#16

[51st Day, just after the sun has dropped below the horizon]

At the tents in the open field, more food and drink have replaced the goods from breakfast.  There is an abundance of small sweet cakes that Lily says are made only for these two days.  What ever is left over of them tomorrow night is given back to the fields where the grain first grew.  Now there are at least two groups of musicians playing; it's difficult to tell which group is playing which song, but the intermingling of sounds is pleasant.  The bonfire is still burning.  It will not be allowed to go out until after tomorrow, when folk will keep an eye on it but let it go out as it will.  Children are running hither and yon, laughing and hiding from imaginary creatures behind tolerant adults.  Lily explains that the custom is to keep merrymaking all through both days of Yule; the old idea was that this must be done so the Sun was convinced people were truly grateful for it, or it wouldn't come back next Yule.  Many folk sit up by the bonfire all night, plaiting long strands of grass and straw into fabulously woven circles or disks that represent gifts to the Sun for showing itself again.  Frodo is captivated by the ease with which these disks were made.  It must  take less than five minutes to make one, yet they show a variety of weaves, colors, sizes and type of grassy fringe surrounding the circle to mimic rays.  Some are quite thick, others are only one layer.  Some have an open center.  Lily says Iris and Torold have always been better at making them than she.

"For a seamtress and weaver of cloth I'm embarrassed to admit that!" she says as she fusses with some strands of thick grass.  "Somehow thread is easier to work with.  Look, even with your first one, it's better than mine!"

Frodo tries not to laugh.  In fact, she's right.  "Well, I think you're doing that on purpose, you and Torold are much too kind to me!"

"No no, look, oh, it's an oval!" she cries, holding hers up.

Frodo holds up his too, and against the backlight of the bonfire he can see the difference.  His is very little more than a braided circle, but... it is very round... A sudden fear grips his heart and he drops the grass circle as if it were on fire.

Lily is shocked to realise that he is almost gasping as he stares at the circle.  "Frodo!  What happened?"

He bolts, startling people as he runs past.

Lily chases after and almost loses him in the dimness outside of the fire's light.  She is panting by the time she catches up with him, out in the barren field.  She stops more than an arm's length away.  She can't quite see what he's doing, but he seems to be alternately scratching at his eyes and staring up at the sky.  She is terrified.  Without any idea of what's happening or why, she can only watch helplessly.

Finally he falls to his knees, his breath rasping in the still night air.  Lily takes one step at a time toward him, shaking.  Her eyes, beginning to adjust to the shadow, can just make him out on the ground.  Still afraid but wanting to help, she reaches out slowly and her fingertips touch his shoulder.  He shudders; she pulls her hand away.  Long minutes pass.

Frodo realizes his hands on the ground have become cold.  He presses them against his eyes; this helps the vision fade further.  He looks up at the stars again and can see many of them now.  Taking gulps of brisk air, he blinks repeatedly, trying to clear away the last of the apparition.  It doesn't seem to want to disappear.  Gradually he becomes aware of a sound and turns toward it...  who is that?  It's getting brighter again... O Elbereth, what is standing in front of him??

Lily hears a whimper and firmly takes Frodo's hand.  It's icy.  He starts to pull back but she calls him repeatedly, holding his hand in both of her own.

A shadow-shape outlined in a red glow hovers near Frodo.  He can't pull away from it.  It knows his name!  Surely now will be the end of him!

In the dimness Lily can just see the panic on his face.  "It's only me, Lily!" she pleads.  "I won't hurt you, please, tell me what's wrong... please, it's only me!"  She doesn't notice her tears.

Frodo's jewel emits a sheen of silvery-white.  It's light feels cool on his face.  Abruptly he sees Lily in its glow.  He stops breathing for a moment.  He can't remember why he should be looking at Lily.  The redness fades and vanishes.

She sees recognition in his tormented eyes.  "Frodo!  Tell me you can hear me!  Please tell me you're alright!"  Her voice is unsteady and she begins to tremble.

He looks around and with the clarity of his peculiar night vision he sees nothing nearby.  With breaths that shake his body he exhales several times.  He looks back at Lily.  Her huge dark eyes reflect the light of the jewel.  Her face seems white.

"Lily..." he whispers, very low.  "I'm sorry... I'm so sorry.  I had to run, I could see it, I could even feel it..." The memory is too much; his voice fails.

"Ssshhhhh... it's gone now.  There is nothing here.  There is only you and me."  She tries hard to keep her voice steady, unsure if she has succeeded.

Frodo shakes his head, just to be sure the image is in fact gone.  His vision is clear, but he is afraid that may not last.  He knows there is no fire around, but he is still fearful.  He clutches her hands; she winces but does not pull away.  "Are you sure...?"  His voice is still barely above a whisper.  "I'm afraid, Lily!  I can't see anything here but I'm afraid!"

"It's gone, Frodo, it's all gone.  There's nothing here to hurt you.  We're alone in the field.  There aren't even any other people.  Really... there's nothing else here."

She watches him as he continues to look around.  Ever so gradually his grip loosens.  He begins to breathe slower.  Quiet sounds from the feasting can be heard but nothing else.  He looks at the stars.  They are shining as always, they seem to be as bright as the jewel.  "Lily, do the stars look different to you?"

"Different?  Well no I don't think so..." She looks at them but can't think of anything that seems unusual.

"They're not brighter than they used to be?"

"No... not to me..."

Frodo gazes at her.  ‘No, I suppose they wouldn't be... it's only me.  No one will ever see them this way.'  He sighs, a slow breath that feels like it's emptied all the air from him.  "I will always be like this," he says.  "There is not much to be done about it, if anything.  There are some wounds that even love cannot touch."

***

"Oh, Frodo!  Don't say that!  You haven't been back long!  You need time to recover!"

"Lily even the lifetime of an Elf would not be enough.  I have seen the Eye of Sauron, I have been enslaved by his Ring.  That can't be forgotten or set aside."

"But you have to try!  You can't give up!"

"It isn't a matter of giving up.  It's the way it is.  The Ring is gone but it's effects are not.  If I was a great Elf, or a wizard, maybe it would be different somehow, but even Galadriel and Gandalf refused it.  It was my burden, and it still is."  She begins to weep and Frodo holds her loosely.  "I'm sorry, I am, I know this is hard for you...."

"I can't give up!" she insisted, her eyes pleading with him.

"Ah, Lily, you must.  There is no other way.  You mustn't entangle yourself with this.  Even Sam couldn't relieve me of it or share it with me.  It's no different even though the Ring is gone."

"It must be, somehow!  You can't live this way, never knowing what will bring the terror back.  You can't do this alone."

"You're making this difficult for yourself," he says, his voice compassionate.  "I carried the Ring to Mordor and got out--"

"With Sam's help, you said!  You were sure you were going to die there but he didn't abandon you.  How can you possibly keep this up?  You'll go mad!  You're being stubborn!  If Sam's responsible for saving your life then, what about now?"

Frodo closes his eyes briefly.  ‘She's right about me having had help, but it's not that simple.'  He takes her hands in his and looks intently at her.  "Now, no one can help.  It may have been better if I had died there.  Sam only saved my body, Lily, not my mind.  I've been pierced too deeply.   This cut on my arm won't even leave a scar but inside, the wound will always be there, there is no salve or balm that can erase it."

"How do you know?  You haven't been back very long."

"You saw me!  A simple decoration and a common bonfire!  This won't be the last time.  It doesn't matter if a day passes or ten years.  Fires burn lasting marks.  I suppose you won't really understand this yet," he adds.  "I'm sorry I disrupted things... I'll be alright now, now that I know what to expect."

"You think I'm going to go back there as if nothing happened?  Maybe you've decided nothing can be done but I'm not convinced."  She pulls her hands free and crosses her arms, looking much like Sam, telling Elrond he was going on the Quest and that's final.  "I think you've convinced yourself of that, for one reason or another.  It's too easy to just say it's hopeless and carry on with the pain.  Maybe you need something else to live for.  Maybe you never wanted to stop your wandering and now the thought of staying in the Shire is intolerable, since you've been over the Mountains and seen so many things."

"That doesn't have anything to do with it.  The Ring had power over me the first time I held it.  I didn't expect to do anything as complicated as get to Mordor, but that's what happened.  If I try to tell myself it shouldn't have happened, I will go mad."

She shakes her head, not looking at him.

‘Lily, you poor girl,' he thinks.  ‘I wish you would understand... I would still like to settle in the Shire, Bag End, somewhere, and know that I could put it all out of my mind.  It still feels like it's slipping from my hands.  But there's no use in fighting it.  Not liking it won't change it.'  "Please, let it rest for now, this is not a night for sadness.  Come back to the feast." ***

#17

[51st Day, evening, continued]

"Not a night for sadness?  All I feel is sadness, Frodo.  You're telling me your life is destroyed and I should have no thought for that.  Well how can I do that?  You're grateful for Sam helping you but you want me to forget it.  I never thought of you as selfish."

"I told Sam more than once I had no hope of ever leaving there.  I had no say in what he did.  And now, it hurts him terribly that he can't do more for me.  I've caused enough hurt... I don't want to hurt you that deeply too."

"Well.  It's too late for that, too.  I'm surprised you haven't tried to tell me your wounds are as permanent as the Sun returning every year."

"Lily...." Frodo is frustrated.  Lily can't understand this in one conversation, and especially after her own tragedy.  She is the stubborn one.  He knows she is saying more than her words indicate.  He remembers his earlier musings on whether or not he might be able to live in Oakleaf, or somewhere other than Bag End.  He walks a few paces away.  She watches.  "I'm still confused about some things, I'll have to admit that.  But I do know that it isn't as simple as you'd like it to be.  It isn't just a matter of what I want to do, or not do.  Your feelings right now must be complicated, as well."

"Not much.  It seems clear to me.  You've always had help with this burden and now should be no different.  Didn't you tell me Sam even carried the Ring for awhile?"

"Now don't keep simplifying things!  I didn't know he had it at first, and when he showed it to me--" The memory of it is enough to make him shudder.  The overwhelming, excruciating need to hold it again; knowing he would have struck Sam or worse to get it back.  "There is nothing to compare it with, it is beyond any need or compulsion for anything else.  Gandalf and the Elves wouldn't even touch it!  The best I can say now is that the Ring's touch is corrupt and complete."  He holds out his maimed hand.  "This should be proof.  I couldn't fight it any more.  I wanted to keep it more than I ever wanted anything, more than I ever dreamed I could want anything.  This is only an outward mark but the inner is as complete."

Lily grasps his hand and leans over it.  Her obvious pain is too much and he pulls her close.  "I'm sorry, Lily!  You have been through far too much!  I know I've been cruel to you but I don't know any other way to make you see.  Please, let's not talk about this any more tonight.  All I want tonight is to enjoy Yule and the celebration.  You've certainly helped me with that.  This Yule is one I'll never forget."

There is a pause before she looks up.  Tears glitter in her eyes.  "I won't forget either.  Please, Frodo, please, tell me you'll think about what I said.  I'll try to accept your word on this, but you must do the same."

"Of course.  I promise.  Lily, I cherish the time I've been here.  We may never have met like this if things had happened differently, and for this much I'm glad."

He kisses her cheek and she holds him for just a moment, then moves away.  They make their way back to the crowd.

The group is a little quieter now.  Some folk have gone off to rest for a few hours and the youngest have fallen asleep in their parents' arms, to be carried off to their warm beds.  Torold sees Lily and Frodo come back.  Lily sees the look of concern on his face and shakes her head, smiling a fragile smile.  Torold sits back down but continues to keep an eye on the pair.

Night carries on, the stars watching from their high places.  Board games begin and end, songs are created and forgotten, gifts for the Sun are made.  Lily is not surprised that Frodo doesn't make more, and she can't bring herself to do so either.  They watch, however, as others make them, and Frodo continues to be impressed by the craftsmanship of these villagers.  Dancing resumes when- ever a fresh contingent arrives.  Lily grows tired but says nothing until Frodo asks if she'd like some sleep.  Torold says he'd like to stay on, he's just gotten interested in a board game.  Frodo walks Lily back to her home.  She knows better than to ask him if he'd stay.  In the quiet house, she can't fall asleep for a while.  Frodo also lies awake but soon drifts into a deep, dreamless sleep.

***