Lily awoke before dawn in the rocking chair, in front of the parlour fire.
Will had given Hal and Daisy his own bed in which to sleep. The only other bed in the modest home was the guest bed, which slept only one hobbit.
Will had fought with Lily about who would take the guest bed. They were six years apart, and Will, being the eldest, was accustomed to telling his youngest sister what to do. She would sleep on the guest bed, and he would take the floor, and there were no two ways about it. Lily insisted Will take the real bed and let her sleep on the settee in the parlour. Will was too tall for the settee, and she was so small she would be fine there, and then no one at all would have to sleep on the floor...
It was when they began to shout at each other that Will gave in to his sister. In her frustration she had burst into tears, exhausted from grief, poor sleep, and another reason -- the secret which she had only barely begun to share with Daisy. Will held his sister and shed some tears of his own.
They were still raw over the loss of their mother. That had been ten months ago, in January. Now, with their father gone, their emotions were at a pitch unlike anything they had experienced before. It was hard to understand that they were now the adults of their family... Will and his two sisters. The grandparents had been gone for some time, and they were now the adults in their family. They were no longer children.
Lily had been sleeping with the Elven-cloak as a blanket each night since Frodo found her -- what night was that? Today is Saturday, she thought -- it was Tuesday night then, the night he found her sitting on the front porch step of the house, weeping. The night before the battle. She fingered the cloak again, and brought it to her face. It was his... it would be difficult to part with it today. He had been so kind to lend it to her.
But Daisy was due any day now, and wanted to be home for the birth of their first child, with her own midwife on hand. And so Daisy and Hal were taking their pony-cart back to Deephallow tomorrow morning at first light, and Lily would be going with them. They had a smial of their own. Lily would be going back to live alone in the family house she had lived in all her life. Will wanted to stay where he was; there was work to be found in abundance, now that Bywater and Hobbiton were to be restored. She needed to return Frodo’s cloak before leaving.
She hoped she could talk to him for just a while. When would she see him again -- if she saw him again? Deephallow was a good day’s journey by pony-cart; Frodo did have a pony of his own, and a fast one. Will said he was a fine animal, sure-footed and with a steady temperament. What was his name? Strider?
Strider! Sam had said a Man named Strider helped them on their journey. She remembered Merry calling it the Quest, rather than a journey, several times, on the day of the burial. She wondered how Frodo saw it; as a quest? a journey? an adventure? No, adventuring sounded enjoyable, and his task was far from that. It was surely a very long journey, and a terribly difficult one. A quest. The Quest, Merry had said.
It had taken Lily a good part of the burial service to place Merry and Pippin. They had been standing next to Frodo for a time, and then sat down with the rest of the hobbits on the soft blanket of leaves, as Frodo tried to tell them something about the Creator...
The memory returned. Merry and Pippin had been at the fair that day with Frodo; they had joined them at the table and talked. The names sounded only faintly familiar, but when she got a good look at them, yes... they were so much older, so much more mature, and tall, for hobbits! But they were the ones who had laughed and joked with Frodo, so long ago... Merry was the one who had tried to escort her home. Pippin was not yet a tween then; he had been very, very shy. She wondered if they might remember her from that day. Frodo had not. Well, if Frodo had not, they would not either, she thought to herself. It was twelve years ago. What could she expect?
She shivered a little. I really should get up and get the hearth-fire up, she thought, but she did not want to leave the comfort of Frodo’s cloak yet. It was worth being a little cold just to sit here, curled up underneath it. The house in Deephallow would be very cold; she did not look forward to living there alone.
The Burrows family had one of the only houses in all that corner of the Shire. Her father had been a carpenter by trade, and had been fascinated by houses he’d seen in Bree. Building a house rather than a smial was something he had always wanted to do, a ‘special task he had set for himself,’ Mum always said.
Mum had told her two daughters she would really have preferred to live in a nice ordinary little hole, but she had become used to the house over time; she loved her husband, and he asked for nothing for himself. Eventually, Mum grew to love the house.
Over the years the Burrows house was something of a curiosity in Deephallow, with hobbits from nearby villages asking if they could see the inside of it. Da would always happily show them about the place. The visitors admitted grudgingly that Roper Burrows had more storage space by far than all of them, what with his huge cellar and even that odd space above the ceiling, but below the roof. Mum called it the roof space. All the better for mathoms, Da was fond of saying. She smiled to herself as she recalled the sound of his voice. They had collected more mathoms over the years than Lily cared to think about.
She sighed, and in so doing breathed in the sweet scent of the cloak. Was this the closest she would ever come to him? But no -- Daisy had said it was plain Frodo cared for her -- it was clearly written on his face. She said everyone could see it. Why then -- why then had he not spoken of it?
She remembered his darkness, the cold misery he battled against; she felt it herself on Tuesday night. She had forgotten to ask Samwise if this was somehow left over from the Quest. It had to be related to the Ring, which Sam said had taken possession of Frodo -- she shuddered at the thought of anything at all taking over him. She remembered the open, clear spirit of the hobbit she had met at the fair. He was truly changed now. The light was still there within him, but diminished. What she would give to take the darkness from him!
The talk she and Rosie had with Sam -- was it only last night? --kept her awake almost the whole night; she had only slept a little, perhaps an hour. She tossed and turned so many times that after two hours she got up and stoked the fire, settled in the rocking chair and held the cloak up against herself.
Frodo had really done this thing... he and Sam... and these others... the cloak was evidence. Not that she doubted Sam. But such fantastic tales he told! She turned them over and over, all night. She could not conceive of it. It was too much, too much to grasp...
She thought of Merry and Pippin’s martial gear, their bright swords and bucklers; they had armor! No one in the Shire had armor, and the craftwork and design had never been seen before.
The behavior of the Travelers was the most telling of all. They swept into Bywater and in a day and a half had rid the Shire of the ruffians, the Boss, and Sharkey... the ruffians in the wild were being chased down. The prisoners had been released. The Travelers had organized it and done it. The Shire was free again. And they had taken it in stride, as if organizing a battle and dealing with prisoners and search parties and mass burials were everyday occurrences.
Frodo had not raised a sword at the battle, but Lily heard from Will that he had placed himself between a crowd of hobbits and Men; the angry hobbits had weapons in their raised hands. Will said Frodo did this calmly, as if facing physical danger and possible death were commonplace, even natural. The hobbits were seeking bitter vengeance and Frodo was after all only one against many, and a Baggins at that; ‘cracked’, as they liked to say.
She smiled to herself. Frodo was pure of heart, and others saw him as slightly mad. Perhaps this had kept the ladies away all these years, despite his beauty -- there was no other word for it -- and despite his obvious wealth.
Her thoughts wandered. She remembered Frodo’s words about Ilúvatar, and her own father’s favourite saying: to be thankful is to know. How had Frodo said to pray? Talk to Him, out loud or silently, and He will listen.
“Thank you for sparing him," she whispered. "Please let him be healed. Please -- ” She stopped. Could she make a request for herself? Was that allowed? Perhaps Frodo knew the answer to that. Until then, she was afraid to ask; she did not want to anger the Creator...
Lily remembered Sam’s story of their journey. Surely someone had protected them. To have come so far... and yet Frodo was the only one who had been afflicted with the darkness. And he was the only one to carry that Ring. Sam had hinted to Rose knowing something about it himself, but he said Frodo had carried it. It had to be the source of his misery, for the other three did not have that pain within them. In comparison, Merry was lighthearted; Pippin too, but he was much quieter than Merry... Sam was -- well, Sam was Sam. He had not changed. She felt a chill as she thought of what it would have been like for Frodo without Sam along. Indeed, Frodo would never have returned. The one thing Frodo had told her Tuesday night was that Sam saved his life so many times, he could not count them all...
And the Elf Lord -- Elrond? Yes, Elrond -- had saved Frodo’s life, as well. These Elves were powerful beings, then, to have saved him from such evil. Again she shuddered, and drew the cloak up against herself.
The cloak was made of the strangest fabric she had ever seen or touched. Sheer when seen in one light, and opaque in another light, shot through with some sort of shimmering thread which she could not identify, it had no seams... the clasp, an ornate leaf, was exquisite, more beautiful even than the best the Shire’s artisans could offer. And it was soft, soft as lamb’s wool, but tough -- she wondered if it could even be torn, or cut. It was from the Elves, after all. Maybe they cast a spell on it?
Even if it were so, she was not afraid. Frodo would not have lent her anything harmful.
Lily felt the softness of the cloak again as she rubbed it between her fingers. She was a decent seamstress herself, talented with needle and thread, and had worked with many fabrics, even making finery for others for their special occasions, if they needed help.
No seamstresses for hire resided in little Deephallow, unlike some of the larger villages in the Shire; there had been no need. The ladies there took pride in their work, though from time to time new clothing was bartered at the market for other goods. Sometimes Lily helped friends and cousins, when it came time to sew garments for special occasions like weddings. Lily could afford to have clothes made for her, but preferred to do the work herself. Her Da taught his children the value of honest work. They were considered quite well off, but did for themselves like everyone else, and saw to the needs of others where they could.
Da always said wealth could not buy happiness. Frodo was wealthy, but not happy, not as he had been years ago. She longed to see him happy again, even if it meant him finding someone else. The thought was hard, but she felt it deeply.
I love him, she reflected, but will he ever love me? She struggled to feel a bit of hope that someday he might.
A single shaft of light broke over the east windowsill and spilled onto the hearth floor at her feet. Lily followed its path with her eyes, back to the sunrise.
She remembered Frodo’s words about faith, and about not taking things for granted, spoken at the burial. Indeed, the sun was coming up now, just as she always assumed it would... Frodo was wise. He was young yet, to have so much wisdom. Surely, he had learned much on the Quest.
She sighed, and set the teapot on to boil. It was time for the household to rise.
It had been an unusually warm day for November. The sun had shone bright and clear, warming the earth with her radiance. Lily did not even have to put on her shawl when the time came to return his cloak.
When she gathered up her courage at the end of the day, after suppertime, she went to the Cottons’ door and knocked. She held the cloak and a fresh seed cake, still warm, in the crook of her arm. It was a thank-you for him, for the use of his cloak. Rose told Lily earlier that Frodo and Sam were expected back for supper. This morning, early, Sam had taken the walk to Bag End to help his master for the day. They would be cleaning up, organizing, and planning. Frodo told Sam it would be weeks before the hole was back to anything like normal.
Rosie opened the door and smiled. "Lily! How are you, dear? They aren’t back yet. Please come in; I’m expecting ‘em any moment."
She had barely finished speaking when they heard Sam’s voice calling from the direction of the lane. They turned to see Sam and Frodo, not far away now at all. Both looked tired but happy, as if much had been accomplished. She recognized that look; Will and -- and Da always had it, too, after working themselves to the bone all day on some task or other. Frodo and Sam were talking and laughing. Frodo was smiling even as he looked up and saw her.
It is so very good to see him happy, Lily thought.
Sam continued up the path. He gave Rosie a kiss on the cheek as he passed her, saying he needed a bath before he could eat a thing. He turned back around for a moment.
"And a good evening to you, Miss Lily!" he said, smiling. He vanished past Rosie into the smial. Rose looked at Frodo, who had stopped at the bottom of the path. She smiled; he looked so bedraggled, like Sam. But more than anything, as he stood there staring at Lily, he looked like a child who had been lost and then found again in the same instant.
"Frodo, Lily, we’ll be having supper in a while. Come in, both of you, when you’re ready, and don’t knock," she called.
Then she spoke to Lily, but softly, "Lily? If you want to speak to him alone -- " The rest was left unsaid. Rosie went inside, and shut the door gently behind her.
For the moment, neither of them said a word. Twilight was falling all around them quickly, as the sun began to set. Then Frodo seemed to awaken, as if from a trance; he spoke.
"How good it is to see you, Lily."
His smile was warm; his pleasure was genuine. Daisy was right. There was affection in his eyes... Lily had not believed it before. Daisy’s words had given her the courage to really look at him; to try to see it. It was so hard simply to look into his eyes! I will fall, she thought. I will fall there, and never be able to find my way out again... and after what Sam told us last night -- !
What she saw in his eyes took her breath away. She had to close her own.
“Frodo -- I am happy to see you,” she intoned, but her voice sounded far away, and she felt weak.
“Lily? Are you all right?” He had come to her, he was touching her, holding her arms once again to give her balance... how many times this week had he already had to do that for her?
She was only half-aware of anything, now. He was sitting her down on the front step, then sitting next to her. His face was full of concern.
“Please speak to me, Lily. You are pale... are you not well? Do you need to lie down?”
“I -- I don’t know. I’m sorry. I seem to have lost my breath for a moment. I’ll get it back...” she smiled weakly, but avoided those eyes. If she were not careful she would faint again. She tried not to curse her tendency toward fainting spells. Her mother had taught her it was a waste of a good day to be angry for very long. She reminded herself, too, she had hardly slept the night before.
She could not help but look Frodo up and down -- anywhere but his eyes -- and it made her smile.
He had obviously been at physical labor today. His sleeves were rolled up, he wore no waistcoat, and his old work breeches looked several sizes too big for him; he was wearing braces as well. Since Frodo never had to ‘do for himself,’ as Samwise would say, she guessed these were some of Sam’s own work breeches, borrowed for the day... she almost laughed. His beautiful skin was smudged with dirt and soot, and those dark curls needed washing.
Frodo saw her expression, and his face, which had before been full of concern, relaxed into an easy smile.
“You are better now,” he said. “I am glad...” He looked harder at her face. “You’re so much better, in fact, that you’re trying not to laugh at how terrible I look... am I correct? -- ah, yes! I see that I am!”
Lily had covered her own mouth in an attempt to stifle a giggle, and at this Frodo laughed outright.
Her spirit felt renewed for a moment; it was good to hear him laughing so. On the night they met, at Will’s, his laughter had been the sad kind; he had not been happy then.
“If only you had seen me on the Quest, Lily, you’d know this is nothing to how filthy...” he began, but suddenly stopped, and Lily’s hand fell away from covering her mouth. She felt the approaching darkness, and at the same moment saw its effect on him. He sat there, silent, and lost within himself.
You never could wash it away, try as you might, the voice began mercilessly.
Lily saw Frodo’s eyes close, as though he were fighting with himself.
You cannot wash it away, even now. It is part of you; it lies deep within you. It is too deep, and cannot be reached, nor removed. Your precious home was cleansed, but nothing will cleanse you again. Nothing.
“Precious! Not that word! Do not call her that! Not my home... no...” Frodo whispered, seemingly in pain.
“Frodo?” Lily felt his pain increasing; he was putting his head down into his hands. Without thinking, she touched his arm, but only for a moment. She immediately felt weak, and fought it.
The darkness was gone, for now; she could feel this as well. She felt his sadness ease, that quickly...
He looked at her, and he knew what had happened. Lily -- yes, she knows it too, he thought. How I wish I could give her strength, I wish I could return her kindness! But to touch her -- it does not seem wise. Gandalf said I should be careful... She is trying not to show her discomfort, Frodo thought. He sighed, and she began to speak.
“Frodo,” she began, with some effort, “Sam told me -- last night he told Rosie and myself about the journey you took, about the Quest... I asked him, as you said I could...”
“Yes, and I’m glad you did ask; that is, if you are not too upset by what you heard. Sam told me today about the conversation. He gave you the short version.” Frodo smiled, trying to bolster her spirits just a little. For the moment, she was looking straight ahead, not at him.
When she said nothing, he tried again. “So now you know all about the hand story!”
She still would not look at him. Maybe she really was disgusted by all of it... he felt a little panic rise within him, and immediately fought it back. If he allowed the darkness to return, they would both be hurt.
Finally, she turned to him. Her eyes were welling with tears. She tried to speak, but her voice failed her.
“Lily! -- whatever is wrong?”
Again, his concern; she fought the dizziness.
“Frodo, I did not know.... I did not realize... You never told me -- the Ring, the Black Riders, the Dark Lord -- the fire -- you were stabbed, they beat you --” She began to weep, still fighting to contain it. It caused her to choke and gulp for air.
“Stop, Lily. Please stop. It is over now. We are all right.” How I wish I could hold her! he thought.
“This was one of the reasons why I could not tell you, Lily. Sam told me how hard it was for you both to hear it. And it was hard for him to tell it, very hard...”
“It’s all true, isn’t it?” she said, facing him with all the strength she possessed, and looking into his eyes. She wanted to touch his dark curls, not caring one whit about the dust and dirt there.
“Yes. I wish I could say it never happened, but that would be a lie. It is true.”
“How -- ? How did you do it?”
She did not seem disgusted with him; this was a relief. Sam had said Lily was terribly upset as the tale was being told, but upset for himself and for Sam, rather than at them.
“I’m not sure how we did it. We had help, even help we didn’t know about until much later. Most of the time we simply put one foot in front of the other; I thought no farther ahead than that. Thinking about it too much would have made me turn back.”
“Were you able to pray?”
He looked at her with something like sadness in his eyes, and his brow furrowed.
“No. I could not pray to Ilúvatar, for I did not yet know of Him. At times, I called for help to those who have given aid to the Elf-kind in days past... they have some power of their own to help us, under Him.
“But Sam was my constant help, Lily. Without him, I could never have done it, not ever. I would not be here today. And I am happy to be here, talking with you.”
He hoped this would calm her. It did seem to, for the moment. She took deep breaths, trying to regain her composure. But then her words came out in a rush.
“Oh! You have not had supper! How thoughtless of me! You must be so hungry! Please... go and eat... I have already had mine.”
She looked again into his eyes now, hard as it was to do. “I -- we have to leave in the early morning. Daisy’s child is coming very soon, any day... they want to go back; they’re taking me home to Deephallow. I -- I’m returning your cloak; thank you for helping me.”
Lily tore her eyes away from his gaze so she could continue. “Thank you for comforting me and warming me, and for trying to save Da -- and for loaning Strider to Will. I must go... I hope you will enjoy the seed cake. It is a thank-you, but it is not adequate.”
She stood up, too quickly for her own good, and placed the cloak and the seed cake into his hands, avoiding the look of surprise on his face. She turned to leave, took two steps, and turned back, meeting his eyes again.
“Thank you for saving the Shire! And our whole world."
Her tears fell hard, just as the sun set and the sky became truly dark. Twilight was over. She raised her hands to her face and brushed the tears away as fast as they came.
“Lily, I cannot say goodbye to you like this.” He approached her. “Are you up to taking a walk tonight? If you promise to bundle up? I want to wash, and yes, I will eat, but please let me talk to you for a little longer tonight. Can we meet in an hour? I will come for you there at Will’s. Please, say you’ll meet me.”
Her heart was beating very hard. “Yes, in an hour. I will bundle up,” she promised.
Lily saw his deep sigh of relief.
“Good, good,” he breathed. “Thank you. In an hour, then.” His first impulse was to kiss her cheek, but no... the darkness. He had only been praying for two days. It wasn’t enough time for a miracle to happen, he thought, admitting to himself he knew nothing of how long it took Ilúvatar to grant miracles.
He remembered her earlier weakness after she touched him, but it did not seem to last. Perhaps his prayers were being heard? But he wanted his darkness to have no effect on her. He could not ask for the darkness to be removed. That seemed far too impossible. Maybe he was meant to carry this around inside himself. Perhaps that was the punishment for having claimed the Ring rather than destroying it. But he could pray the darkness would not hurt her; Gandalf had said such prayer was allowed, Frodo remembered. In fact, he said we may ask for anything we desire.
“In an hour,” he repeated, and she replied, “Yes.”
Neither of them wanted to move, but Frodo knew the hour would pass quickly, and in his practical way he knew a bath and clean clothes and a meal would take at least one hour. Eating quickly wasn’t the best way to eat, but he’d eaten so many rushed meals while being hunted -- by contrast, a quick meal at the Cottons’ was a luxury.
He opened the door with his free hand, holding the cloak and the seed cake in the other. "Thank you," he called to her. He saw her wave, and then forced himself to shut the door.