Bilbo but far enough away to afford privacy, so he had these arranged especially for you. Bilbo suggested we add a lock to the doors, and Mithrandir agreed.”

Lily’s eyes grew wider. “You don’t use locks?”

“Not usually, for they impede the openness we favour. I thought you might prefer the same, but Bilbo insisted. He admitted... now, how did he put it? ... he admitted ‘if Frodo were alone, I’d not change a thing, but with a hobbit-lass here as well, I am not near so certain, and I fear catching her unawares.’ Then Master Bilbo blushed, very brightly. It was a most unusual sight,” she smiled.

Lily giggled. “I like him more and more.”

She glanced around at the spacious sitting room that opened to another room with a large bed, and a balcony beyond. “And these rooms are for us?”

“Yes. I do hope they are to your liking.”

Frodo’s face reflected the gratitude he felt. “Please convey to Lord Elrond how much we appreciate his thoughtfulness. The arrangements exceed all our expectations.”

Then Frodo turned to Lily. “We best prepare for dinner. We’ll be expected to arrive on time.”

Lily looked down at her dress. Though she had been careful in choosing it for their arrival, she noted how rustic it was compared to the fine Elven clothing she had seen since they arrived.

Felena smiled and led them to their dressing rooms, one for each of them. All the rooms were connected by graceful archways draped in a silky material hung between pillars.

Lily turned first one way, then another, as yet refusing to release Frodo’s hand. At each end of the room, near dormant fireplaces, she saw gleaming silver tubs filled with steaming water.

The graceful Elf led Lily to the wardrobe, and opened the door. There, hung up to air out, were Lily’s own clothes, and two flowing velvet garments she did not recognize; but by the length of them, they were clearly meant for her.

Felena pulled one out, fashioned of soft sapphire blue, and held it up to Lily. “I think this would be a good choice for tonight. We shall have others prepared and ready soon. We wanted to be certain of the fit.”

Lily’s eyes found Frodo, who smiled and nodded his head in approval. She noticed that through everything he was perfectly at ease. She looked to the Elf again.

“Felena, I do not know how to thank you. These are beautiful. I really could not possibly need any more than these two.”

The Elf smiled. Such an unassuming nature this one has! she mused to herself. “It is a pleasure to sew for someone as lovely as you.”

Lily blushed and lowered her voice, “But I would not want you to go to so much work, when we shall only be here a short time.”

Felena moved her head closer to Lily’s. “You shall be taking your clothes home with you.”

Lily’s eyes grew wide again.

Felena smiled at Lily’s expression, wondering if the lass’s eyes might pop right out of her head.

The young mistress continued. “But, I would have nowhere to wear such fine things as these.”

Felena nodded in understanding. “Would you be more comfortable if the clothes fashioned were more in keeping with those found in the Shire, as the Ring-bearer’s are?”

The Elf noted in private delight that the hobbit blushed all the way down to her furry feet.

“It is no trouble at all. Consider it done.”

Frodo kissed the back of the hand that still clung to his, and Lily finally relinquished her hold, allowing herself to be taken completely into Felena’s care, while Frodo saw to his own preparations for dinner.

---------

Lord Elrond planned on seating Frodo on his left and Lily on his right. He wanted to become much better acquainted with her. Then Felena had disturbed him only moments before dinner, suggesting it might be better if the Ring-bearer and his new bride were not separated. She even suggested the young Mistress Baggins might be overwhelmed if required to make too much conversation. She was not entirely comfortable in large assemblies, Felena explained.

Although disappointed, Elrond followed her suggestion and seated the couple side by side, though he decided to seat Frodo at his right. He also decided that Felena should be seated on Lily’s other side. Bilbo was placed at his left, though the old hobbit dozed off and on throughout most of the meal.

As they ate, Frodo conversed with Lord Elrond with the ease of familiarity. Shortly after the meal began, Frodo noted Lily’s discomfort. He reminded himself of the grandeur of their surroundings; it was plain his wife hardly knew where to look first. Truly, there was so much to see and hear, he realized anew. Even the food, though delicious and plentiful, was unlike hobbit fare.

Frodo switched his fork to his left hand, reverting to how he had learned to eat after the loss of his finger, when he still could not use his wounded hand. Slipping his right hand under the table, he grasped Lily’s and held it, letting her hold his hand in her lap. Throughout the meal, he rubbed his thumb gently on the back of her hand.

Elrond was ever amazed by Frodo’s complete ease, as though he belonged wherever he went. He was also grateful he had followed Felena’s advice. The new bride was decidedly uncomfortable and seemed almost overcome by everything. She looked to Frodo often for assurance. Elrond was further surprised that this encouragement could be given in a simple glance.

The meal was long over, and still those at the table chatted, at times slipping into Elvish. Frodo was careful to translate for Lily, before reverting to the Common Tongue once more.

He glanced at Lily from time to time to assess how she fared. Bilbo retired, and the conversation continued, as the moon rose higher in the night sky.

Lily marveled at the open-air design of the dining hall, and wondered what the Elves did when rain came. Perhaps they could control the rain? She would have to ask Frodo later. Surely even they could not do such a thing...

Frodo felt a gentle squeeze on his hand. His eyes met his wife’s, and he could see the weariness there.

Without hesitation, Frodo hopped down from his chair and cushion, then helped Lily down. He turned to Lord Elrond. “Thank you, my lord, for an exquisite reception and dinner. I regret we must retire, as it has been a long journey.”

Lord Elrond stood. “Of course. Felena, please see them to their rooms and ensure they have everything they need.” He bowed slightly to the hobbits, once again covering his heart with his hand.

Esta nu elen lissi,” he offered softly.

Frodo bowed more deeply, in hobbit fashion, and Lily curtsied.

“Thank you, my lord Elrond,” he replied, as Lily watched in wonder. She saw the Elf lord smile, before they turned to go.

Felena led the way out of the feasting hall and opened the door to the couple’s rooms. She lifted a candle from an exquisitely carved sconce near the door and entered, lighting several candles about the room. “Is there anything else you desire?” she queried; her eyes held concern for the young mistress.

Lily smiled. “No, thank you. I’m certain we’ll be very comfortable. I am merely a little fatigued.”

Felena eyed the hobbit sharply. “Are you quite all right, Mistress Lily?”

“Oh, yes, truly, I am just a bit sleepy. Nothing a few winks won’t cure.”

“Thank you, Felena,” Frodo smiled. “Shall we see you in the morning?”

“Yes, I shall come to you then, though if you have need of me sooner, you may call me by pulling this rope at the head of your bed. I shall come at once.”

She indicated the slender strand of silver-grey rope suspended from the high, carved ceiling. Frodo thought of Sam, and of how much he missed him, but he hid his reaction, in order to pay attention to Felena.

“May the Valar bless your rest.” The Elf hesitated, then bowed and departed the room, closing the door behind her.

“Lily-sweet...” Frodo could no longer hide the worry he felt. “Are you truly all right?” He rested his hands lightly on her shoulders, searching her face.

She smiled, warmly. “I’m very well indeed, truly, my love... I’m tired out is all, from the journey.” A light blush crept across her face. “Is it a featherbed?”

“Softer than you can imagine,” he grinned.

“No stone floor tonight...” she murmured, and slipped her fingers into his curls.

He kissed her once, then gently drew her hands into his own, kissing the back of one, then the other. He gazed into his wife’s eyes. “Come, sweet, you are exhausted, indeed. I can see it.”

Frodo led Lily into her dressing room. He reached for one of her nightgowns, but she stayed his hand.

“Not one of those...”

Frodo laughed. “All right, you may wear mine...”

Lily grinned. “You mean mine. You did give it to me.”

“Only because I did not want to try and figure out the laces on yours,” Frodo chuckled.

“Too late, Frodo-love...” She glanced through her things, and drew her brows together. “Where is it?”

Frodo disappeared into his own dressing room. Moments later he reappeared with two nightshirts in hand, and passed her the one of light blue she claimed as hers since he dressed her in it... when was it? The twelfth? Eleven days ago now, when he confessed to her the truth of Weathertop...

He was startled to find the memory both sad and warm, then dragged himself back to the present. “It seems whoever unpacked our things thought this was in the wrong place.”

Lily giggled. “I’m thinking I may never get used to having someone else do so much for me, but I’ll not complain for now.”

They talked of the pleasure of seeing Bilbo as they dressed for bed.

Standing before the mirror, Lily found her brush and applied steady strokes to her hair, only to find Frodo behind her, easing the brush from her hand. He brushed gently until her hair shone, and when he was done she could barely keep her eyes open.

“Oh... mmm, thank you, dearest, that feels... so wonderful...”

Then she relieved her husband of the brush and laid it on the table. She drew his arms around her waist and leaned back against him.

Frodo pulled her closer and kissed her cheek.

“Frodo?”

“Mm?” With all his will, Frodo kept himself from kissing her ear-tip, her neck; her lovely hair. She needed sleep, more than anything else. She smelled so sweet, the honeysuckle...

“What was it Lord Elrond said to us as we left the table tonight?” Her eyes closed in weary bliss. She felt the warmth of his arms about her waist, the warmth of his breath upon her cheek.

Frodo cast back in his mind for the phrase Elrond had spoken.

Esta nu elen lissi,” he murmured softly. “It means, ‘Rest under the stars sweetly,’ or, ‘Rest sweetly under the stars...’”

“Oh, how lovely!... And we have already slept sweetly under the stars together... when I think of all the sweet nights we have shared! Oh, beloved Frodo,” Lily sighed. “How grateful I am for you.”

“My gift from Ilúvatar, Lily-sweet,” Frodo whispered in her ear. “I love you.”

“And I love you.” Lily relaxed further.

“Come, sweet, you’re falling asleep where you stand.”

They shared their evening prayer, then Frodo gently lifted his wife into his arms. She did not protest, but instead clung to his neck, and laid her head against his shoulder. He carried her into their bedroom, where the thick down coverlet was already turned down on the bed.

A heavy sigh escaped Lily. “You’re so warm, Frodo-love... I wish I weren’t so weary... I fear I’ll not truly appreciate such luxury.”

Frodo smiled. “No need to fear, beloved. We’ve plenty of time to take everything in.”

He laid Lily tenderly on the bed. He smiled slightly as he watched her struggling to fend off sleep, then he blew out the candles and slipped in next to her, drawing her into his arms. She nestled against him.

“Oh, Frodo...” Her voice began to fade. “Tomorrow night...”

“Yes,” Frodo whispered, and kissing her temple, he gathered her closer yet.