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Sacrament

by CRB and Ladyhawk Baggins

26 July 1420sr

Frodo awoke to the warmth of Lily’s arms still wrapped around him. He blinked, assessing the time by reading the angle and the colour of the sunlight streaming through the arches from the balcony. He remembered the night before. And Lily.

She knew... she had known almost from the beginning... because Sam had told her.

He felt his wife shift slightly beneath him, his head comfortably nestled against her, listening to her heartbeat, his arm draped across her waist. A soft smile touched his lips. “There is nowhere in all Middle-earth I’d rather be... than here... in your arms, beloved Lily...”

She sighed and tightened her hold, and Frodo realized he had whispered the words aloud. I hope I did not wake you, sweet, he mused silently. Her even breathing told him she still slept, though she was near to waking. He breathed deeply of her, thrilled at her nearness and the knowledge that they belonged to each other. Comforted, he sighed and closed his eyes, listening raptly to the steady beating of her heart.

Gratitude filled his own heart as he remembered the previous day and yesternight... Waking to your gentle loving is now my favourite way to start the day, he decided. I must tell you, sometime... And you’re so at ease with Uncle Bilbo, and I was right, he adores you...

The heartache of yesterafternoon flooded in, then ebbed peacefully away. How do you know just what to say, dearest love? Where did you come to possess such wisdom? You truly are my gift from Ilúvatar, for only could Eru bless you with knowing how to -- to succor such a bruised and torn soul as mine...

Now you have held me, the whole of the night... Never shall I be able to repay the debt... Tears filled his eyes; he fought them back, fearing the change in him might wake her...

Frodo trembled; he felt his wife’s hands caress and press him closer. Then he felt her drop a kiss atop his head and heard her whisper, “I love you.”

“I love you, Lily-sweet, more than you know, and more than I can ever express.” He eased himself up onto one elbow, for Lily would not let him pull away any farther.

He allowed himself to touch her face with his right hand, finally tracing the rich rose of her lips, trembling again when she kissed his fingers.

“Lily--” His voice caught.

She laid her hand atop his and shifted his so she could kiss his palm.

“Oh, Lily,” he breathed. He struggled to concentrate. “I must tell you...”

She kissed his palm again. “Tell me what, beloved?”

Tears again filled his eyes. “Thank you.”

Lily started slightly, but her smile was warm and soft. “For what, love?”

“For being my gift... my -- my precious gift from Ilúvatar.”

Lily’s eyes filled with tears, as Frodo continued.

“There is no other way...” He took a deep breath and released it. “Only Ilúvatar could create someone so right, so perfect...” His words caught once more in his throat, and he sighed, as if to release the pent-up emotions within his heart.

“For you, Frodo-love, for you, no one else...” She reached up and brushed his lips with her own. “And never forget: you are my gift, as well.”

She claimed his mouth once more, pulling him close, and wrapping her arms around him.

Her invitation was too intense to refuse, too dear to ignore, too loving to waste. Her kisses were better, sweeter, than any other thing he had known, and he molded his body to hers, his eager mouth to hers, their hunger growing even as they fed one another, their souls rising and meeting, glorious, nearly too bright to look upon, but oh --

“Oh, you are beautiful,” he breathed, for speech overcame him. “Thank you, thank you, I needed -- I needed you. Oh, love...”

He kissed her hair, her glowing cheeks, her eyes, and she was smiling, then laughing, for he had not yet stopped kissing her, everywhere, in his happiness.

“Beloved Lily, I wanted to ask you -- I wanted to tell you I needed you, but I -- ”

“Shhh... I knew, dearest love. I needed you as well. Very much.”

She gazed up into the kindness of his eyes, kissing his shoulder once again, also in thanks, and watched as his eyes closed, long dark lashes resting on luminous skin.

“You have made me so happy,” she murmured softly, holding him against her. “You give me such peace. This feeling...”

“I know, sweetest love,” he whispered against her hair. “I feel it too. I have no words.”

They left it at that, and nestled together, resting, joyful, and hushed.

---------

When the knock came on the door, Lily glanced down at her sleeping husband, then gently eased his head to the pillow, and carefully slipped out of bed. She wrapped her peach dressing gown about herself, and opened the door, smiling warmly.

“Felena, good morning.” She relieved the Elf of the tray of food and drink, not giving way at the door. “Thank you, Felena. Would I be asking amiss... that is to say, would you be so kind as to bring our second breakfast as well, when the time comes?”

Felena schooled her reaction. “I do not mind in the least, my lady. Is everything all right?”

“Yes...” Lily glanced back through the entry to the bedroom where she could see her husband’s head on his pillow, still asleep. “I think mayhap we’ll spend this day quietly, with a walk later...”

“Would you like me to bring the rest of your meals here?”

“Yes... yes, that would be wonderful... but then again, Bilbo might wonder...”

“I do not believe you need worry about him. He was in the Hall of Fire last night, quite late, working on a song for tonight’s festivities. He requested he not be disturbed until dinner.”

“There’s a formal dinner tonight?”

Felena’s brow furrowed slightly. “Formal dinner? I am not certain I understand, my lady.”

Lily pondered this a moment, then asked, “Is this dinner more special than most? You mentioned festivities...”

“Ah, I see...” Felena held her breath, sensing Lily’s trepidation. “Yes.”

Lily glanced over her shoulder once more, then faced Felena. “We shall be in attendance, then.”

Relief flooded through the Elf. “Would you like my help preparing?”

“No, thank you,” Lily smiled. “Frodo thinks me quite silly for worrying so.” She grinned. “I’ll have him help me.”

The Elf-maid stifled her laughter and curtsied, looking up in time to see the faint surprise on Lily’s face; not being the custom of the Elves, Felena had never curtsied before. “I’ll see to your meals and look forward to seeing you both this evening.”

“Thank you.” Lily returned the curtsy, and turned away.

As the door was quietly shut, Felena stared at it and whispered, “My lady, I shall endeavor to do as you ask, and remember that your gift far exceeds mine.” She sighed, and walked down the passage to the feasting hall for her own meal.

Lily set the tray on the table and smiled after sipping at the sweetened, weak tea. The Elves had almost learned how to make a good pot of tea, but not quite. She puzzled at this, slightly comforted at the thought that the Elves were not perfect beings, as they appeared.

Perhaps Bilbo had not been able to teach them how to make it stronger? Lily picked up a slice of pear and nibbled at it, then another. She realized she was very hungry. The sharp white cheese was delicious...

Careful to leave some of everything for her husband, she selected a raspberry, followed by several more, marveling at the perfection of each single berry. None were flawed or marked in any way...

She took another sip of the tea. It was hot, but not so hot as to burn her. The Elves had certainly mastered that bit of timing. “Mayhap Bilbo prefers weak tea,” she wondered aloud. But she kept her voice low.

Lily smiled as she watched her husband’s steady breathing, grateful he slept peacefully, while she partook of the sustenance she needed.

When he began to stir, she left the food and crawled up onto the bed next to him. She traced the features of his face with her fingers.

His eyes blinked open, and he smiled up into his wife’s eyes. He gently grasped her hand and kissed her fingers, then her palm.

Lily closed her eyes, and Frodo kissed her mouth. She slipped her hands into her husband’s curls, returning the caress.

He gently broke it. “Mmmmm... you taste of raspberries.”

“Firsties,” she murmured. “Would you like some of your own?”

“I think I prefer things as they are,” he smiled.

Lily giggled, and again ran the tips of her fingers over her husband’s brow, cheeks, nose, and finally his lips.

Frodo shuddered, then held his wife tightly, burying his face in her neck. He inhaled deeply the scent of her, suddenly aware that her soft auburn tresses were drying the tears trickling down his cheeks.

“Frodo?”

He struggled to control the tears. Gradually, he pulled back, just enough to meet his wife’s concerned gaze.

Lily offered a warm smile. “Tell me, beloved.”

Frodo hesitated, then whispered, “I fear yesterafternoon is only the beginning... I’m so sorry. This was supposed to be a pleasant visit with Bilbo, a pleasure trip of sorts, but instead -- instead you must endure the unveiling of my memories.”

He gave in to Lily’s gentle hands, as she drew him close once more, encouraging him to again bury his face in her hair.

She whispered into his ear. “Frodo, my dearest love, such pleasure I have known, with you... beyond my imaginings. I am with you; nothing else do I desire. When Gandalf suggested this journey, the day we wed, I felt your hesitation. I knew then this would be difficult for you. I worried, but decided to trust that Gandalf would not suggest something we were not capable of accomplishing; albeit, I knew it would not be effortless. Though he proposed it casually enough, my heart told me the traveling would be the easiest part...”

Lily stroked Frodo’s shoulders, then his back, feeling him sigh within her arms. She gathered her thoughts enough to speak again.

“But I do trust Gandalf, and more than that, I trust you, and me; I trust our love to strengthen us and see us through whatever this journey brings. I could not help you on the Quest, but I can and will help you through the memories of it.”

Frodo pulled back and stared at his wife’s face, seeing the love and determination there.

Her voice was hushed as she continued. “As your wife, it is my privilege to stand beside you.”

Frodo’s eyes widened in wonder and awe.

Lily smiled suddenly. “I’d do anything just to be able to gaze forever into those eyes.”

“Lily!”

Her husband blushed crimson, and she giggled.

“Beloved Frodo, you cannot decide if you should bury your face in my hair again, or grant me my wish to look into your eyes.”

Frodo laughed out loud, and Lily laughed with him.

She sighed. “What a wonderful feeling it is when you laugh. I can feel it all the way through me.”

“Lily-sweet,” Frodo chuckled. “How rich my life has become, simply because you are a part of it. Ilúvatar is merciful and generous. How grateful I am for you.”

“And I for you, beloved Frodo. I am where I want to be. I am where I am meant to be, and how grateful I am to Ilúvatar for you,” she finished in a whisper, tears gathering in her eyes.

“I love you, Lily.” Frodo offered a gentle kiss.

Against her husband’s lips, Lily breathed, “I love you, beloved...” Then she kissed him, and when he began to deepen it, she stopped and pulled back, genuine concern sounding in her voice.

“Frodo, what about first breakfast? Aren’t you hungry, love?”

He smiled into her eyes, then kissed the hollow of her throat. “I am, after a fashion, but I’d just as soon wait until second breakfast...”

“Dearest...” she laughed, because his kisses on her neck were feather-light, tickling her. “They’ll -- they’ll say I’m starving you, when we return home! You’ll never put on even one stone this way, Frodo!”

“I don’t care what they say. I’ll tell them you fed me like a king every day, and that it was all delicious, and that I simply couldn’t gain an ounce...”

At that, she laughed once more, and gave in, gladly returning his love. The morning sunshine bathed them in light and warmth, in the sweet hour between first and second breakfast.

---------

They decided to go for a stroll, and Frodo led her to the quiet and peaceful gardens where he and Sam had walked, so long before.

Lily bent to touch a peach-coloured rose beside the path.

“It’s the colour of your wedding dress, beloved,” Frodo observed, his voice reverent in the near-silence of the garden. “How lovely you were! And so much lovelier, later on -- that same day... how little I knew, my wife! You taught me everything... How is it you grow more beautiful, every day?”

Lily glanced up, smiling into her lover’s eyes, and easily beheld the adoration there. She mirrored it, then caught her breath, as she felt the depth of his love for her, spoken in his steady gaze.

Frodo held out his hand, and helped her to rise. They stood for several moments, unmoving, unaware of their surroundings. Lily’s breath quickened, surprised that such feelings could still swell within her at only the touch of his hand on hers.

A sense of someone approaching broke their trance, and they stepped apart.

Lily glanced quickly about. “Frodo, why have we seen no Elves this day? They are near; I can feel them -- but not one has crossed our path.”

“I’m not sure why they’re giving us privacy, but I’m grateful, all the same.”

“As am I...” Lily hesitated. “Dearest, could we see the ponies, today?”

“Certainly, though I suspect they do not miss us,” Frodo grinned.

Lily’s smile reached her eyes. “Hmm... come to think of it, I’m sure you’re right that they’re enjoying the long rest...”

“Let’s just see if I remember the way,” Frodo mused, only partly in jest. “Are you willing to risk being lost in Rivendell with me?” He broke into a smile at her expression.

“You know well the answer to that, husband... the very thought of being lost with you, anywhere...” She felt herself blushing, then watched as his smile grew bigger yet, until he broke into a laugh.

“You’re enjoying this!” Lily attempted to feign indignance, but could not maintain her severe expression. She covered her mouth to keep from giggling.

“Yes, I am, Lily-sweet... blushing becomes you, especially when you blush all the way down to your pretty toes. I am indeed enjoying it -- I confess!” He laughed again. “Come; I’ll endeavor not to get us lost...”

Hand in hand, the couple made their way to the stables.

The stable master lowered his head, laying his hand over his heart.

Lily curtsied, and Frodo bowed slightly, then smiled. “My wife wished to check on our ponies, wondering if they missed us.” Still grinning, he glanced sidelong at Lily, and had a sense she might be plotting some sort of lovely revenge for his teasing. They shared their private smile, until they realized the Elf had cleared his throat.

The stable master provided the pair with apples -- Lily noticed again their perfection; not one blemish was upon any of them. The Elf led the hobbits to a pasture of belly-deep grass. He glanced at the ponies, then at the little couple.

“You have taken good care of them.” Then he bowed, and disappeared, heading back toward the stables.

Lily sighed at the sight of the animals peacefully grazing, slowly swishing their tails. “They look quite happy, Frodo-love.”

“Indeed. I wonder if they’ll be willing to take us home,” Frodo smiled.

Lily giggled at the thought of Merry being recalcitrant when it came time to journey home.

Strider lifted his head at the sound. He eyed the hobbits, nickered, and approached first, followed by Merry, then Pippin. They greedily ate of the apples offered them, and accepted the pats and scratches, then wandered contentedly back out to the pasture as Frodo and Lily looked on, lost in thought.

---------

Frodo and Lily took their meals alone until it was time to attend the feast that evening.

Bilbo joined them at table, and offered a grace with them for the meal, then chattered on about each dish. He explained special Elven delicacies to Frodo and Lily, forgetting that Frodo already knew about them.

The elder hobbit fell asleep between the third and fourth courses, snoring softly as his chin rested on his chest.

“Frodo-love,” Lily whispered, her face anxious. “Isn’t... I know it’s fine if Uncle Bilbo falls asleep -- I know the Elves don’t truly mind, but even at a more formal meal? Do you think we should wake him? What would he want?”

The Master of Rivendell smiled gently at the hobbits from his place at the head of the magnificently carved table. He ran his long slender fingers along the patterned-weave of colourful wood within the tabletop, maple inlaid with ash, cherry, and walnut, surprised anew at how the presence of the hobbits stirred within him a fresh awareness of the beauty around him.

Elrond caught Lily’s eye and smiled more broadly at her obvious concern for propriety, then glanced once at Frodo. The Ring-bearer gazed at his wife with an enigmatic smile, amusement and adoration shining in equal measure from within the deep blue of his eyes.

“I shall tell you a secret which is well-kept here in Rivendell, Mistress Baggins,” Elrond began, his eyes twinkling. “No one has ever fallen asleep at table, in the presence of the Elf-lord, not for the past two and a half thousand years, until Bilbo Baggins arrived here a mere twenty years ago.”

“Oh!” Lily exclaimed, and covered her open mouth with her hand, her eyes bright with surprise and amazement.

Frodo chuckled, unable to keep his mirth at bay. He thought he could not love his wife more, but each day, he did. He wanted to tell her, he realized. It would have to wait.

“Two thousand five hundred years?” she recited numbly.

“At least,” Elrond recounted conspiratorially, breaking into a full smile. “That figure may be shy of the mark. Now I must look it up in the Conservatory, to check my memory. He was one of King Elessar’s very distant relatives -- the fourth son of Isildur, called Valandil, and he was born here in Imladris.”

He watched Lily’s eyes go round as saucers, as Frodo sipped at his wine, listening.

“Did he -- was he punished for falling asleep at table?” Lily queried.

“No,” Elrond laughed. “It never entered my mind, as he was only seven years of age at the time, and as a human, that is, a mere Man, he was not expected to remain awake for the entire meal, which as I recall lasted a full day. It was a true feast, not an evening meal.”

The Elf-lord raised his wine glass in a private toast. “To the honourable Bilbo Baggins, who is also allowed to fall asleep at table whenever he wishes, with no ill feelings taken.”

Lily and Frodo raised their glasses, and smiled. “To Bilbo,” they chorused, and turned to glance at the old hobbit, after sipping their wine.

“What’s all this?” Bilbo sputtered, waking suddenly. “A toast, and I’ve missed it? Whom were we toasting?”

“You, Uncle,” Frodo beamed. “And another,” he announced, and raised his voice. He spoke in Elvish; Lily understood only the name as Frodo offered the toast. “To Bilbo Baggins, Bane of Dragons.”

Every Elf in the room stood and raised their glass, as Frodo leaned down and translated for his wife.

“Hear, hear!” Lily added, giggling. She had had enough wine for one evening, and now only pretended to sip it.

“Thank you kindly,” Bilbo grinned, looking around at the assembled Elves. “I rather like that!”

---------

The meal finished, they moved to the Hall of Fire, and the Elves began their songs. Bilbo nodded in and out of sleep. Lily and Frodo sat on cushions on the floor, fingers touching, as they listened to one Elvish song after another; most of the songs sounded melancholy, an echo of the soul of each performer. Even so, to Frodo each song seemed more beautiful than the last. He wondered if it was somehow cumulative, and decided it must be.

“I hardly have time to take in the emotions of a song, before the next one begins, Frodo-love,” Lily whispered, as another melody ended. “Thank you for translating for me.”

“You’re welcome, dearest,” he smiled, keeping his voice soft. “And I was thinking the same thing about the songs. It’s a bit like a wave, building on itself... the emotions, I mean. It’s -- well, no one sings songs like the Elves. No one. Not even in Gondor. Not even the most beautiful songs in the Shire are like this. Mayhap it is a special gift, because they are the First-born? I should like to ask Elrond on the morrow...”

They fell silent once more, delighted to see Felena rise to share a song. The melody played on the harp was familiar to the hobbits; Bilbo roused himself at the first strains. Then she began to sing; but not in Elvish.

In Western lands beneath the Sun
the flowers may rise in Spring...

Frodo heard none of the rest of the words, his mind overwhelmed by the memories the song evoked.

The beauty of the lyrics enchanted Lily, but she also felt Frodo stiffen, a welter of confused emotions rising within him, and she wondered what was amiss.

When Felena finished singing, she bowed slightly, basking in the muted murmurs of appreciation from her audience, then smiled gratefully at the hobbits.

“These blasted Elves!” hissed Bilbo under his breath as he applauded loud and long. “I can’t get them to learn the fine art of clapping for a good song or poem! Elrond said the first time he ever applauded was when Arwen was greeted by Aragorn after his coronation... wish I could’ve seen that spectacular affair...”

Bilbo stopped speaking when he realized his nephew had not heard him. Frodo had stood slowly, and was looking up at the Elf maiden.

Fighting tears, the younger hobbit asked, “How do you know this song?”

Felena inclined her head to Bilbo. “He taught me it.”

As though in a dream -- or a nightmare -- Frodo turned to the aged hobbit. “When did you learn it?”

Bilbo smiled broadly, puzzled at Frodo’s apparent surprise. When it became clear that his nephew was not only surprised, but shocked, the old hobbit endeavored to hide his own reaction. Gamely, he offered, “Sam sang it for me when last you were in Rivendell. He said something about it needing to be in the Red Book, but not wanting you to have to remember all the words, so would I add it to my notes for you. I thought it might be a nice surprise if Felena sang it for you.”

Frodo fought for control, bowing his head. He breathed deeply and evenly for a few moments. Finally he lifted his face once again to Felena. “Thank you. The beauty of your voice...”

Frodo lost his own.

Felena smiled and searched the Ring-bearer’s tear-filled eyes. “I am pleased you are touched.”

Frodo briefly embraced Bilbo. “Thank you for saving it, Uncle...”

“Think nothing of it, my lad.” His surprise waning, Bilbo’s chin lowered to his chest, and he dropped off to sleep.

Frodo turned and walked blindly from the room. He did not know where he was going, nor did he care.

Confused, Lily glanced briefly at Felena, who nodded her encouragement. “Follow him, Lily, he needs you.”

Concern grew in Lily’s heart, but she did not hesitate. “Thank you,” she replied, and followed her husband, who was already out of sight.

---------

Lord Elrond approached Felena. “It was too soon. He was not ready.”

The Elf maiden shook her head. “It needed to be now. Their stay passes too swiftly; it is best to get through the worst now, while there is still time for healing here. Lily also needs the time. I planned for this last night, and would have preferred it to be then, when other memories were still fresh, but I did not anticipate Lily protecting him so well.”

Lord Elrond’s brows rose. “You? You underestimated her?”

Felena knew he was not being unkind, merely surprised, but still she blushed darkly.

They turned at the slight rustle of cloth to see Gandalf’s approach, uncertain if he had only just entered the room, or left the concealment of one of the shadowed corners.

The wizard laid a gentle hand on the Elf maiden’s shoulder. “Do not judge yourself too harshly, Felena. The Ring-bearer’s bride is truly a worthy companion to him. Remember, we underestimated him as well.”

They nodded together, and returned to listening to the evening’s music.

---------

Lily caught up to Frodo at the end of the passage when he paused, uncertain if he should go back to their rooms, or go for a walk. He suddenly realized he was unsure of where he was, as memories poured over him, engulfing him; surely he would drown... like his parents? No, this offered no release; it only increased his pain and anguish, as the memories returned clearer and stronger.

He startled and cried out when his wife touched his arm. He took several steps back, as fear coursed through him. Tears streaming down his face clouded his vision; he could barely see her.

Her husband stood before her, trembling in terror. Lily swallowed hard, reaching for his hand, and when at last he took it she walked him back to their rooms, grateful they were only a few passages away. Several candles were already lit, awaiting their return.

Frodo stood in the center of the room, where Lily stopped and released his hand so she might close the door behind them. She returned to his side. Tears continued to stream down his face. Finally, she stepped in front of him and searched the blue-green depths.

Slowly, Frodo saw again his wife’s upturned face. He closed his eyes as she reached up and gently caressed his cheek with her hand, brushing away a few of the tears.

She continued to gently wipe tears away, finally asking, “What was that song, Frodo?”

Frodo struggled to speak. “It was... Sam... I was at Cirith Ungol...”

Lily closed her eyes and bowed her head, as tears started in her own. They still stood in the center of the room, face to face, not touching but for Lily’s hand caressing her husband’s cheek. She shivered and met his gaze again.

Lily whispered, “Shelob...”

Frodo shut his eyes tightly as though trying to shut out the memories. “She was the start.”

“The start?” Lily trembled at the implication.

“I was found by orcs... and taken to the tower, though in truth, I have no memory of that part of it. But they woke me with a foul burning liquid, pouring it down my throat...”

He turned and walked to the balcony and stared unseeing over the valley, draped now in night. So well blended were the structures and the foliage as to appear that the lamps lit throughout were but stars resting in the trees.

Lily hesitated only a moment, and followed him. She gently laid her hand on his back, and he flinched away from her. Her tears returned afresh.

“The marks I’ve seen on your back...” Her voice broke.

Frodo nodded and whispered, “Yes.”

She had never dared speak of it for fear of the memories that might spill forth, and hoped she was ready now to share this burden. After a deep, steadying breath she stepped close to his side, without touching him, and followed his gaze with her own, out over the beauty of Rivendell at night.

Tears still fell unabated down his cheeks. The couple stood quietly, side by side, for three-quarters of an hour or more, Lily guessed. When at last Frodo began to speak, she steeled herself for the images his words would surely evoke.

“They took everything -- everything. I did not know -- Sam thought me dead, and so he had taken Sting, and the phial, and -- and the Ring. I could not understand why they did not simply kill me if they had what they wanted... I could not imagine what they hoped to gain by beating and whipping me.”

Lily winced where she stood. She slipped her left hand into his right, lacing their fingers; at once, Frodo’s hold tightened.

“I thought I might go mad. Then -- then, I heard the song. I was uncertain as to whether I was awake or asleep. I sang it back, and received a whiplash for it.”

Stinging tears coursed down Lily’s cheeks as she stared unseeing over the valley. She tightened her hold on his hand.

“Sam found me because of that song. I thought the Quest lost, but Sam saved it...” Frodo choked on the words. He tried to withdraw his hand from Lily’s.

She lifted his hand to her lips and kissed where the finger should have been.

Frodo could feel her warm tears spilling over his hand. He bowed his head and attempted to turn away.

Lily stepped in front of him and faced him, taking his left hand into her right.

She swallowed her tears and searched his eyes. “You were grateful he saved the Ring, and angry with him for having the Ring.”

“Yes.” Frodo closed his eyes in remembered shame.

Lily pushed aside the images of her beloved’s bruised and torn body.

“Are you still angry with him?”

Frodo’s eyes popped open in surprise. “No. Because of him and -- and... the Quest was finally fulfilled.”

Lily continued to search Frodo’s eyes, and he began to calm under her unwavering gaze. “Would Sam have gone on the Quest without you?”

One corner of Frodo’s mouth lifted into a tiny smile. “No. No. He would never have left the Shire.”

An answering smile formed on Lily’s lips. “Ilúvatar chose well. Neither of you would have succeeded alone.”

After a long moment, Frodo inclined his head. “No... we would not have succeeded alone...”

Lily looked down at their clasped hands between them. Her smile faded as she raised concerned eyes to his. “Frodo, do -- do the scars still... hurt?”

“No. Like my hand, the pain vanished long ago.”

“Yet tonight, you winced when--” Lily’s brows drew together, as she endeavored to understand. “The memories still cause pain?”

“It would seem so...” Frodo’s expression, now thoughtful, matched Lily’s. “With the darkness gone, the intensity and duration of the pain is not as it once was. The memories, in truth, fade... until I begin to believe it all happened to someone else, not me. But when the memories are aroused...”

“As done by the song this evening--”

“Yes.”

Lily realized she needed to know: “Are the memories truly fading?”

A warm, slow smile touched Frodo’s lips and reached his eyes. “Yes, beloved. I am blessed with new memories crowding out the old.” He raised her hands to his lips kissing the back of each hand, then each palm, and Lily caught her breath.

“Frodo, I want... I need... let me... may I?”

“What, dearest?”

She led him to their bed. He stood very still, wondering what she intended; for he sensed this was not an overture to their shared love.

Lily carefully removed his coat and laid it on the end of the bed. Then she unfastened his waistcoat and braces and removed them as well, laying them atop the coat. She did not look into his eyes at all, concentrating on what she was doing. Taking a steadying breath, she unbuttoned his shirt and gently turned him around so his back was to her.

“I understand now,” he realized. “You need to see the scars, without being afraid of what memories might be stirred.” He relaxed as she softly eased the shirt from his shoulders.

Frodo glanced back at her. “You see, they are quite healed. There are hardly any marks left at all.”

But he trembled as her fingers tenderly traced each scar, followed by the warmth of her kisses.

As she touched him, as he felt her gentle, unhurried caresses follow each mark left by the endless evil day at Cirith Ungol, Frodo felt he might break again, but not as he had then. Now he seemed outside himself, his present separate from his past, and in this moment he saw himself as Lily did, without wounds, cherished, pure, and whole.

He felt her touch the last scar, felt her lingering kisses, her unwillingness to stop. Each touch was a blessing, and Lily would go on blessing him for as long as he would allow it. Such was her way, and she started again with the first scar...

“Lily.” He forced himself to speak, to think, to move. “Let me hold you. Please... let me hold you--”

Frodo turned slowly to face her, feeling her hands caress his skin all the while, and gathered her into his arms. He cradled his wife against his heart. They were both weary, and shaken, but healed, once more.