Lily stirred in the early morning hours, and felt Frodo tighten his hold on her, but she also knew he slept on. She eased her head from his pillow to his shoulder, and gently nestled against his scar there, then heard him sigh in his sleep. She could give him a pleasant dream before waking.
She remembered that yesterday he had been the one to admit they needed to speak of the Ring, and though she dreaded her own memory of It, during his illness and the sharing of their vows, she knew he was right. It was time.
A grim smile touched her lips. Beloved Frodo, the Elves no longer need to guide us, if in fact that is what they have been doing... sometime, I will speak to Felena about it. I want to ask her, but I do not know how to question her without sounding accusatory. Her intention is good, I know, for I have seen the result. So many of your memories have been thrust into the Light, and have lost their power over you. I trust time, and Ilúvatar, will provide me with the words.
Then she kissed her lover, feather-light, just below the hollow of his throat. He briefly tightened his hold on her, then relaxed again, in sleep. She could not resist offering caresses as soft as a whisper across his warm skin, and thrilled when he murmured her name. He turned toward her, and pulled her more fully into his embrace, and still did not awaken.
She settled quietly, wishing for a few more moments alone with her thoughts. Where shall we go? What place will draw out the memories more clearly? Then she remembered the porch, and the table, and Frodo’s wish not to pursue his thoughts then. It is time, dear heart. We shall go to the porch today.
Her decision made, Lily kissed the hollow of her husband’s throat, then trailed warm kisses to the scar on his neck, knowing he would wake when she reached that mark. So sensitive he was there. Interesting, she mused, that for some a scar dulled all sensation, but for Frodo it seemed to heighten his feeling.
His warm voice in her ear suspended all thoughts but those of him.
“What shall we do, today, dearest Lily?” Frodo laid his hand on her knee, under the table.
Lily smiled softly. Without glancing around the feasting hall, she knew the Elves present could not see what her husband had done, as their table was so small and tucked comfortably in a corner, close to the archways opening onto one of the main gardens. How she delighted in the intimacy of his touch, especially in such an open setting; it was so unlike him. She managed to choke down her giggle.
Frodo struggled to hide his grin, but only succeeded for a moment.
Lily murmured so that only Frodo heard. “It seems your appetite is not yet satisfied, despite yesterday and this morning...”
“Never,” Frodo breathed, “never shall I have enough of you...”
“Beloved...” Lily whispered. Mayhap they could wait to speak of It another day...
Frodo eased his hand from her knee and from under the table to tenderly caress her cheek. “It is time to speak of It, isn’t it? Of the Ring.”
“How--?” Lily could not hide her confusion.
A gentle smile revealed itself on Frodo’s lips. “Lily-sweet, your eyes are remarkably blue, with barely even a hint of green.”
Lily blushed and lowered her eyes. She raised them again when Frodo slipped his hand in hers, and stood.
“Is there a particular place you have in mind, my dearest Lily?”
Frodo sighed. “Yes, the porch... Shall we make our way there, my lady?”
Then he smiled for her, and Lily wondered, once again, if she could love him more.
They stepped onto the porch together, and surveyed the area. Everywhere they looked, in all directions, the forest beckoned, and they heard the silvery music of the waterfall in the middle distance. Mist still hung in the air above the river’s run.
Frodo led his wife to the stone table, and ran his fingertips along the edge. “I suppose if we must speak of the -- Ring, then we must also speak of -- of --” he shuddered, and continued in a whisper “--of the Eye.”
He watched in horror as Lily lost her colour; her eyes darted about the porch as though searching for something but not wishing to find it; yet it seemed to Frodo she needed to look anyway.
“Sweet, what is it?”
Lily struggled to regain control of the fear seeping through her. She swallowed hard. “I remember.”
Frodo blanched. “You remember?”
“It never truly occurred to me that we must speak of -- of the Wheel of Fire... During your illness, in March... toward the end...” her voice trembled. “I -- I saw it, Frodo, the Eye,” she whispered. “On the day your illness became so severe -- we almost lost you -- and then I dreamed of it -- that night.”
Lily felt some inner barrier within her husband give way.
Frodo stepped back, releasing her hand, shaking, then gradually he crumpled to the ground. He curled into himself, sobbing inconsolably.
“Why did you not tell me? I could have saved you from It! I should have saved you from It! If I had thrown It in, I could have... Why didn’t I throw It in... I should have sent you away... I should never have taken you to myself... Then you would have been spared... I’m so sorry. I’m sorry. I’m so very sorry. I’m sorry...”
Carefully, Lily sat beside her husband, her heart breaking at the flood of guilt and regret she felt overwhelming him, and her own terror vanished, enveloped by her compassion for her dearest friend.
“It’s -- him -- is it not?” She meant to say the hateful name, then realized she did not want the taste of it in her mouth. “It is the Ring’s master?”
“Sam said that those last days you saw him, both sleeping and waking...”
Again Frodo nodded.
With gentle encouragement, he finally buried his face in her lap, where she tenderly stroked the dark chestnut curls, until he fell asleep in exhaustion.
When he woke he could still feel his wife’s fingers in his hair.
“Lily,” Frodo’s voice hitched. “I should have thrown It in. I knew Its evil nature, but in the end... in the end I chose...”
“You chose to carry It to the end.”
“But I also chose to claim It, in the end...”
“Did you choose? Truly? Or did It choose for you?”
“I don’t know.” Frodo shook his head. “It felt as if the choice were mine.”
Lily sighed. “I don’t think it’s the same, beloved.”
“Why did I agree to take It, Lily?” He lifted tear-filled eyes to Lily’s. “I knew I could not destroy It. I knew before I even left the Shire.”
“When you were leaving, dear Frodo, who would have removed It from the Shire? Was there anyone else, then? Sam? Merry? Pippin?”
“No, when leaving the Shire, it was understood, they were accompanying me, by their own decision, not mine. The Ring was my responsibility, no other’s.”
Frodo laid his head back down in his wife’s lap, and she once again stroked his curls, running her fingers through them as she continued to talk.
“The next person you met was Tom Bombadill. Was he willing to take It?”
“No. He told me he did not concern himself with such matters.”
“So you could not give It to Tom. In Bree -- who could you give It to in Bree? You thought to turn It over to Gandalf, but he was not there. So, who was there?”
“Aragorn, the rightful heir.”
“But did you know that about him then? Or was he only Strider, the Ranger, whom Gandalf trusted and asked you to trust? Remember, you told me that in his letter he asked you to trust Strider, not give It to him. So there was no one in Bree. And in Rivendell? They could have taken It from you, when you first arrived, but they did not. To whom would you have given It in Rivendell, at the Great Council?”
Frodo remained silent, and Lily continued. “Did Aragorn offer then? Boromir might have been tempted to offer, but he did not; even though he did not understand the wrongness of the Ring, he still did not offer. Not even Lord Elrond offered, nor Gandalf...”
“No one would take It,” Frodo stated simply.
“No one, but you, Frodo,” Lily murmured. “You knew, from Weathertop, the dreadful evil the Ring embodied, as no one else, and survived. For whatever reason, by choosing to bear the Ring, you spared anyone else from enduring Its horrendous torment.”
Lily watched her husband absently stroking her skirt. “Are you listening to me?” Her voice was soft, soothing.
Frodo glanced up and nodded, then began tracing the flowers on her skirt.
“Please, Frodo-love, keep listening. You did not fail. You were ever only required to carry the Ring to Mount Doom. Nothing more. It was not your part to destroy It; that belonged to another. You were to bear It only, and you did. You found your courage to do what no one else would; carry that horrible evil to the very center of the dwelling place of the maker of that malice, the only place It could be unmade. And yet you did so much more. You allowed Sam to help you, and you offered mercy to Smeagol. No more was expected. You were enough.”
Frodo fingered an embroidered elanor on his wife’s skirt, studying it.
Lily wondered if he had heard what she said, until he cleared his throat, still touching the flower. She could feel that he missed Sam and Rose greatly, just as she did. When he spoke, however, it was not about Sam.
“But Lily, I claimed the Ring.”
A silent sigh escaped Lily. She battled down the frustration she felt. It all seemed so clear to herself; why could she not help him see? Maybe Sam could have...
“Frodo, Sam held the Ring for only a brief time, but he willingly admits how difficult it was to return It to you.”
Frodo’s eyes darted to his wife’s, and he slowly sat up. “Sam told you?”
“Yes, my love, when he came to see me in Deephallow.”
“He told you,” Frodo stated softly.
“Yes, dear heart.”
“He would have thrown It in.” Frodo’s voice disappeared in the tears gathering in his throat.
“How do you know?”
“He gave It back to me. He did not allow It to take hold of him, as I did...”
“My dearest love, you’re wrong.”
Frodo’s eyes grew wide, but he held his tongue at the tender look in his wife’s eyes.
“Sam told me, beloved. He told me how It tempted him, but he knew it was a lie... yet knowing of the evil nature of the Ring did not keep him from hesitating to return It to you, when you asked for It, and It had only been in his possession a few hours, compared to the years you bore It.
“He also told me how you had grown weaker and weaker, and the Ring stronger and stronger. He believes you only gave in to the Ring because you were at your weakest, whereas the Ring was at Its strongest.”
“But I should have resisted, Lily.”
Lily watched her husband, and knew he was searching his mind for an answer.
“I don’t know, dear Lily, but I should have.”
“Why did you not overcome the Men in Ithilian?”
Frodo laughed mirthlessly. “Lily, we could not, they were Men, twice our size, and trained soldiers.”
“Yes. And the Ring was evil, filled with malice and hate, and at Mount Doom, returned to the very source of the making of Its power. And on the hand of Its rightful master, It would have ruled all Middle-earth in darkful hate.”
Lily carefully schooled her elation as she sensed Frodo was beginning to understand. “Beloved, when you were small, did you know any children whose parents were unkind or even cruel to them?”
Frodo’s confusion at the new direction of their conversation showed on his face. “I did, when I was five or six -- we visited cousins in Whitfurrow. I endeavored to befriend a lad my age; I thought him shy. He resisted, at first, but soon we were involved in a game -- of what I don’t remember -- but I do remember his father finding us. I was horrified when his father slapped him for playing with a child from -- Buckland--”
Lily deliberately interrupted. “Was the father right for treating his son in such a manner?”
“Why didn’t your friend hit him back? Why didn’t you tell him he was wrong?”
“We were too small, and didn’t know how...”
“Yes, beloved Frodo, you were too small and didn’t know how...”
When her husband spoke, Lily felt as if he were suddenly a child, lost and confused.
“Lily, if I was too small and didn’t know how, then why did -- why did Ilúvatar ask this of me? Why would Ilúvatar, if He loves me, want me to fail?”
Lily sighed silently. Her husband was not hearing her, not completely. “Why not you?”
Frodo blinked, speechless.
“Would you have preferred it to be Sam who could not throw in the Ring? If instead of putting you to sleep, Shelob truly had slain you, and Sam had been required to go on alone, would he have made it? And if he had made it -- as you know, he could not have thrown in the Ring -- could Sam have lived with himself, after claiming the Ring?”
A shudder passed through Frodo. “He would have thrown himself in.”
Lily’s eyes widened. “How do you know?”
“When Gollum attacked me,” Frodo sighed, “I suddenly realized that to destroy the Ring, I must destroy myself. For I could not fling It from me of my own accord. Some part of me knew It would never anticipate me choosing my own destruction, for such a concept -- self-sacrifice, for the good of others -- was beyond Its ken. Then Gollum bit off the Ring, and I was free of It.”
Lily blinked, hot tears coursing down her face.
“Gollum did what I could not; whether on purpose or a misstep, I do not know...”
“And it does not matter,” Lily whispered. “The deed was done.”
“Yes.” Frodo’s voice disappeared.
“Ilúvatar chose you because you would spare Smeagol. And you and Sam would get the Ring where It needed to be...”
“With help from countless others...”
“...and because you could bear all the Quest entailed.”
Lily cupped her husband’s face in her hands. “Like watching my mother embroider a holiday tablecloth.”
Frodo drew his brows together.
“Didn’t you ever watch your mother do that?”
“I don’t remember.”
“Standing in front of her, I could only see the back of the cloth, a jumble of different coloured threads, knotted and crisscrossing in confusion, but then she showed me the top -- what she saw -- and the pattern was beautiful and intricate. Ilúvatar sees the top of the cloth, where we only see the back.”
He gazed at her, wanting to understand. His voice was soft and clear. “And -- we may not understand the knots or -- the crisscrosses, but Ilúvatar does, and He asks only that we trust Him.”
“Yes. And occasionally He allows us a peek at the top.” Lily smiled, and kissed her husband’s forehead, then his cheek, and finally his lips, soft and gentle.
Frodo accepted her kiss, and covered her hands with his own. He tenderly took them into his, and he kissed first one, and then the other. He stood, and helped Lily stand as well.
Lily could see the weariness in her husband’s eyes. “Frodo-love, may we go back to our rooms for the rest of the day? Would we be missed?”
“I think perhaps we’ll not be missed too terribly much,” Frodo decided, taking a deep breath of the afternoon air, as he calmed, moment by moment. “It’s been days since Bilbo had the whole of the day to himself. I’m certain he would enjoy some time alone.”
“A chance to catch up on his poetry writing,” Lily smiled.
“Indeed.” Frodo returned the smile, and allowed himself to be led back to their room.
He eyed the bed, and started when Lily spoke.
“Why don’t you lie down for a bit, Frodo-love. Just a little while. I’ll fetch the tea when Felena brings it.”
Frodo nodded, and shrugged out of his coat, then flopped onto the bed on his back. He lay there a moment, then rolled over onto his belly, and closed his eyes.
He was so tired. When last had he been this weary? His mind drifted back to the Quest, and he wondered if he were truly healed. What if the darkness came back? He would not burden Lily with his fretting, for she seemed so certain he was well. He could give her that much... her continued peace.
Lily sensed that Frodo was beginning to doubt his own healing. Suddenly she wished she could tell him how truly complete his healing was, but she had promised Elrond to wait to tell him. How difficult it would be to fulfill that promise.
Within moments, she knew her husband slept. Watching him sleep was reminiscent of his illness, in March, but how sweet it was to know the darkness could no longer torment him.
When Felena appeared with their tea, Lily accepted it silently, offering a warm smile, and a slight nod in thanks. Felena met her eyes, and Lily was aware the Elf was asking her about later meals. And she felt certain she had been able to communicate without words the need to have their food brought to the room. Then Felena bowed, and slipped out.
A quick glance at her lover told Lily he still slept, so she poured herself a cup of tea and curled up in a chair to continue her watch over him.
His calling of her name was so soft Lily almost did not hear him. She set down her second cup of tea and went to the bed. Was he actually awake? Her senses told her he yet slept.
She carefully crawled up onto the bed beside him, and began to gently rub his back. She heard him sigh, and relax more deeply into sleep.
When Felena brought their dinner, Lily nodded her in, and eased herself off the bed to eat enough to sustain her, but allowed Frodo to sleep on. She watched him, and prayed he would wake rested, with a clearer understanding of his own innocence in the Quest. Over and over, she repeated their conversation in her head. Was there something else she could have said? Could she have said it differently?
She startled when Felena brought their supper. Where had the time gone? She considered letting Frodo sleep through the night, but some part of her worried about him not eating. A smile touched her lips, knowing Frodo did not suffer from the same faintness she did, but she could not help but worry.
She saw Felena out the door, then returned to her husband’s side.
“Frodo-love,” she spoke softly, and rubbed his back, “Felena has brought our supper. It will make me feel better if you eat a little something. Then I shall let you go back to sleep, dearest.”
“Mmmmm...” Frodo nodded, and slowly stretched. “But I suppose if I turn over, you’ll stop rubbing my back?”
Lily smiled at the forlorn tone of his voice, with just a hint of mischief. “Only while you eat your supper.”
Frodo rolled over and grinned, pushing all the doubts away for the moment. He could give Lily some peace of mind. “An offer I’ll not refuse, my sweet.”
Though Frodo endeavored to be cheerful, it was a struggle. He finally decided there was no point, as Lily probably suspected anyway. His suspicion was confirmed by his wife.
“Frodo, you need not pretend to be at peace for me. We have talked of so much, in such a short time. It is all right to take time to sort things out in your own mind.”
He reached across their table and took her hand in his own, and tenderly kissed the back of it. “Thank you, dear one.”
Lily smiled gently, and they finished their meal in companionable silence.
Then Frodo placed the tray outside the door, and locked it. He realized he did not intend to ask for Lily’s love this night, but neither did he want anyone walking in on them. He wanted to be alone, but could not ask Lily to leave him. She would leave him, if he asked, but some part of him could not bear the thought of not having her near. Was he so selfish?
Lily’s gentle voice interrupted his thoughts. Would he ever be able to thank her enough for being a part of his life?
He was surprised to see her ready for bed. How long had he stood, leaning against the door? Too long, clearly. Then he decided it was mayhap not an entirely bad thing, as she helped him ready for bed.
Under the silken covers, Lily drew him into her arms and gently rubbed his back. Tears sprang to his eyes, and he nestled closer to her. His lover held him tighter, and kissed his brow. Tears trickled down his face, then came faster, when he realized his wife knew, and was silently weeping with him.
“Lily,” he whispered, “I love you so much...”
“I love you, Frodo, and am so grateful Ilúvatar gave us each other.”
“How did I survive without you?”
“As I did, because of hope...”
“But Lily, I’d lost all hope...”
“Not all, beloved.”
“But we talked of you carrying my hope for me, and Sam as well...”
“Because you did not believe you had any. Now you have found it once more, but in truth, it was always there. Otherwise, you’d not have come home at all... Sam could not choose to live for you; you chose it for yourself... after all you’d been through...” Tears cascaded down Lily’s cheeks. “Thank you for choosing life.”
A fresh wave of gratitude swept over Frodo, and he enfolded Lily completely in his arms. “Thank you for helping me choose life again, in the Shire.”