Chapter 1: An Unexpected Visit
Greetings! This story is a re-written version of a very old fanfiction of mine. My very first LotR fic, it went on unintentional hiatus for many years (many many years) but with all the excitement about The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey I sat down one day a month or so ago and marathoned all the extended editions of The Lord of the Rings. As I did I couldn't help but think about this story, the one I'd left hanging for years. I went back and re-read it, and realized that I could make it better.
So I rewrote it, added more detail, changed the title. The plot stayed the same, but I was able to flesh out the chapters more.
Originally it was born out of a crazy idea to attempt a sequel. So without further ado, here is the first chapter of my re-written story. I hope you enjoy it.
Aragorn, son of Arathorn, King of Gondor, was standing on a parapet overlooking Minas Tirith, the jewel of Gondor. The city spread out before him; the white stone shining even in the darkness of night, lit by the softly glowing torches of the city, which cast a gentle illumination over the beginning of the Pellenor Fields before the city's gates. Every now and then Aragorn caught the quiet noises of the city guard's patrol, or a snatch of laughter on the breeze. The city was thriving again – a creature that had once lain dormant for a long time, it was again full of life and bustle.
Aragorn's gaze swept the darkened landscape. The plains of Gondor stretched away to his right, and the last mountains of Ered Nimrais, the mountain range that formed the border between Gondor and Rohan, were on his left. Across from him, the Pellenor Fields stretched to the ruins of Osgiliath. Aragorn could only just, and with great difficulty, see the abandoned city that spanned the river. He was committed to re-building and re-populating the area, but had been working on Minas Tirith in the meantime. Osgiliath was next to be cleansed of Mordor's taint. Beyond the once-proud city of men, the Mountains of Shadow that bordered that evil land rose, intimidating, in the distance.
The king's gaze lingered for a moment on the mountains. Memories of events that had happened a year ago, events that had changed him and his friends forever, filtered into his mind. The battles that seemed hopeless; the unending waves of Orcs and Uruk-Hai snarling a hair's breath from him. Having to watch friends suffer, injured, and the constant worry about two little Hobbits, alone in the dark lands, who could not know how much they were thought of, prayed for. Watching good men die, seeing glory and splendour replaced with sadness and loss of hope. Sometimes, evil memories appeared in nightmare, other times, it was merely reduced to a feeling of unease towards Mordor.
But it was all over now. The Ring had been destroyed – two Hobbits who did what armies could not have achieved – the battles won, injuries healed. Friends who had not survived were mourned. And he had taken his rightful place as King of Gondor.
Aragorn was jerked from his reverie by something that chilled him to the soul. A flash of red lightning, above the Mountains of Shadow. Coming from Mordor. The clouds were so thick it was only seen for the barest instant, a sudden streak of colour in the night sky.
He stared the mountains, searching for another flash of red. Aragorn knew it could only mean one thing – Orodruin, Mount Doom, was active…after a year of lying dormant after its destruction when the Ring was destroyed. But that was not all. The flash of red, seen through the gap in the cloud, had illuminated something else. The edge of a colossal black tower; spiked and evil silhouetted against the flame. Another flash of red confirmed his worst fears.
Aragorn turned hurriedly from the parapet and strode inside, trying to keep calm. He knew he must ride now for Rivendell – and not entrust another soul with this task. Gandalf and Elrond had to be alerted as soon as possible, and he would go. Alone he could travel faster and cover more ground; even if it was 'improper' for a King to do so. He went to wake his wife, and tell her what was happening. Arwen could easily take care of the city while he was on this errand.
Somehow, Barad-Dur was rebuilt.
Sauron laughed again, his spiked helmet thrown back in glee. Frodo was unable to move – through his own fear or a spell he did not know – as the figure was dragged before him, thrown roughly to the ground. Frodo cried out to his friend, who pushed himself up only to be run through with Sauron's sword. Frodo cried out again, as the blood covered his hands…
Frodo woke, pale and covered in a sheen of sweat. He had often had nightmares, after returning from the Quest. Lately, they were becoming more and more vivid, worse, and almost more real. The feeling of unease that accompanied them in waking no longer faded after a few minutes, but persisted throughout most of the morning. And he could never go back to sleep after them.
This one had been the worst for a while. Frodo could never remember the nightmares in full detail, often he could only remember part of them if any at all. They all ran along the same theme: Mordor. Each time, he was confronted by Sauron, and each time, someone he knew and cared for was killed in front of him. The person changed – Sam, Merry, Pippin, Aragorn, Gandalf, Legolas…
This time, it had been Aragorn, cast before him on the rough ground. But this dream had also been the most vivid. He could hear the sounds of the sword being slid out of a scabbard, hear the echoingly nauseating sound of Sauron's laugh, feel Aragorn's blood on his hands; see everything so clearly as he watched his friend die.
It's gone. Frodo thought to himself, trying to calm his racing heart and fast breathing. It was destroyed, Mordor is ruined, and Sauron is gone. It's over.
Feeling a little more in control, Frodo looked out the window. Pale colours were appearing in the sky, heralding the new day - it was dawn. Frodo lay back onto his pillow. As he did, a searing pain shot through his left shoulder – the same place as ever, where he had been stabbed by the Morgul blade on Weathertop. He cursed in pain, gritting his teeth against it so as not to cry out a second time.
There was a knock on the door a moment later, and Sam appeared, looking slightly worried. "Are you all right?"
Frodo shook his head, a hand pressed over his burning scar, as his friend came over. "It's the Morgul wound," he sighed through gritted teeth. "It's worse than...ever before."
Sam's face grew more worried. Gently, he reached around Frodo's neck and drew out the Evenstar from under his friend's nightshirt. "Take it. Remember what Lady Arwen said."
Nodding, Frodo grasped the pendant. Almost immediately, the pain lessened, and his breathing eased. Feeling the cool metal and bright white crystals between his fingers, Frodo closed his eyes. "I remember. 'When the memory of the fear and darkness troubles you, this will bring you aid,' is what she said." The worst of the pain passed, and Frodo opened his eyes, looking at Sam. "But there's one thing I don't understand," he said slowly. "It's mid March. I fell ill on the thirteenth, from Shelob's sting, but that has nothing to do with my shoulder wound…why is it acting up now?"
Sam shrugged. He had never been sure about any of these 'magical' and 'cursed' wounds. They were too complicated for him. "Well, if you're that concerned, Mr. Frodo, we can talk about it later today with Master Merry and Master Pippin. They're coming to visit, remember?"
Frodo nodded, the last of the pain ebbing away. "That's true. I can't help but think something's wrong."
Merry frowned as he listened to Frodo's story of what had happened in the early hours of that morning. "I don't know. Nothings been out of place; I mean, there have been no strangers in the Shire like last time, or anything hinting to it. Not that I've heard." He idly scratched the back of his neck. "I could double check with the gate staff to be sure."
The four of them were walking across some fields not far from Bag End. The day was clear and warm, by all rights a perfect day. Yet the faces of the four Hobbits were serious, as they considered matters far beyond their own lands – something that had made their kin even more wary of them, the four 'Travellers' who were involved too much in things that shouldn't concern Hobbits.
"What about Gandalf?" asked Pippin. "Have you heard from him?"
Frodo considered this. "No, and that's a good point. Gandalf would surely tell us if anything was wrong."
Frodo had been mulling away on what this could mean all day. He couldn't think why his wound might be hurting now, there was no reason for it to. The date was wrong, the Nazgul were destroyed – all his usual triggers were unaccountable.
"Anyway, Aragorn's King of Gondor. He'd stop Mordor," stated Pippin, drawing himself up proudly and tapping his Gondorian gauntlet. Merry rolled his eyes, pointing at his own Rohirric gauntlet in challenge. Pippin turned back to Frodo, serious again. "And, he'd probably be the first to know – considering how close Minas Tirith is."
"There's another thought, Frodo. Don't go getting worried if nothing's happening." Merry smiled at his elder cousin.
Frodo smiled back, though it faded. It was difficult to explain how much this worried him – he knew his wound well by now, and this was definitely out of the ordinary. "It still doesn't answer the question of why my shoulder was hurting."
Pippin shrugged, kicking at a flower. "Maybe it was just a twinge?"
"Maybe. But I think..."
"Think what?" Pippin interrupted, knowing Frodo's habit of verbally dancing around the point.
Frodo shrugged. "It might sound worrisome, but I think it's linked. To what, I don't know, but every time…." Frodo stopped speaking with a sharp intake of breath, pressing a hand to his shoulder.
"Again?" asked Sam gently.
Frodo nodded, slowly breathing out. "Not as bad as before." He was about to reach for the Evenstar, when the pain vanished. He took his hand away from his shoulder. "That's odd. It's stopped hurting. Just…suddenly. It's never done that before." Frodo shrugged. "I wonder what's wrong, if anything?"
In the moment of silence that followed Frodo's question, there was a sound from far-off. A sound straight from nightmares and shadow, that chilled all four Hobbits to the bone and they all looked at one another, fearful and worried.
"I don't believe it," Pippin whispered.
"Believe it!" said Sam, searching the skies. "There's only one creature who makes a noise like that! Run!"
He pointed behind them, where a black shape on the horizon was growing larger with each passing moment. The Hobbits ran for the safety of Bag End, back the way they had come.
Merry tripped over a lose stone. Frodo ran back to help him, realising that the Nazgul was so close he could almost see it in perfect detail. The hands – or what were akin to hands – gloved in sharp metal, the black cowl that surrounded darkness, the gleam of a sword-hilt. He pulled Merry up and ran beside him. They were within a hundred meters of Bag End when the Nazgul's steed swooped down and grabbed Frodo in its claws.
"Frodo!" yelled Merry. He whistled shrilly as the Fell Beast began to turn. "Sam! Pippin!"
Sam appeared beside him, holding Sting. "Frodo! Catch!"
He threw the sword, in its scabbard toward the slowly rising Nazgul. Frodo twisted in its claw and caught Sting, drawing the blade in.
"By Elbereth, let me go!"
Sting bit deep into the Fell Beast's leg, and black blood spilled onto the elven blade. The creature shrieked and let Frodo go. Frodo dropped from the claws, landed heavily on a haystack, and promptly rolled off, winding himself. Dazed, he struggled to his feet as the Nazgul screeched and swooped again, but a shaft of white light made it wheel away, back to the East, the way it had come. Frodo leaned against the haystack, his head spinning.
He could hear the sound of people coming across the grass in his direction. Dizzy, due to lack of breath, he slowly opened his eyes. His vision was slightly blurred, but he could make out shapes coming towards him.
Sam was the first to reach him. "Frodo! Are you ok?"
"I believe so. Just a little dizzy, and a little sore." He rested a hand on Sam's shoulder, reassuring his friend who was justifiably worried.
Merry and Pippin arrived almost after Sam. "What did you do?"
"Slashed its leg. Sting cut deep, and it let me go. I dropped Sting when I fell."
"It's here," another voice said. Frodo looked up to see Aragorn holding Sting, hilt first, towards him. Frodo reached out and took the sword from him, noting the sticky black blood on the blade and wiping it off on the nearby haystack. "Thank you, Sire."
Aragorn sighed at his Hobbit friend's formality. "Do not call me that! None of you need to."
"And here is the scabbard, Frodo," said Faramir, who had come up on the other side of Frodo. Frodo took it gratefully and carefully slid the now-clean blade back inside. "Thank you, Faramir. But…what are you doing here?"
Aragorn and Faramir exchanged a glance. Frodo sighed inwardly – such a glance could not mean anything positive.
"I think it best if we go inside. Gandalf and Legolas are waiting."
Frodo blinked in surprise. "Gandalf's with you?" Something surfaced from his memory. "Of course, the white light. That was him, wasn't it?"
Aragorn nodded. "It was. He and Legolas await us, there is much to discuss." He watched as Frodo gently pushed himself off the haystack. "You are fit to walk, Master Baggins?"
Frodo smiled at him. "I'm fine, thank you, Sire."
Together the six walked across the last stretch of field to Bag End. Inside, Gandalf looked as at home as ever leaning on the mantle, but Frodo couldn't help but be the smallest bit amused by Legolas's height making him a far more awkward guest as he leaned against a clear patch of wall. Frodo's amusement faded when he noticed how serious they both looked.
Gandalf smiled broadly when they entered. "Frodo my lad, you're alright. That was some quick thinking of you," he said as he knelt down and momentarily embraced his small friend.
"It was Sam, really. He had the idea to get Sting."
Gandalf turned to Sam, who looked sheepish. "Then thank you Samwise, for some quick thinking when a friend was in danger." Sam muttered something in reply as Gandalf stood straight and surveyed them all. He sighed heavily, deciding not to engage in small talk as time was of the essence.
"You all need to come to Rivendell."
"To Rivendell? Why?" Asked Pippin.
"Because evil is again in Mordor." He sighed again. "I wish I was here on a better errand. But things are in motion and we must answer them. You four are heroes of the War of the Ring; and you represent the Halflings, and so are required for the Council. But furthermore, we think we know what is happening and it concerns you all personally."
Okay, so there's the first chapter. Drop me a comment, it would make my day!
Chapter 2: An Unexpected Visit
I'm really enjoying this re-editing process, it's really interesting. I didn't know how far I'd come as a writer (just in my own opinion) until I did this – going back and really breaking things down, taking my time. It's really cool to do – if you've got an unfinished story, then I urge you to do the same.
There was little time to waste. Agreeing to meet the others at the Brandywine Bridge, Pippin and Merry left Bag End, riding with Gandalf and Legolas, to gather their own possessions for travel from Tookland and Buckland respectively. They rode off in a flash of dust down the hill, leaving numerous puzzled Hobbits peeking over hedges and through gates, puzzled over the strange antics of the 'Travellers'.
Frodo and Sam gathered their own belongings: elven cloaks were carefully extracted from the coatrack; Sam's sword was picked up from its hallway hook, where it habitually hung beside Sting. In the privacy of his bedroom, Frodo carefully extracted the Phial of Galadrial from it's keeping-place, placing the elven talisman safely into his pack. He also retrieved his Mithril shirt, slipping it on quickly beneath his clothing. Its familiar feel, which he had grown so accustomed to on the quest to Mordor, was strange for a moment. He briefly entertained the notion of how many times it had saved his life, and how many more times it might have to prove its worth; but banished the thought.
As he made to leave his bedroom, he caught sight of himself in the looking glass. Elven cloak, elven jewel around his neck, elven dagger at his side…but just a Hobbit. He smiled sadly at himself in the mirror. Not really a hero, no matter what others may say. Just a Hobbit who went to the darkest of lands and returned changed, weary, and wounded.
On his return to the front hallway, to where Faramir and Aragorn were amusing themselves with the scale of Hobbit-sized items, Frodo passed the study. Inside Sam was sitting with Rosie, talking quietly with her. Rosie had been one of the first Hobbits to learn of what the 'Travellers' had done, and perhaps the only one who had been told every detail and truly understood it. Her love for Sam had helped her overcome the typical disinterest and fear with which most Hobbits viewed the world outside the Shire, and she was now eager to journey for herself sometime, not far, and not in dangerous circumstances, to see some of the places – like Rivendell – that her husband spoke about with such passion.
Frodo tapped the hilt of Sting idly as he walked. He couldn't deny there was a nice weight to having a sword at his side again; although it did symbolise the threat of combat, which he wasn't keen on. Throughout the War of the Ring, Frodo had never taken the life of another – not even an orc. He had defended himself when the time arose, of course, but had never struck a killing blow. Still, the sword spoke of adventure, of distant lands, and Frodo was honoured to wear it. He had tried to gift it to Sam, especially as Sam had used it more, but his friend wouldn't hear of it.
Sam and Rosie emerged from the study. Sam introduced her to Aragorn (she looked taken aback to be introduced to a king in such casual circumstances) and Faramir, and she wished the four of them safe passage. As the men went to ready the horses, Rosie wished Frodo and Sam well personally. She knew, and was one of the few who did, the extent of Frodo's changed life after the Ring's influence and his injuries, and could guess at the seriousness of the situation.
"Don't worry," Frodo whispered to her as she embraced him, "I'll look after Sam."
"I know," she replied softly. They parted, and Frodo stepped outside, giving husband and wife a final moment alone.
Rosie waved to them as they rounded the bend and were lost from sight. Catching a glimpse of Sam's pained face, Frodo sighed inwardly. He knew Sam was considering the chance he might not return, or what he might have to face before returning home. His farewell to Rosie was sure to have been emotional – and worse still, there were very few hobbits in the Shire she could confide in, or even simply talk to about how she was feeling.
Poor Rosie, Frodo thought as the road beneath him passed in a blur as he sat astride Brego with Aragorn. I cannot even make the promise that Sam will return alive to you. But I will swear to do everything within my power to make it so.
They didn't have long to wait at the Brandywine Bridge before Gandalf and Legolas appeared bearing Merry and Pippin on their horses. Frodo saw that just as he and Sam had retrieved their swords and Elven cloaks; Merry and Pippin had done the same – and gone the step further of changing into their garments from Rohan and Gondor respectively.
Frodo felt a thrill of pride for his cousins; tinged only a little with sadness from the memory of the circumstances that required them to wear such garb. Hobbits in armour were a thing of myth in the Shire, and Merry and Pippin looked like knights from the old tales. Being astride elegant horses and accompanied by an elf and a wizard only served to enhance the regal feeling.
The eight travellers did not tarry. As soon as they were reunited, they were off again, spurring their horses eastward along the road from the Shire, riding swiftly.
"It will take three days to get to Weathertop on horseback." Gandalf called back to his fellow travellers, as Shadowfax set a blinding pace. It almost felt like flying – Frodo could have been easily convinced that Brego's hooves were not actually touching the ground as he rode with Aragorn.
"Why are we going there?" Frodo called back over the rushing air. Although he was interested in the history of it, time had taken Amon Sul's beauty and the Nazgul had removed any sense of peace from the place. Frodo had hoped never to see it again; after what had happened there.
"To meet the eagles. They will take us the rest of the way to Rivendell."
Meet the eagles. Frodo turned the phrase over in his mind. If they were to meet the eagles to cut the journey's length, then surely whatever was happening was of such importance they really did not have any time to waste. This more than anything sent a chill through Frodo's blood – even with the Ring there had been time to walk to Rivendell, a hard-going but normal journey on foot. A shortcut – and one of such magnitude, if the eagles were to be helping; Frodo knew from Bilbo's stories more than anything the pride of the eagles – then there was far more to this situation than met the eye.
The rest of the day passed in silence. The rushing of the wind, from the speed of their travel, did little to enable proper conversation, and Frodo could guess that his companions were deep in thought. Each was more than likely to be involved in what could be happening in Mordor; what could happen to Middle-Earth; and those they had left behind. Everyone had his own nightmarish memories of the War. With the threat of Mordor growing again, there was little that could prevent those memories from coming back.
What if? was Frodo's recurring thought. The Nazgul have returned, there must be a power controlling them. Could it be Sauron himself, somehow? For a moment he considered the two kingdoms closest to Mordor. Rohan and Gondor are not yet recovered form the war. Many men were lost in defence of the free world. What if there is no last alliance this time? Could the darkness of Mordor spread across the world, defeating a weakened enemy?
Could it become as if the Ring had never been destroyed?
When the companions finally stopped for the night, sheltering on the edge of a small forest, the mood of the group was somewhat subdued – even Pippin, who could talk for hours and still say nothing, wasn't talkative. It was Gandalf who first spoke, once their camp was set and the fire was lit.
"To speak of this in the open is dangerous, but we have no other choice. Has anything happened, to any of you or in the Shire, that has been out of the ordinary as of late? Any dark tidings may be connected to the east."
"There has been no word from those on watch in Tookland," Pippin said softly, "Not that I have heard."
"Nor has there been anything from those who keep an eye on the Buckland border," Merry added, "or any strange signs from the Old Forest."
Frodo hesitated before speaking, unsure if his answer to Gandalf's question was an over-reaction, or worth providing. Surely he had had enough experience with the darkness in the east to feel comfortable speaking his mind? Even if it was only coincidence? But Frodo didn't think so. "As all of you would understand, my nights are not entirely peaceful. I am often visited by dark visions and distorted memories. They all are constructed around the same core images: I am confronted by Sauron, and someone I know and care for is killed before me. I was woken by one such nightmare just before dawn – as of late they have been becoming more real, more vivid. This time, I could feel the blood on my hands; hear the call of the Wraiths, like I have never been able to before. I don't know if it is important."
Gandalf studied him for a moment. "I think it may be, Frodo, more than you know."
"Your shoulder hurt too; didn't it?" Sam interjected, watching his friend.
Frodo nodded. "Yes, after the dream. Though I do not think the visions caused the pain; as it seemed to come after, very separately. I thought it strange – it being mid-March, rather than the October anniversary. Yet the appearance of the Nazgul, I suppose, explains it."
Sam sighed. "What is going on?"
"It will all be explained at Rivendell, if our luck holds" said Aragorn, saving Gandalf from answering. "There is another council summoned, as this will threaten the free people once more. All important figures will be there: Eomer is riding from Rohan, and Thranduil from Mirkwood, to name but a few."
"Thranduil is my father," said Legolas, a shadow of a smile appearing on his face. "King of the Mirkwood Elves."
"Would that be the same Elven King who was responsible for the incarceration of a certain group of dwarves on their way to a certain Lonely Mountain?" asked Pippin, his eyes sparkling cheekily in the firelight.
Legolas raised an eyebrow, and laughed. "The very same. He is more friendly towards the dwarves, now. I wasn't very interested, I admit freely, when I heard my father had caught some trespassers and imprisoned them in the dungeons. I was moreso amused when I heard they had escaped – and how."
Faramir leaned forward. "I think this is a tale I have not heard."
For a moment, all darkness, all thoughts of destruction, were abolished from the circle of firelight as the four hobbits jointly told Faramir a brief but still amusing version of Bilbo's unexpected journey with the dwarven party. Gandalf, for his part, filled in what details he could remember, and Legolas provided a wider perspective once the tale reached his own kingdom.
"Mirkwood…."mused Merry. "And those spiders! The dwarves are all bound in web, and Bilbo the only one who can aid them. What did Bilbo sing to distract them, Frodo? You ought to know."
"Lazy Lob and crazy Cob
are weaving webs to wind me.
I am far more sweet than other meat,
but still they cannot find me!
Here I am, naughty little fly
you are fat and lazy.
You cannot trap me, though you try,
in you cobwebs crazy," sang Frodo, remembering Bilbo's tale. "That was it, I think. By his telling it drove them mad trying to find him."
The companions fell silent once more, no more thinking on Sauron and the impending darkness for the moment. Instead, their thoughts were of songs and tales, and old memories, memories before the Ring. The lightheartedness of Bilbo's tale had reminded them that while darkness was on the horizon, it was not here yet, and to act as if it was was to throw away what last precious moments they may have away from its shadow.
A low voice started to sing, rising and falling in gentle melodic intonations.
"Minas Tirith, the White City tall
Jewel of Gondor, never to fall
Towers high, and every spire,
Gleaming like a burnished fire
Trumpets call from the White Tower
The White Tree always in white flower
King on throne, flag held high
Black against the summer sky
Stars and Stones, the White Tree
Between the mountains and the sea
The Guarded City of Gondor,
Destined to stand for evermore."
Faramir stopped singing, his clear voice trailing off in the firelight. "And now, a king we have indeed!"
"I have not heard it before. And I lived in Minas Tirith, so to speak," said Pippin, watching Faramir closely.
Faramir shook his head, smiling at days passed. "It is an old rhyme; one learnt in my childhood. Most children of the city know it; but it is not one of our 'great' songs. It came back to me just now."
"I like it," Frodo said quietly with a smile. "It speaks of pride without arrogance; and is neither sad nor happy – but it rings with certainty."
This is what I always thought an adventure would be like, Frodo thought to himself, casting a glance around the fire. Good companions, good conversation, sleeping out under the stars with no expectations or duties but those we impose upon ourselves. Yet the great stories never truly explain the threat of darkness…I suppose it is mentioned, of course, but never in such a way that it feels like it could bring a chance of failure for the heroes. I wonder, will song ever capture the darkness of the War of the Ring? Or will it be understated, to encourage the 'happy' ending?
Frodo lay back as Legolas began to sing in elvish. Even without his knowledge of the language, the tune and tone would have been enough to enjoy it. The words were flowing like water, shining like jewels as they entwined with the notes of the melody. They encouraged visions, of Lothlorien, of Rivendell, of tranquillity and peace. Frodo slipped into dreams, still listening to Legolas.
"A Elbereth Glithonel
Silivren penna miriel
O menel aglar elenath!
O galadhremmin ennorath
Fanuilos, le linnathon
Nef aear, si nef aearon…"
The Spider song is from The Hobbit (Bilbo taunting the spiders in Mirkwood), and the Elven one is sung in Rivendell in Fellowship of the Ring. But Faramir's Gondorian song was written by me, just randomly.
And the point about Frodo never taking a life is from something I read somewhere – even in Moria and Amon Hen, right through to Mordor, I'm pretty sure he never killed an orc or goblin. I could easily be wrong, but for the purposes of this story it works. Regardless of if I'm right or not, Frodo never has liked drawing steel on others, and had always been quite anti-killing – but he's not against being prepared.
Chapter 3: The Nazgul Return
Once more into the breach dear friends, once more...
When Frodo woke in the early morning, Legolas, who had been last on watch, greeted him warmly. Evidently, the light-heartedness from the night before was still in the hearts and minds of the companions. Frodo, for his part, had slept the untroubled sleep of the content; being lulled to sleep through Elvish words. He only hoped that the nightmares would keep away for a little while yet; and enable him some measure of peace.
The sun shone warmly, and seemed to touch the traveller's hearts. The hours of horse riding were far easier, set at a slightly slower pace and filled with what little conversation could be achieved over the rushing wind. The horses seemed revived of spirit too, as the companions covered more ground than they expected to, riding eastward. They met little company on the roads, such as they were, and what few people they did see were surprised, to say the least, with the impressive display of running horses and laughing heroes.
Passing one such entranced man, Frodo considered what the eight of them must look like. Clad in a variety of garb – from light armour, to wizard robes, to conventional clothing – astride four great and galloping horses, and of different races. They must seem right out of a storybook to those of the sheltered western regions of Middle Earth.
The afternoon wore on, and soon the sun began to sink towards the horizon. Gandalf called a halt, gently leading Shadowfax from the road and to a nearby clearing alongside a small wooded thicket.
"We will be in sight of Weathertop tomorrow," said Gandalf, "and reach it in the early afternoon. The eagles will meet us there and take us on to Rivendell."
"What of the horses?" said Merry, from where he was giving an apple to Arod.
"Shadowfax will guide them to Rivendell. He knows the way," Gandalf replied with a gentle pat of his friend's mane.
The travellers busied themselves with setting up a camp for the oncoming night. As he was about to enter the small wood to gather more fuel for the fire, Frodo was suddenly struck with pain. It lanced through his shoulder, seeming to set alight his very flesh through to the bone; a red-hot spike that sent him to his knees, reeling. Involuntarily, he cried out as he pressed the heel of his right hand to the wound, trying desperately to not let it overwhelm him.
Aragorn was at his side in an instant. "Frodo?" He could see Frodo's pale hand was rubbing at the location of the Morgul-blade wound, and even as he watched Frodo grasped at something around his neck. Aragorn recognised the glint of silver and crystal – the Evenstar, the gift his own wife had bestowed on the Ringbearer to ease his suffering and ongoing torment from the shadows.
Frodo was murmering in elvish to himself, not noticing his concerned friends. "Elbereth ortannya sulelonya nwalme…" His eyes were tightly closed, teeth gritted as sweat formed on his brow.
"Mithrandir! There are dark shapes on the wind!" called Faramir, who had been scanning the skies.
"Nazgul," said Merry and Pippin in unison. They shared a look and each drew their swords, as did Gandalf.
"Aragorn! Take the Hobbits undercover. Protect Frodo." The White Wizard turned, towards the oncoming Nazgul, Glamdring shining in one hand and his staff upraised in the other. "Legolas! Make them turn! Don't make them fall, or we'll have more trouble on our hands."
Spurred into action, Aragorn moved to pick Frodo up, but the hobbit opened his eyes and stopped him. "I'm all right, it's gone."
Aragorn pulled Frodo to his feet, before running to his bow and quiver to aid Legolas. Breathing calmly once again, Frodo drew his sword and stood with his friends, watching the dark shapes on the horizon come ever closer.
As soon as the lead Nazgul was in range, Legolas released his first arrow. It struck its intended target; but was a glancing blow. Regardless, it was enough to rent the skin of the great beast in a gash, causing the fell beast to screech in pain and anger. His second arrow did much the same damage, causing a second tear beneath the first that bled red over the beast's grey skin.
"Don't hit the wings!" Gandalf called back. He held up his staff as a pure white light flared from it, driving the wraiths back and causing their mounts to shriek in agony. "Don't let them land!"
Both armed with their bows, Faramir and Aragorn were having less luck than Legolas – although their arrows sometimes found their mark, the small injuries were not helping enough; until Pippin was struck with an idea.
"Aragorn! Faramir! Aim for their legs – if they are injured enough, the beasts can't land or take off – they'll have no choice but to fly back to Mordor!"
"He's right." Aragorn said hurriedly to Faramir. "Aim for their legs and talons to prevent their landing. Make them turn."
Faramir nodded, and together the Gondorian men lined up their arrows. Three arrows were fired. Three arrows found their mark: grazing and embedding themselves within the upper thigh of the fell beast. One wraith turned to fly back East, his mount screeching in pain.
"They can't handle both the light and the arrows!" Faramir yelled triumphantly, bending his bow again. "We can rid ourselves of them one by one!"
Three more arrows were fired. Another wraith turned East. The other two screeched in fury, becoming bolder in their attack. One swooped, and Gandalf caught it on the lower leg with Glamdring, the sword biting deep and coming away dripping red. The wraith screeched and wheeled away East.
Outnumbered, half-blinded, and without backup, the final Nazgul did not care to take his chances. It followed the others of its own accord, and soon all four of the black shapes had disappeared in the quickly failing daylight.
Relief flooded the camp as the companions were able to sheathe and lay down their weapons. The good feeling gained the previous night had fled with the wraiths – danger and fear had returned to the camp, the threat of the east and the worry about the future. The close battle with the wraiths had bought everyone back to reality with a unkind effect; danger and darkness could be upon them at any time.
"What was it you said in Elvish, Frodo?" Merry asked his cousin a while later. The four 'big' people were taking council with one another, standing together just out of the ring of firelight, talking quietly enough for the hobbits not to hear. The hobbits themselves were sitting close together by the warmth of the campfire, their hands never far from their sword-hilts.
"I'm entirely not sure. My Elvish is a little unused as of late. I recall I mentioned Elbereth… it means 'star-queen' in our speech. She's an Elven goddess. But as for the rest, I cannot say with any certainty. Roughly translated, from what I remember, it was something akin to 'Elbereth uplift my spirit from my torment'."
Pippin shrugged. "How appropriate…"
"I don't know why I said it. It just seemed like the best thing – as if someone had told me to speak it, almost as if I said it without knowing what I was going to say." It felt to Frodo like the words had come from nowhere, or someone else had spoken though him. He couldn't explain it; but was grateful nonetheless.
Pippin shifted slightly, one finger tapping the end of his sword. "Frodo? Do you think it will come to another war, and more darkness like last time?" He asked his elder cousin, his eyes filled with thought.
Frodo sighed quietly. "In honesty? I think it will. The threat, the fear… it feels like it did the last time. And the Nazgul…the Nazgul were destroyed with the Ring. Yet, they come at us again. How could they have returned?"
"Gandalf said evil was again in Mordor," said Sam quietly. "That must be why they're back."
"I suppose so. But what is this evil?" replied Frodo, finally voicing a question that had been weighing heavily on his mind. "What could have bought them back? They are the corrupted spirits of nine great kings of men, bound into service of the Ring, which has been destroyed. What power could have reached deep enough to bring them back?"
"And what does it have to do with us, is what I'd like to know," said Sam. "Gandalf said it concerns us personally. Because of the Fellowship?"
Merry nodded in agreement. "They obviously don't want to discuss it fully outside of Rivendell. That, at least, is some indication of the situation – or at least, how worried they are over it."
Frodo sighed heavily. "What I am going to say will seem like a disproportionate reaction out of fear and dark memory. But I think the Nazgul are looking for me."
"What makes you say that?" Pippin asked softly.
"In the Shire, Merry was beside me out in the open – it would have been just as easy to go for him, or target us both. Yet the wraith came directly for me. I know how that must sound, and I do not mean to make myself seem important – but I do wonder if it has any connection to my being the former Ringbearer…and to my actions in recent history."
"Frodo, if what you say is true and you find yourself in danger once more, we'll help you." Merry smiled reassuringly at his cousin, but Frodo shook his head slowly.
"I cannot ask that of you, nor will I accept it. You all nearly died last time. If I am right in my feeling, then this time – like last time – danger will come to everyone around me. I cannot put you all in that position again. I cannot pull you from your homes into the threat of death – or, from your families," Frodo added with a meaningful look at Sam, who smiled sadly and stared into the fire.
"Frodo, you can't stop us. There's three of us, and one of you – and Sam counts for two when you're involved," said Pippin, placing a hand on Frodo's shoulder. "We will stick by you, like last time, no matter the danger that comes for us. You're not doing anything alone this time."
Frodo sighed. "I will concede for now. But this won't be the last you hear of it. I am blessed to have you all."
Sam smiled back. He alone had been witness to the suffering and hardships the Ring had placed on Frodo, and had watched as his best friend was tortured and tormented with nothing that could aid him. He alone could see the imperceptible scars that had changed Frodo forever. He knew what this brave hobbit had been through to save his friends and his Shire, and knew the price he had paid – and even now, continued to pay. "Here now, we're blessed to have you, too."
After his companions had settled themselves for the night's rest and Faramir had made himself comfortable for the watch, Frodo lay awake.
His mind would not quiet. What was all this about? What new evil could be in Mordor? And why, why was he involved again? I've had enough danger to last a lifetime, he couldn't help but think. Surely I have paid the price by now. Time will not erase my wounds, I am afflicted forever. And why did he get the feeling there was something Gandalf wasn't telling them?
Frodo had caught Gandalf watching him closely over the past few days. There was always a hidden emotion in those twinkling eyes – one of sadness, of…regret? Something was troubling Gandalf, that involved him, but still Gandalf had not told him.
He couldn't help but feel this was all connected to him, and his part in the War of the Ring. He had borne the Ring back to Mordor, through suffering, Shelob, starvation and dehydration – and then faltered at the very end. True, the Ring had been destroyed and he had carried it, but few knew what really happened at the very end. Few knew he had claimed it, momentarily, before Gollum had, ironically, saved them all. Even with his own personal failure, he was still the Ringbearer, and had been the main target of the enemy camp. What was in store for him now?
These thoughts were still troubling Frodo as he fell asleep.
The next morning, the companions were saddled and riding before the sun had truly risen. They left no trace, or as little as possible, of where they had been, and spurned the horses eastward, to Weathertop. The ride was once again travelled in silence; all companions were on edge after the wraiths attack the previous night.
Aragorn glanced down at Frodo, a great sadness welling in his heart. What Frodo might have to go through before the end…what more he may have to endure…Aragorn resumed watching the road, remembering sadly what Gandalf had told Legolas, Faramir, and himself. What was happening in Mordor. How the hobbits were involved. And why the wraiths were after Frodo.
Aragorn knew the other three hobbits – especially Sam – would never let anything happen to Frodo; as soon as they knew the truth they would refuse to be parted from him, and accompany him wherever his journey would take him. However, if Aragorn knew anything of Frodo, he knew the hobbit would be loathe to put his friends in the way of danger, and the possibility of death and suffering.
Weathertop loomed in the distance, and the companions reached it a few hours past midday. The only thing left to do was wait for the mighty Wind-Lords, the eagles, to come and take them to Rivendell.
Frodo slipped away when no one was watching. He went quietly up the stairs to the ruins of Amon Sul, and sat atop the same ruin he had been stabbed beside. Memories of the wraiths' attack came back to Frodo with unfortunate clarity; the feeling of being trapped, the pain, how ill he had felt…how close he had come to becoming one of them. As Gandalf had warned; the wound had never truly healed. It now served as a painful and sickening reminder of what had transpired, and all that had come after.
He felt forever branded by darkness. Forever changed.
Absorbed in memories and considerations of the trials others and himself had passed through, Frodo closed his eyes, letting himself think more deeply about things than he had previously let himself. That was how Sam, Merry and Pippin found him, sitting motionless, almost meditative.
"Are you all right?"
Frodo opened his eyes, smiling a smile that didn't quite reach his eyes. "I'm fine, just…remembering."
"The attack?" asked Merry, casting an uneasy glace around the ruins.
"And everything that followed." Frodo looked down at his mauled right hand. The skin had long since healed over, and all that was left was a stump, a few twisted scars. He closed the hand into a tight fist, hiding his damaged finger. "I do not wish anything like that to happen to any of us again."
"Nor I. But whatever comes of it, let's stick together this time. Frodo, don't get any ideas to run off alone, and Pip? Let's try to not to be caught by orcs." Merry said, a sad smile pulling at his lips. "We are not the same as we once were. This time, we're more prepared."
"Where are the hobbits?" Faramir asked suddenly, glancing around. "I haven't seen Frodo since we stopped, and I saw the others only briefly."
"They are above us, in the ruins," Legolas replied, setting down his bow next to the pile of supplies to take to Rivendell. "They are, it seems, in conference with one another."
"In conference? What are they talking about?" Faramir asked the sharp-eared elf, stopping for a moment.
"I do not wish to pry, but they're speaking about the War of the Ring, and their roles within it."
Gandalf smiled at the elf. "Let them be. The War of the Ring was hard for all of us; them most of all. More was asked of Shirefolk than ever before, and they saved us all, but not without cost. Let them voice any concerns they have to each other."
Thus the hobbits continued to speak their minds and concerns to one another, uninterrupted, until they heard a voice from below call the words that had been heard by many in different places, always carrying with them a wave of hope.
"The eagles are coming."
Rivendell is up next… By the way, this story is a combination of the book and movie universes: I'm using details from both, but hopefully those details will be clear enough so it's easy to identify which is from which universe.
Chapter 4: Flight to Rivendell
Sorry this took so long for me to post; other things were going on and I totally forgot!
The five eagles swept through the sky regally, passing across the sun and making giant shadows across the ground. The hobbits watched in awe as the great birds alighted gently on the ground, with all the grace and elegance of an elven dancer. Only the softest of breezes was swept up by their wings.
The lead eagle bowed low to Gandalf, prompting his brethren to do the same. As he straightened back to his impressive height, Frodo could see he wore a grand, finely-crafted chain across his breast. This was Gwaihir, Windlord and King of All Birds. He had been king when he rescued thirteen dwarves, one wizard, and one hobbit from the clutches of goblins and wolves many, many years ago, and it had been he who had borne Gandalf from Orthanc and his imprisonment, and carried him again on his well-timed journey to rescue two stranded and exhausted hobbits from the middle of Mordor.
Gwaihir and Gandalf exchanged greeting. The King Eagle was gentle yet imposing in his speech and manner, and spoke with Gandalf like an old friend. Which, Frodo supposed, they were – they had certainly known each other long enough. The other four eagles spoke quietly with one another and scrutinised – but not unkindly – the companions watching them.
"I feel like I'm about to become lunch, " Merry muttered, glancing warily at the large birds.
"Come now, Meriadoc," Aragorn smiled, "I am sure these proud creatures can find better fare than hobbit, if they wished it."
Merry couldn't help but reply. "Or perhaps I am too fair for their tastes?"
Frodo sighed at his cousin's humour and returned his gaze to the eagles. Proud and intimidating creatures, they were, with glossy feathers of differing colours. Bilbo's descriptions of them couldn't come close to how they looked, and how it felt to be before them. After all, the last time Frodo had been so close to the eagles, he had not exactly been fully conscious. This time, he was able to truly see them closely.
"Each of these magnificent creatures can only bear a fully grown man, or a hobbit and a dwarf," Gandalf was explaining to the companions. "Therefore the hobbits and I will travel to Rivendell first, then three of the eagles will return for the other members of our party."
"The flight will only take a few hours," Gwaihir said. His voice was deep and resonant, and he spoke calmly. "We need not be concerned with obstacles and roads."
With a few looks of trepidation, the hobbits approached the eagles. Gandalf himself was to ride astride Gwaihir, so the hobbits (trying not to be insensitive, but unsure of these majestic birds) simply picked at random which eagle to ride. They were assisted atop them by Aragorn and Faramir – sometimes those of small stature needed help, no matter what the grandness of their mounts. Not that the eagles could be considered something so simple as 'mounts', Pippin pointed out in a whisper to Sam.
Once the riders were settled – or as settled as one could be atop a giant eagle – the birds took off from the ground with a mighty sweep of their wings, shooting high into the sky. The feeling of suddenly being lifted from the ground to high in the air, in a single movement, was both elating and terrifying to the hobbits. Frodo heard Merry swear just before all sound was drowned out by the rushing wind of the elevation, and couldn't help but smile as at the rush of emotion that came upon him from the ascent.
Frodo knew he would never forget the feeling of flying on an eagle. True, he had done it once before – but circumstances being what they were he hadn't exactly been awake. It had been Gwaihir who had carried him on that fateful day in his talon, gently bearing the injured Ringbearer from the edge of destruction; but this was different. This was actually flying on an eagle, just as Bilbo had done many years past.
He gently eased himself forward until he could see down to the ground below. Trees were mere green patches on the earth beneath; rivers and streams like silver threads that wound across the land. Wisps of low cloud passed by underneath. Frodo had never been afraid of heights – unlike Bilbo, who Frodo knew had not exactly been pleased to ride an eagle. For him, though, it was an exhilarating experience to look down and see Middle-Earth far below, passing by without incident. Although the thought of falling was an unnerving one… Frodo banished it from his mind.
His eagle – he realised, slightly ashamed, he didn't know the name of the proud creature that bared him – swept to the right to avoid a cloud bank, and came up near to the eagle who was carrying Sam. The two hobbits glanced across to one another, their faces breaking out in near-identical smiles. Evidently Sam was enjoying the feeling of flight as much as he was. There was a freedom to it, a tranquillity – up here, the sun was warm and the sky was clear, and nothing was dark. The threat of danger, so easily felt on the ground, seemed to have been left behind.
"Whom do I have the pleasure of assisting to Rivendell?" came a deep voice. It took Frodo a moment to realise that his eagle was speaking to him over the wind. Frodo leaned forward, deeper into the feathers, to hear and reply.
"Frodo Baggins at your service. Whom do I have the pleasure of being carried by?"
"Landroval is my name in your tongue."
Landroval. The name sparked something in Frodo's memory. "Gawihir the Windlord is your brother, is he not?"
"Aye," replied Landroval, gliding along the wind. "And you are the Ringbearer; and relation to the halfling Bilbo, whom I have met in passing before. I travelled to Mordor with Gwaihir to rescue you and your companion. How do you fare now? Are you recovered?"
Frodo hesitated fractionally before answering. "Not as much as I would like to be, mighty Landroval. Some wounds cannot be healed; some hurts are too deep to be erased by time."
"I understand." Landroval swept around another bank of cloud and back into formation. "And how is your companion?"
Frodo glanced back to Sam, who seemed to be conversing with his own eagle. "Sam is, I think, mostly recovered. At least in body, if not wholly yet in mind. Memories still trouble him, as they trouble us all."
"Again, I understand. We were not without our own troubles."
Landroval fell silent as he navigated through a particularly thick cloud bank. For a moment the sight of the ground far below was lost, and Frodo looked back to his companions. Merry was gripping fairly tightly to his eagle, Frodo saw, but his eyes were clear and he appeared relaxed. Merry, while none too fond of great heights, did not quail at them – merely preferred to avoid them. Pippin, however, was grinning broadly a little way back. Frodo was well aware his younger cousin had never been afraid or wary of heights, in any way, and now was no different.
Frodo's gaze lingered on Sam, whose eagle had dropped beneath Landroval's altitude. He and Sam had spoken much since returning from the Quest, often walking for hours at a time around the Shire to discuss, in retrospect, their experiences. As time passed and life became somewhat normal again, talking about difficult subjects became easier. Frodo wished to believe his own words, that Sam was healing, he could never be sure. As honest as they were with one another, about dark memories, guilt, and the suffering they had been through, Frodo couldn't help but feel that there were some things Sam had dismissed from his own mind, not considering them important enough to be of note.
"Are you enjoying the flight?" Landroval's question broke Frodo from his thoughtful reverie.
"Oh, yes. More than I can put into words, O Mighty Landroval. Never did I think I would see Middle-Earth from this vantage point."
If beaks could smile, Frodo could believe Landroval was grinning. "You are not afraid of heights then, as I seem to recall your relation was?"
The mental image of frightened Bilbo, clinging to an eagle with his eyes closed, rose unbidden in Frodo's mind. "No, they have never overly concerned me."
Their conversation turned to more everyday matters – Landroval, to his credit, was more than happy to share with Frodo a little of the eagles' history, before telling him of their recent achievements and role in the War of the Ring, including Landroval's own experiences at the Battle of the Morannon. He also spoke about what he could remember of his interactions with the dwarves and Bilbo many years beforehand, and the eagles' involvement at the Battle of Five Armies.
The sun was lower, but still bright in the sky, when Landroval started to descend. Frodo estimated it was still a few hours from sundown, as they sank down towards the ground again, close to the roots of the Misty Mountains. After so long in the air, it felt odd to be standing on solid ground again, standing still rather than gently moving along wind currents.
The eagles left the four hobbits and Gandalf without much ceremony, to return to Weathertop for the others. Frodo had just enough time to thank Landroval before he returned to the skies.
"I will see you in the near future, Frodo Baggins. Warm winds keep you and your kin until then!" And with a grand sweep of his wings he was airborne again, heading back westwards. In seconds he was a small speck in the sky along with his fellows.
The hobbits and Gandalf found themselves at the entrance to the valley where Rivendell was hidden. A narrow path wound down the side of the valley, to the elven haven below. In the afternoon sun, the Last Homely House seemed to shine softly, the white architecture glowing in the sunlight. Frodo's mind was calmed just to look on it – after all, he reflected somewhat bitterly, the last time he had come to Rivendell in the daylight he had been robbed of this majestic view; having fallen at the Ford of Bruinen due to the worsening effects of his Morgul-blade wound.
From here it was impossible to imagine Rivendell as anything but welcoming and healing; the sight of the delicate buildings and archways nestled within the valley's own woodlands was one of peace and quiet. It was soothing to the soul simply to look upon, knowing it was the destination at the end of the path.
The walk itself, from the top of the valley down the hidden path – that Gandalf knew well – took the travellers a little over half an hour. The air cooled slightly, but not uncomfortably, as they drew closer to the bottom of the valley and Rivendell itself, and Pippin took the opportunity to question Gandalf about the eagles and what he knew of them. Gandalf, aware that haste was no longer such a pressing concern, was content to indulge the Took's questions, and in turn provoked a fairly spirited discussion about the eagles from all his companions.
Crossing over the bridge to Rivendell's courtyard was akin to a breath of fresh air after travelling in tunnels, even though they had just been flying, with all the fresh air one could want. Yet still, Rivendell seemed like a relief to be at. None of the hobbits ever thought they would have the chance to return to this enchanted place, and to stand at its threshold was encouraging to them, even though the reason for their visit lingered at the back of their minds. Lord Elrond appeared almost immediately from a nearby archway and greeted them all with the gentle sincerity the hobbits remembered well.
"Welcome, my friends, to Rivendell once again. I apologise, but I cannot offer you a chance of rest as of yet. There are more pressing matters to attend to first, but refreshments will be bought to you there."
With the aloof grace characteristic of the Master of Rivendell, Elrond led the small group through the carved paths and to the same council area the Ring had been bought to not a year earlier. The last time there had been many strangers of distant lands – but this time, most of those already gathered and deep in various conversations were more familiar.
Merry's face broke into a grin. King Eomer of Rohan was there, clad in his Rohirric finery. A tooled leather breastplate, shined but also worn with the marks of battles past, sat overtop a beautifully embroided tunic, and a dark green cloak was cast about his shoulders. He was without his crown, but it did not matter – there was no doubt he was a king.
Beside him – Merry's heart especially leapt in joy – was the Shieldmaiden of Rohan and Lady of Ithilien, Eowyn. She was dressed in a simple white dress, and overtop it a finely made light leather breastplate – simpler than her brother's, it still spoke of the courage and skill of the woman who wore it.
The two siblings of Rohan were deep in conversation with Gimli, son of Gloin, and another dwarf, unknown to any of the hobbits. Gimli was looking well, one had resting on his axe as usual, his beard slightly longer than it had been when last they all met. His companion was grim-eyed and serious, thought regal in his bearing – gems caught the light on his belt and cloak-pin, and the fabrics he wore were rich.
Across the way, and looking as radiant as ever in her white beaded gown, was Galadriel. She glanced up to the newcomers, meeting Frodo's eyes and smiling in greeting. He inclined his head in a half-bow in return to her, and she turned back to the conversation she was having with Celeborn, who was looking as ageless and regal. The two dark-haired and lithe elves they were conversing with were Elrond's twin sons, Elladan and Elrohir. Frodo had not met either of them before properly, but he knew of them.
Glorfindel was also in attendance, his golden hair catching the light of the sun. He was speaking with an elf and a man, neither whom Frodo, at least, recognised. The elf was somewhat familiar; tall and lithe, wearing forest leathers and a circlet of silver. The man was fair to look at, dark haired, and seemed to emanate a gentle strength. The edge of his dark cloak was threaded with silver, in the shape of a swan.
Pippin noticed his cousin studying the man. "That's Prince Imrahil of Dol Amroth, south of Gondor. He fought at the Pelennor Fields and is Faramir's uncle."
Frodo nodded, recalling the name. "And I suppose the elf with him and Glorfindel is King Thranduil of the Woodland Realm – Legolas' father."
"He does look a bit like Legolas, now that you mention it," Sam said thoughtfully from the other side of Pippin.
The four hobbits made their way into the council's circle. Gimli, who was nearest to them, cried out in joy when he first saw them. "Ha! Good afternoon, little Masters!" He swept his arm around Pippin, who was closest, patting him heavily on the back. "How has life been since last we met?"
"Can't complain, Master Dwarf," Sam replied, trying very hard not to smile. "How has the world turned for you?"
Merry, meanwhile, had bowed low before Eomer and Eowyn, who both smiled warmly. "Up, Master Holwine. I made you a Knight of the Mark; but more than that you are my friend. So no more of this formality will you hold with either of us."
Now standing before them, Frodo suddenly realised neither he nor Sam had formally met the King of Rohan, or his sister the Lady Eowyn. Merry had spoken at length about the previous king Theoden, and of Eowyn and Eomer, for he knew much about them and had spent much time with them during the War of the Ring. But for Frodo and Sam they were near strangers: seen briefly on the Field of Cormallen, introduced in passing, but never before had they a real chance to speak with them.
Merry obviously had a similar thought, because he quickly said, "Sire, Lady, you have not met my cousin and my friend. May I introduce Frodo Baggins, my cousin, and Samwise Gamgee, a very dear friend of mine."
"An honour to meet you properly, Sire," Frodo replied, bowing. Eomer shook his head.
"The honour is mine, Frodo. I know of your past deeds; and I am humbled by them. But please, neither you nor Master Samwise should concern yourself with calling me by a title – they should not pass between friends."
"Nor for me," Eowyn smiled. Her only knowledge of hobbits had come from Merry and Pippin: two jokers, yet serious as kings at times. They had both spoken of their Ringbearer cousin, and the dear friend that accompanied him into the Dark Lands, and she had seen them briefly at the Field of Cormallen. Yet here before her, she could see that Frodo and Sam carried something different in themselves that she couldn't place. A fragile, gentle yet serious happiness; a quietness borne of dark experiences. These two had been to the edge of destruction and suffering and returned. Her own experience with the Witch-King of Angmar seemed to pale in comparison, though she guessed her own experience might enable her to understand more than some others.
Refreshments were bought as those awaiting the council continued to talk amongst one another. The unknown dwarf introduced himself as Thorin III Stonehelm, King Under the Mountain. King Dain II Ironfoot had died in the Battle of Dale. When he heard Frodo's surname he laughed a loud – Bilbo's escapade with Smaug was now legend among the dwarves, and he delighted to tell Frodo – and those listening – how Bilbo had been remembered.
After a further hour or so, with the light in the valley beginning to die, Aragorn, Legolas and Faramir joined those gathered. Eowyn embraced her husband tightly, and they sat together hand in hand as conversations were bought to a close and the gathered nobles and representatives sat in the familiar semi-circle. Elrond stepped up to his own high-backed chair and turned to face them.
The council could begin.
Up next: Important exposition, via your friendly neighbourhood Council of Elrond (2.0).
Chapter 5: The Second Council of Elrond
The long awaited council. What is going on?
Note: 19/11/2017: I've just joined AO3 officially, and been alerted to the fact that this story was transferred by Open Doors. It only had four chapters of the full story, however, so I'm posting the rest of the completed story over the next few days. Some author notes might not make much sense so close together, so please bear in mind they were written a few years ago. Cheers.
Elrond’s eyes swept those gathered before him, his gaze grim. “Not seventeen months ago I stood before you all to discuss the matter of Isildur’s Bane, the One Ring. Not even a year has passed since its destruction; and yet here again you are summoned to Rivendell to answer a new threat in Mordor.”
He gestured to Aragorn, who rose from his seat to address the council. “Mordor is active once more. As most of you know, since the War, the land of Mordor has been dormant and deserted. We have let the scarred and poisoned land lie without interference and there have been no signs of life, bar the few orcs that remain. Yet from Minas Tirith I could see red lightning over the Mountains of Shadow – the half-destroyed Mount Doom is active again, and its violent bursts are lighting up the sky as they did in that dark time.” Aragorn sighed as his words echoed slightly around the space. Having to say what come next made it real – and he was not sure he wanted to be the one to speak them. “That is not all, my friends. I do not pretend to know the ways of nature; a re-active volcano could easily be nothing. However…the evil light that shines from Mount Doom illuminated something that chilled my blood. Barad-Dur has been rebuilt – taller, stronger than before. It is this that gives me reason to believe that there is evil again in Mordor.”
Silence greeted his words. Those who were unaware muttered to themselves as Aragorn sat back down. Sam shared a worried glance with Frodo, who swore internally. The return of the wraiths had left none of them naïve to the possibilities of what might be happening in the East, but it was still unnerving to hear it so plainly stated. Frodo had to suppress a shudder and stop his imagination from over-reacting and providing some simply disturbing mental images of what Aragorn’s information could mean. He owed it to those around him to listen carefully throughout the council and learn all the known information before jumping to conclusions.
“By your leave, Lord Elrond, I would speak my tale.” Faramir looked to the grave-faced elven lord, who nodded. The Prince of Ithilien stood.
“I, too, have seen what King Elessar speaks of. The red light could be seen above the mountain-tips, and my watchmen in Ithilien alerted me to it. I set out for Minas Tirith as soon as I could – the Lady Eowyn accompanied me. When we arrived at the Citadel, we found King Elessar preparing to leave for Rivendell, having dispatched an immediate messenger to Rohan. That night, from the edge of the upper parapet, the three of us stood together along with Queen Arwen, and watched the light illuminate the tower. It has no great eye atop it, but that does not change its reappearance. We rode the next morning – and a few days later, came to Edoras.”
“This would be where I take over,” said Eomer, standing, as his cloak fell around him in soft folds. “King Elessar, Captain Faramir and the Lady Eowyn came to me and we took council together. His messenger had bought vague word of evil in Mordor, but it had not been detailed for fear of possible interception. Now with more detail I made the decision to accompany them for this council. Three days into our ride, King Elessar turned towards the eyries of the great eagles. He met with their king, Gwaihir the Windlord, and beseeched them help us. Gwaihir agreed to do so, and so King Elessar and Captain Faramir were flown ahead to here, while Lady Eowyn and myself led the horses. We arrived in this haven three days past.”
There was silence as he sat down. Gandalf stood, taking over the tale.
“By the time you had arrived here, King Eomer, King Elessar and Captain Faramir had arrived and explained their fears days before. They accompanied myself and Legolas of the Woodland Realm, as we journeyed to the western lands of the Shire, home of the halflings. We have now returned via eagle-back with the four halflings whom you all know well; heroes of the War that they are. Yet when we first arrived in their lands, it was in time to witness something that confirmed the fears King Elessar had bought tidings of.”
Gandalf gave Frodo a very slight nod as he sat. Frodo took this as a cue to speak himself. Taking a deep breath, he stood, hardly being taller than any of the sitting folk around him. Speaking to such distinguished people was unnerving in itself, but to speak of darkness too? He straightened his shoulders, and made the decision that as his words were important and needed, he was going to speak not as a hesitant halfling agreeing to take the Ring, but as the hero they all thought he was.
“A Nazgul attacked my kinsmen and myself in the Shire.” Frodo had to pause until the muttering that met his statement quietened. “As many of you know, my homeland is peaceful and rustic – hobbits rarely care for anything outside their own borders – and considering our distance from Mordor, it’s not possible a Nazgul could be seen there without intention. Gandalf and his companions arrived in time to prevent injury or death to myself, my kinsmen, or any others in the area, and the wraith fled east. They would not speak to us of details out in the open, but bade us accompany them here to Rivendell for this council. On our way, we were attacked again by four Nazgul, whom were fended off. We came to Rivendell by eagle-back this very day, thus you see us before you now.” Frodo returned to his seat, trying to ignore the curious and somewhat intense gaze of those gathered before him.
There was silence for a moment, as each being gathered waited to see who would speak next, and what information their tale might provide. Surprisingly to Frodo it was Lord Celeborn who rose from his chair beside Galadriel and slowly paced to stand in front of them all.
“Long before Gandalf left for the Shire, he had spoken to me. I gave him what information I had gathered; information that we both agreed was to be told only to those keeping close council until this council. Now is the time for it to be voiced for all. A span of days ago, a Lothlorien patrol had ventured into East Lorien – that is, the southern part of the woodlands once known as Mirkwood, and now called The Wood of Greenleaves. There they came upon a small band of orcs near the ruins of the Tower of Dol Guldur. They swiftly dealt with all but one, intending to interrogate him and understand the orc’s purpose in our cleansed land. I know not how they broke him, or forced him to speak, but he relented and spoke these words: ‘He’s going to make another one; one more powerful than before.’ The patrol asked if he meant Sauron, but after more persuasion, the orc had cried out; ‘No, much worse.’ These words we have long discussed.”
“The conclusion that we have come to,” Elrond continued as Celeborn gracefully sank back down, “is that the ‘another one’ mentioned is another Ring. But it is not Sauron who is crafting it.”
“Sauron was once a Maiar, servant to the Valar, as I am – although in my role of Istari my abilities were restricted,” Gandalf said. He had not risen from his chair this time, instead speaking quietly from where he was sitting. “Long ago, he was corrupted by a Valar called Melkor, who wished to rule all. Melkor almost caused Middle-Earth’s destruction in the time of creation, but was repelled by his siblings and chained in the void. It is he who has returned. It is he who wants to dominate life on Middle-Earth, by the means of another Ring. But there is more,” Gandalf raised his voice to quiet the outbreak of murmuring that threatened to drown him out. “Nine Nazgul have been reported; yet the Witch King was slain by Lady Eowyn and Master Meriadoc on the Pelennor Fields. Melkor is powerful enough to bring back his most trusted lieutenant from the void – and so I believe Sauron is the new Witch King.”
“So this is what we face,” Prince Imrahil said quietly, in the silence that followed Gandalf’s announcement. “What are we to do?”
“Mordor suffered heavy losses, as did we, on the Pelennor Fields and in the aftermath of the Ring’s destruction. If we can band together, elves, men, dwarves and eagles, we can march on Mordor and destroy them before they have the time to build an army,” replied Aragorn. “We could catch them unprepared and end this before it begins.”
“What of the wraiths?” interjected Elrohir.
“They can be killed only with blessed or elven blades; and bows are effective against their winged mounts. If we have an army of elves, they hopefully won’t prove too much of an obstacle. We’ll need all the fighters we can get, the more with blessed blades the better,” Faramir answered him. Elrohir nodded, thoughtful.
“What about Melkor?” asked Merry, voicing the unspoken question. “To vanquish Sauron, Frodo had to destroy the One Ring. What do we do about Melkor?” Silence greeted his words.
“Does he have any weaknesses?” Pippin asked, looking around the grim faces. “Is there anything that could help us deal with him?”
Aragorn sighed. “We know of no weaknesses of Melkor. Destroying his forces will gain us the upper hand, but it will be for naught if we cannot destroy him.”
Gandalf had been watching and listening as this conversation went on. He now held up one of his hands to stem the flow of speakers, and stood, his face troubled. “There is another question to be addressed, my friends. Why has Melkor not created this new Ring already? We would know if he had. Yet he has not made any move, and all we know is an evil is in Mordor. This thought occupied me until Celeborn was able to find out the answer to it. Sauron made the One Ring with his cruelty, malice, and will to dominate all life – these Melkor has. But this time, he needs something else.”
Gandalf paused. His eyes moved around those seated at the council, and lingered for just a moment longer on Frodo. Frodo caught the same glint of sadness and regret in his eyes, and knew what Gandalf was about to say was the answer to everything – and was not going to be positive. When he spoke again, Gandalf sounded aggrieved, as if the words pained him to say.
“Melkor needs a blood sacrifice to enhance the power of his Ring. The blood from one who was deeply involved with the destruction of his lieutenant; the one responsible for carrying the Ring to Mordor.”
The silence that greeted Gandalf’s words was heavy, until one voice broke it.
“Mine,” Frodo stated plainly and quietly.
He closed his eyes against the accumulating stares of those around him, no longer caring what sort of company he was in, wishing he could get away from them all. So Melkor wanted his blood. It all made sense: the feeling the Nazgul had been after him was not paranoia or overreaction after all, he had been right. The confirmation was almost painful to hear; unbearable to think about. So the Nazgul in the Shire had been trying to capture, not kill, and take him to Melkor.
Once again, he was placed at the centre of danger and darkness. The feeling of helplessness welled up inside him, and he breathed deeply for a moment to regain control of himself. He knew everyone was watching; but he couldn’t bear to look any of them in the eye. Not even Sam.
“Why me?” Frodo calmly opened his eyes and looked towards Gandalf, not meeting his eye. “Why my blood?”
Gandalf sighed silently, not wanting to discuss this and cause his dear friend more grief. This was never going to be easy, but those gathered should at least spare Frodo from some insensitive discussion as if the former Ringbearer was an object. Still, Gandalf was sure most of them had the same question on their minds as Frodo did. “I cannot say for sure. I would guess he wants your strength of will. However, it could also be vengeance for destroying the Ring and destroying Sauron. Because of that, he could see you as a threat.” Gandalf watched as the small halfling moved his gaze to the floor, and guessed at his mind. “I know you do not see yourself as a hero. But do not forget it was by your will the Ring travelled to its destruction. Even though you may not see it, your fortitude is remarkable, Frodo.”
Frodo smiled sadly, staring at nothing. “What fortitude I had was broken by the Ring; and any strengths taken from me by it.”
The heavy silence that greeted his words was broken by the ever-faithful Sam, who could see Frodo’s discomfort and resignation as easily as any of the others gathered. But years of knowing Frodo, and their shared experiences during the War of the Ring, had led to him being able to read far deeper. Frodo was hurting, worried, but trying not to show any of it.
“So what do we do?” asked Sam.
His question seemed to rouse the other council attendees from their stunned silence. “We need to keep Frodo in hiding until Melkor and his forces can be destroyed,” Elrond said. He turned towards Frodo. “You will need to keep moving, through the wilderness, and never tarry too long in one place.” Frodo nodded stiffly.
“We’re going with him,” Pippin said immediately and with sincerity, indicating himself, Merry and Sam. “Wherever he goes, we’re going too.”
“What service I can offer to you, Frodo, is done so gladly,” said Faramir, who looked to the hobbit. Frodo, to his credit, raised his gaze to meet the grey eyes of the Gondorian Captain in silent acceptance. Faramir then looked to Aragorn as his King.
Aragorn nodded in answer to Faramir’s unasked question. “Go with my blessing, Captain.”
“I will accompany them too,” said Eowyn. She felt compelled to join them, not just because her husband was travelling with them. She could sense Frodo was a gentle soul, and it was obvious this news had shaken him greatly – as it would have any of them. Her heart went out to him.
Elrond and Gandalf nodded at one another. “Then it is decided.”
Sorry this one took a while – life has a way of getting in the way; time has a way of marching on. I’d love it if a few more readers could find time to review – I know it’s not necessary, but a few encouraging words really goes a long way for me!
Chapter 6: The War Council and Moonlit Musings
Hello again, dear readers! I’m starting to get really excited about this story again, now things can start happening a bit more and the evil plans of Mordor have been revealed. There’s still a few more chapters of character-based stuff to go, and some exposition to be set so all the action can get going – but to me it’s worth it.
Twilight was deepening in the secluded valley. Aragorn, hands resting before him on the ornately carved balustrade before him, sighed heavily. There was no way anything in this situation could be considered good. And as for Frodo… Aragorn wearily rubbed his eyes. Those four hobbits, Frodo especially and Sam too, had been through enough. At the very least he personally had been prepared for combat last time, and was confident in his skill with a blade. But to have been swept up on a life-threatening quest from a quiet and peaceful land, sent through danger, exhaustion and battle, and even into the desolate land that was Mordor - even then it had been too much to ask.
And now darkness fell upon them all once again, and the same halfling was at the centre of it. Aragorn’s gaze lingered on the glowing windows where he knew Frodo and the others had been given rooms. He didn’t envy Frodo right now; and couldn’t begin to understand what was going through his mind.
“We need to strike quickly,” he said, still looking out over the valley. “We don’t know how long Melkor’s been in Mordor, and we do not know what sort of army he has. Isenguard is thankfully out of commission – unlike the War of the Ring, we will not have to worry about them. Only one army needs our attention.”
As Aragorn turned back around, Eomer nodded. “I agree. We need to rally our armies and storm the Morannon gate. We do not know what their numbers are – but every day they will grow. We must be preparing also.”
Thorin III Stonehelm, standing feet lower than those others gathered, was nonetheless noble in his bearing as he nodded. “My Lords, it will take near a week to return to Esgaroth and the Lonely Mountain, let alone gather the strength of it.” He frowned to himself for a moment. “From there I can estimate two weeks, at the least, of march. If we are going to strike successfully, we must enable ourselves to prepare properly.”
Aragorn nodded, walking to the table to study the map of Middle Earth spread out there. “The more we delay, the more time Melkor has,” he murmured to himself. He was silent as other comments were thrown around the table, his eyes on the map. The forces needed would have to come from various places, each with a marching force that could not be rushed. He knew the basic routes from Gondor to the Morannon, and the time the travel would take. The routes further north, though, he was not so sure of.
“If it took your army, Eomer, two days on horse back to reach Minas Tirith, and we rode out together, you and I, it would probably take our combined army about four or five days to march on the Black Gate.”
“Dol Amroth could also meet you, King Elessar,” said Prince Imrahil gravely, “and we could get to you in close on a week.”
Aragorn turned to the figure in the room who had, until now stayed out of most of the conversation. “My Lord Celeborn. How long would it take to get from Lothlorien to the Morannon?”
Celeborn’s ageless face took on a thoughtful look as he considered the question. “About one and a half weeks, Sire,” he replied softly. “Perhaps more.”
The elven king’s eyes glinted in the lantern light. “Two weeks. It depends if we are hindered passing through the woodlands. Though there is nothing we know of that would hinder us, I cannot claim all knowledge of the wood.”
Aragorn nodded, turning towards his friend and advisor who was offering his council. “Gandalf, what is the date?”
“It is the 18th of March, Sire.”
“My Lords. On the 18th of April, one month from today, we march on the Black Gate. The Battle Plain north of Mordor, Dagorlad, shall be our field of choice. We will draw Mordor out to it.” Aragorn reached out to the map and tapped it. “Nothern Ithilien will serve as our meeting place. We should make haste to it, taking care not to alert the enemy to our plans.”
Aragorn’s plan was met with agreement and assent from all involved. It had been implied without being stated that his mind was the one to follow in this decision of war; and as uncomfortable as that made Aragorn feel he was confident in his plan – if not the faith the other Lords seem to put in him.
Most Lords made preparations for their departure. Thorin made ready to return to Erebor, Gimli going with him to rally his people. Thranduil and Legolas were to accompany them eastwards until the elves reached their own destination in the woodlands. Eomer, Gandalf, Aragorn, and Imrahil and prepared to depart to the South; to Rohan, Gondor and Dol Amroth respectively. Lord Celeborn and Lady Galadriel left that night, passing like shadows through the valley on their way to Lothlorien.
The preparations were made. The plans decided. The second war for Middle Earth had almost begun.
After the council had been dismissed, those not ruling or leading a land were allowed to go where they pleased around the valley. Most of those not involved in the council of war, taking place around a large map-spread table, spent the evening in as much relaxation as they could, trading news and catching up on one another’s doings. Sam kept half an eye on Frodo, wary that his best friend would want to escape the eyes of others and work though everything that had happened at his own pace, in solitude.
But Frodo, although clearly quieter than usual, did not shy away from the company of old friends, and seemed mostly at ease as they talked together. He listened more than he spoke, letting Sam take the lead on news from the Shire, but did not seem overly anxious to retreat to his own solitude.
As the light fully faded and the lamps were lit, a nightly peace settled over Rivendell. Many adjourned to the Hall of Fire following the evening meal, to share in stories, tales of old and music. After an hour or so, Frodo removed himself from the Hall as soon as he could without drawing attention to his absence. His quiet exit hadn’t been lost on Sam, Merry or Pippin, and after a few pointed glances between them Sam had followed Frodo’s path. He didn’t want to disturb him, but after a friendship of years and a quest that pushed them both to the very edge, he could guess keenly at Frodo’s mindset. Frodo would not want to disturb anyone with his own troubles – but would appreciate someone to talk with.
Frodo considered returning to the room that had been granted to him, but sleep was the last thing on his mind. Instead he left the main path, crossing from the elegant stonework to the feel of soft grass underfoot. He didn’t go far from the Hall; just far enough to feel like he could think in the quiet night air. Sitting in the shadows of a tree beside a small gurgling stream, Frodo sighed deeply to himself and began to collect his thoughts.
Everything that had happened over the last few days – from the Nazgul attack to the council’s revelation – settled upon his shoulders. It was almost too much to think about at once; his emotions were all over the place. Fear, doubt, guilt, resignation, acceptance, defiance – they all mixed within him, making him feel completely overwhelmed.
Gandalf’s words echoed through his head. “Melkor needs a blood sacrifice to enhance the power of his Ring. The blood from one who was deeply involved with the destruction of his lieutenant; the one responsible for carrying the Ring to Mordor.” Those words had sealed his fate – or at least, set in motion his immediate future. How could anyone know what was to happen next?
But why, why did he have to be involved again? At the centre of it, too. Why must his destiny be entwined in the fate of Middle Earth? Was it always going to be him? What cruel fate had been placed upon him, that he would never find peace again? As Gandalf had said, the Ring had not come to him by chance: Bilbo was meant to find it, he was meant to have it. And now the Quest had lead to this! In danger again, sought by the enemy to bring darkness to the world? Hadn’t he suffered enough?
Frodo laughed grimly to himself. How melodramatic that train of thought was! In truth, he considered somewhat ashamedly, rather selfish too. How could he consider himself the centre of everything, when he knew of the hardships his friends had gone through too? Everyone was stifled by this possibility, so soon after the last battle had been fought. He had almost lost his best friends to battle and exhaustion – they had all returned, but at what cost? And what would be the cost of this before the end – for everyone?
Frodo picked up a small, smooth stone from near the back and cast it into the river, watching it skip twice across the water’s surface before vanishing. Frodo sighed again, lying back on the soft grass. His gaze wandered across the inky sky and stars, before resting on the moon. He stared at it for a long while, as memories filled his mind.
The crackling lightning-fire around the Eye of Sauron. The barren land. Dark slag piles and poisoned water, where nothing would grow or thrive. The very land scarred by darkness, unable to heal. The realisation that there would be no return from this.
Dark Dwarven tunnels and the constant threat of danger. The fiery demon borne of shadows, unbeatable. Aged hands trying to grip broken stone, and falling into darkness. The natural light of the outside, harsh in their grief.
Torn black robes and steel gauntlets on hands, the shriek of the Nazgul. Seeing their true selves through the Ring’s effect. White-hot, ice-cold pain lancing through his shoulder. Screaming in pain, and panic, on the cold stone that was once Amon Sul. Gollum, crawling, pleading, scheming. Pitiable one moment, violent the next.
A once-proud city, infected and fallen. The temptation to enter it, the hopelessness that it caused, the evil thoughts that emanated from it. The soul-wearying climb. The tunnel, full of orc filth and a creature from dark legend. Dark stone walls and hands bound, hoping for a miracle, fighting anguish for the suspected failed task. The sudden joy of rescue, the heaviness of retaking the burden.
Exhaustion, nightmares. Dehydration and waning hope. Every step being a trial in itself; walking until collapse but sleep never being restful. Finally standing before the fire itself. And failing. Failing in his willpower, in his duty, breaking the faith others held in him and betraying everything they had fought for. Betraying himself.
Frodo sighed heavily, blinking away the beginnings of tears. He would never forget that moment – when he failed in his task. Not many people knew of it; so his praise as a hero was even more misplaced. The horrible guilt, that he was very nearly the reason of Middle Earth’s fall to darkness, had never left him. Everything that had been done by others was so close to becoming undone in one moment of his weakness.
And now the challenge came again. At least this time, his mind was clear, and wholly his own. There was no influence to battle, or corruption to fight. No whispering voice in his mind, every minute of every day. He had escaped death numerous times on the Quest, but now he wasn’t sure if he would come out of this danger alive.
“What will come of all of this?” Frodo said, talking aloud to the stars.
“Even Gandalf can’t answer that,” replied a familiar voice behind him. Frodo didn’t need to turn to know who it was, but he sat up as the figure sat down next to him.
“Sam, what are doing here? You should be inside, listening to the tales.”
“I could say the same of you,” Sam replied with a small smile.
“I’m sorry. I needed a place to think.”
Sam nodded, watching the moonlight reflect on the stream before them. “I know.” He said no more, knowing that Frodo would say what was on his mind in due time without being pressed for it. Sure enough, after a few minutes of comfortable silence, Frodo sighed heavily and kicked a stone into the stream.
“Why must we be in the middle of this again? We did what we had to do; we saved the Shire. We came through torment and suffering and our reward was going home alive. But now – now we are here again, with darkness threatening the fate of Middle Earth once again.” Frodo paused, running a hand across the grass distractedly. “Why must it be my blood?”
“Gandalf said it was because of vengeance, and strength,” Sam replied. He was aware it had been a mostly rhetorical question, but he knew what Frodo needed now was someone to listen to him. Sam could guess at how Frodo was feeling, but knew that he wouldn’t share all of it for fear of causing Sam pain.
Frodo pulled a face. “Vengeance may be easy enough to understand, I suppose. But strength? Bah.” He cast another stone into the water. “What strength do I have? The Ring stripped me of what little I already possessed.”
In the darkness, Sam frowned. Frodo’s view of himself had suffered greatly after the Quest, and it irked Sam that his best friend couldn’t see himself the way others did. “You have strength of will, Frodo. Perseverance. Fortitude.”
“That means nothing anymore,” Frodo said gently, but bitterly. “I was corrupted in the end. I failed. What strength of will I had broke and I…” he choked on the word. “I…claimed it.”
Next to him, Sam sighed softly into the darkness. “But you bore it longer than anyone, save Gollum, I suppose. But Gollum stayed in one place, and it consumed him. You took it to Mt Doom, as it became heavier every step of the way and you were only… beaten at the very end. No one else could have done such a thing.”
“But I was…infected…by it before then.”
“But you didn’t fall to it; I rest my case.” Sam placed a hand on his friend’s shoulder. “Frodo, your will is one of the strongest I know. Isildur took it and was corrupted almost instantly. After fighting off that thing, Shelob, when I thought you were…and I took it, I could feel its weight, its power. Don’t you remember how I hesitated before I gave it back to you in the Tower? I had only had it a few hours, and already I didn’t want to part with it, I wanted to keep it. You took it back willingly, and took it to the end.”
“I wanted it back because it was corrupting me,” Frodo replied quietly, but Sam shook his head.
“That wasn’t just it, though, was it? You might not remember, but you asked for it back with a clear mind and heart, because you felt it was yours to bear. Not because you had to have it back, but because you didn’t want me to be ‘destroyed’ as you put it.”
A shadow of a smile crossed Frodo’s face at Sam’s simply stated faith in him. It did his heart glad to have such a brave and loyal friend at his side, again, and he knew that he never would have made it to Mordor without Sam guiding him and not letting him fall.
“I only wish it wasn’t something to do with us. Our lives were severely altered after the War of the Ring. Now this, I fear, will do more.”
Sam cast a glance at his friend. “What do you mean?”
“You and I survived though luck; and even before that escaped from death more than once. Merry and Pippin fought in the greatest battle of our age, and both lived. All of us were changed, but we all came back. Do you think this time we may not be so lucky?” Frodo turned to Sam. “You must think on Rosie. You cannot leave her, and I cannot bear the thought you may never return to her.”
Sam put a reassuring arm around Frodo’s shoulders, touched at his words. “Rosie understands. She always has. Don’t dwell on it, Frodo. We’ve done some remarkable things before; I think we could do some again.”
Frodo smiled at his friend, but it did not reach his eyes. He loved Sam dearly, but even Sam couldn’t currently understand the turmoil of emotions inside his mind. “Come on, let us get back before my two younger cousins think we’ve left without them. Again.”
Gah, I love those two and their friendship. It’s one of the most wonderful friendships I’ve seen written (just my own opinion, I don’t call myself an expert by any means). It’s really interesting to write and explore it.
Chapter 7: Farewells of the Fellowship
I’m so sorry, everyone! Time got away on me – I spent much of the last week making things for a market this weekend just passed. Last week I watched The Hobbit premiere coverage – I live in NZ, but not in Wellington, where it was – needless to say if I did live there, I would have been out in force with the other fans having a terrific time. But the coverage was awesome; and I baked lembas bread to celebrate. A lovely day all round. And now it’s under a week until the midnight screenings!
Early morning slowly illuminated the elven valley, causing the ornate architecture of Rivendell to shine and glow as the light caressed it. Soft shadows covered paths where the sunlight of the new day hit thin leaves, bathing much of the haven in a faint green light, contrasted to the blue of the sky above. The day was promising to be a fine one, warm of sun and gentle of wind, but even that relaxing warmth could not bring joy to all those it touched; not now a new shadow hung over their hearts.
The slowly growing light came upon a quiet secluded garden in the lower regions of Rivendell. It was a semi-private place, where the sweetness of the flowering trees could be tasted in the air, and the sound of clear water was melodious. Within it, a meeting was taking place. To an onlooker, ignorant of the deeds of the past, the group appeared somewhat mismatched – four halflings in grey cloaks, the material thrown back over their shoulders in the soft light; a staunch dwarf, his beard partially braided, with one hand atop an axe; a golden-haired and lithe elf, standing gracefully against the edge of a small pavilion; a man of noble bearing, who stood with one hand leisurely upon his sword hilt; and an elderly, bearded figure leaning slightly on his staff, whose white robes seemed to glow. The survivors of the original Fellowship of the Ring.
To all appearances, it seemed as if they had met to enjoy the day ahead – this group of companions, each of whom played a major role in the War of the Ring and the saving of Middle Earth. They had been through much together, and knew one another well; thus it was not strange to most to see them together. Yet even though the sun shone brightly and warmed the faces of the eight, their hearts were heavy and dark with the grief of parting, and the gentle laughter of the stream did not calm their fears as much as they would have liked.
Long ago, or so it seemed now, when they had first set out from Rivendell together, they had almost all be strangers to one degree or another, thrown together on a great errand of secrecy. Companionable feeling had not come quickly, save among those it was already established for: indeed for some – especially those who disliked each other prior to the Fellowship’s formation – the lessening of suspicion had to take place before anything akin to friendship could begin. Thus it was only though fate, a common enemy, and trying circumstances did they grow close and learn about one another. Now they were nigh inseparable, their friendship crossing bounds of age, race and geography.
Aragorn’s finger tapped softly against his sword. “My friends. Even though we gather in a place of such life, such light, my heart is heavy. My words I give with the sorrow that this could be our final meeting - for in a few mere hours, we travel our separate ways…for what could be the last time.” Aragorn’s gaze moved to the ground as he paused. “Our trials and hardships are not over yet; though we thought we saw their end. This time we must again walk willingly into war, towards an end we cannot foresee. I am to take my leave, along with King Eomer and Prince Imrahil. I go back to Gondor to gather my forces – what forces I have after the War. Gandalf comes with me as my most trusted advisor, for which I am thankful for.”
“And I,” started Legolas, “go with my father back to Mirkwood. Gimli accompanies us, along with King Thorin, until we halt at our destination, and they continue onwards to Erebor.” His elven features were graceful, but grim. “All will stand before this shadow.”
Gimli shifted, his hand still atop his axe. “We that leave will not meet again until the time of battle, in one month.” His gaze fell upon the four halflings before him. “You, however…”
“We step far afield, “ Merry said quietly. “I cannot help but think this could be farewell for the last time – for all of us, in one place.”
“A fair consideration,” Aragorn replied solemnly. “We cannot know our end, or what might await us. All we can do is do what we can with the time that is given to us.”
Frodo smiled slightly, recognising Gandalf’s advice within Aragorn’s words. “If, under this shadow, I can be thankful for anything, it is that in facing this new danger, we have the chance to say farewell properly, voice our goodbyes – so if, Eru forbid, we are to meet our ends, then at least we have spoken a proper farewell to those who we care for greatly, even as they fight as we do.” He shrugged, slightly guiltily. “Unlike before, when that chance was taken from us. So I would also use this moment to thank all of you.”
“Why?” asked Legolas, not unkindly.
“At the last Council of Elrond, you each made the decision to accompany me. You left the relative security of your own homes and lands, to help me. Events happening as they did, I consider each and every one of you my family. We have all been through so much, done so much, stood by one another. So although I am thankful you all chose to accompany me, I am also aware it was your involvement there that had lead to your involvement once again, and I at its centre.” He paused. “Therefore it is a solemn feeling that this could be the last time we are all together in this world.”
“We were all mighty lucky last time,” Sam said quietly. “And now…” He shook his head, searching for the right words.
“And the luck might run out?” Legolas offered. Sam nodded up at the elf. Legolas smiled a little. “The same thought has crossed my mind. We might have to cheat fate a second time.”
The soft sound of footsteps reached their ears. Legolas turned to see his father coming towards them, wearing his riding cloak, which moved like water as he walked. Thranduil inclined his head respectfully in greeting – as tall and imposing as he seemed, his gaze was kind as it swept the group. “Legolas, my dear son; we must away. Master Gimli, King Thorin also requires your presence at the main courtyard.”
“We are coming, Father.” Thranduil smiled at Legolas before returning almost as silently as he had arrived, giving his son a last moment of privacy with his gathered friends.
“So now it is farewell. Sire, Gandalf – I will meet you on the field of battle. Gimli – we need not say our goodbyes until we part in Mirkwood. However…” here Legolas turned to the hobbits, and knelt down gracefully as to be at eye level with them. “My dear friends. It is with a heavy heart I leave, not knowing if I will ever see you again. But no matter the outcome of this battle, we will meet again when we are all not of this world any longer.”
“Aim true, Prince Legolas of the Woodland Realm,” said Frodo, feeling tears threatening to begin. “May the Powers protect you in battle.”
Legolas smiled. “Take care of one another, and may Elbereth light your way.” He embraced the four of them in turn, before standing to embrace Aragorn and Gandalf.
Gimli considered the four hobbits for a moment before speaking. “So, young Masters, we part in each others company, by our own will and reasons. This I say to you all – take care, be careful, and remember we all are fighting alongside one another, in different ways.” He looked at each of them in turn, his expression sad. “Goodbye, my Halfling friends. Until we meet again, be it after this is over; to mourn or to rejoice, or after this life has ended and we are together again.”
“May the blade on your axe never dull,” Pippin said, his voice thick with emotion.
Gimli nodded. “I will sharpen it on orc-necks.” He turned to the others. “To you, Sire and Wizard, I say until we meet on the battle field.” Like Legolas, Gimli embraced each of them in turn.
Together the Fellowship walked back along the stone paths towards the central courtyard of Rivendell. There they found horses had been prepared for the four travellers, and the two kings, of elves and dwarves respectively, awaited them. Gimli and Legolas mounted their own horses, both casting one last longing glace around the haven they were to leave. Little was said aloud at their leaving. Thoughts and feelings, hard to express, were more conveyed in eye contact and facial expression than put into words and said.
It was approaching early afternoon by the time the four rode out of Rivendell’s gate. They turned the horses and rode up the path out of the valley, disappearing from sight at the top of the dale. Legolas turned his horse and gave one private final farewell and blessing to those at Rivendell, before riding away East to the Misty Mountains. He knew his heart would forever be there, with those he left behind, and he whispered a prayer that they would all be protected in light of the upcoming storm.
After a light midday meal, Gandalf found Aragorn leaning on one of Rivendell’s many balconies, looking silently down at the garden below. There Gandalf could see four easily recognisable figures, sitting together on the grass, the sparse remains of their midday meal before them. Gandalf couldn’t hear what was being said, but it was clear the four hobbits were taking the time to enjoy each other’s company. Occasionally a laugh drifted up to where he and Aragorn watched.
Aragorn didn’t turn. “Why must it be them, my friend? Haven’t they suffered enough, to now fear again for their lives and the life of one we all love as a brother?”
Gandalf came forward to stand beside his kingly friend. Aragorn’s face was solemn, his eyes sad. Gandalf placed a hand upon his shoulder. “We could not have foreseen this. If not for your sharp eyes we would not have sought out more information, and we would all be unprepared – them most of all.”
“I saw them all fall, Gandalf. I had to call them all back to this world. Merry’s arm was cold as ice after he fought the Witch King. If he had not guided his blade as he did, Lady Eowyn would have been lost, and many more besides. When I tended to him after the Pelennor Fields, his mind was lost in shadow. I called him back and set him on the road to recovery.”
Gandalf remained silent, aware this had been playing on Aragorn’s mind. The King of Gondor sighed, one had balling into a fist on the stone balustrade. “When Pippin was found, crushed beneath the troll he slew, I thought him lost already. His body was badly bruised, and his mind sure of his fate – Pippin told me himself he was sure of his demise as he fell. But I called him back, too, tended his bruises and fractures, and he recovered.”
The Wizard could guess at what was coming next, and tightened his hand on the king’s shoulder. Aragorn exhaled sharply. “Sam and Frodo…we all thought them lost to us. When I saw them, I thought there was no hope, and that we had found them too late. Sam’s body, ravaged by starvation and dehydration, was a sight that hurt me. The gash on his head required careful cleaning, and though his body seemed empty his spirit was strong…it took little to coax him back, though I feared I would not be able to call him at all.”
He fell silent, and when he spoke again his voice was quiet. “Frodo…Frodo’s body shocked me, Gandalf. The toll the journey had taken on him, with little food and water; the evidence of his brutal beating in the Tower – you saw the fine pattern of whip-marks across his back – and the mark of the chain around his neck! The bite of that creature, that thing. His maimed hand…I was thankful for his unconsciousness while we cleaned and bound it. The pain it would have caused would have been unbearable. But his mind…I know you sensed it, old friend. How far from us his spirit had fled, its strength sapped.” Aragorn shook his head. “It was the hardest healing I have ever undertaken. I thought that he would never return to us.”
“But he did, Sire. Not whole, and never to return to his former self, but he came back.”
“His mind, Gandalf. His mind was deep in shadow and despair. Many times I thought he would just slip away from us all, regardless of my efforts. I doubt he wanted to return, thinking he did not deserve it. I wept to see him so hurt, Gandalf, to see what suffering the Ring had caused him. When it was finally over, and he came back to us, I talked long with him. I tried to help him, but he told me often that he was beyond help, and knew he was lost to the world of the living. I know he believed that of himself for some time.”
Gandalf considered the figures in the garden below him. Pippin was currently holding court, telling a story with wild gestures, as the others listened. Frodo was in the shade of a tree, watching his cousin with a smile on his face – but Gandalf could tell his eyes were sad. It pained Gandalf to see the change in his friend, and know the cause of it, and know that now Frodo had almost as much responsibility placed upon him once more. Would he change moreso before the end of this, pulling himself further from a world he thought he did not deserve to be a part of?
Gandalf sighed and turned to look at Aragorn, who evenly met his gaze. “I know it pains you, Sire, to see him burdened again. You fear – as do I – what ordeals he might have to undertake before the end. But I also know you can see the light shining from him; even when he himself cannot. Oh, he is wounded, and exhausted, there can be no doubt. His ordeal has left him broken – but also left him stronger. Though he cannot – and, I fear, will not – see it, for his love and view of himself was most injured after the Quest and his actions at the Crack of Doom, his soul shines out - he will never bow to a dark power again. He will never let himself fall as low as he did, or come as close to despair. But I fear he will never realise this strength until it is tested.”
Gandalf paused to consider the dark-haired hobbit. “Like a bone broken, and when it knits is made stronger, even without the realisation of the injured. Frodo will not let himself be tormented again, by any darkness. His guilt over his actions, his fear of what he almost became, and his love for those who surround him strengthened his already astonishing will power. Though as you heard at the council, he does not believe such things of himself. But you can see it, I know. As can I.”
Aragorn nodded, but Gandalf could see his eyes were distant, still consumed with thoughts of his friends. “Sire, by all means, let your blessing and thoughts follow their journey. But do not fear for them – you guided their return and so have seen their bonds strengthened, their confidence and resolve renewed. They are not the four hobbits we set off with.”
“No,” Aragorn agreed, the ghost of a smile gracing his features. “They are all so much more than that.” He straightened. “Come, let us fetch them.”
First time I’ve had to split a chapter due to word count getting a bit high. It might mean the next chapter is a bit shorter than usual, as it’s the rest of what was going to be in this one, and I don’t know how many words it will take. Guess I’ll just have to go ahead with it and see!
Chapter 8: Gifts of Protection and Honour
So I saw The Hobbit at one of the midnight sessions here in New Zealand last week, and again last night. I won’t give any spoilers for those who haven’t seen it yet (if there are any), just say that I personally thought it was brilliant, and enjoyed every minute. I know lots of people will find things they don’t like about it (yes, there’s a bit of filler, but I loved all of it) so it does seem to be about personal preferences, perhaps more than LotR was. Still, I urge each of you to go see it, and just enjoy it!
Approaching the small group, who were now deep in discussion about some unknown matter, Aragorn felt his heart twist at the sight of them so calmly enjoying the day. Still, he would do anything to make their path easier, and that was why he had come to them today. The four hobbits looked up as he approached.
"My friends, would you do the honour of accompanying me?” Aragorn asked, with a respectful inclination of his head. Frodo and Sam especially may not be so keen on the idea of being seen as equals of the King in the King’s own eyes, but that did not stop Aragorn treating them as such.
“Of course, Sire,” said Pippin, raising himself from the ground. “Where are we to accompany you to?” His question was left unanswered as Aragorn appeared not to hear him. Wondering what could be important, and aware that Aragorn generally had excellent hearing, the four hobbits shrugged to one another and followed the King and the wizard. They noticed that their two guides seemed to be hiding something - Aragorn seemed to have some sort of secret air around him, and Gandalf had a telltale glitter in his eyes.
Aragorn led them along the sunlit stone paths until they arrived at one of the main courtyards. It was the very same one that, almost a year before, the Fellowship of the Ring had departed Rivendell from. Turning aside, Aragorn’s path led them down a walkway never tread by the hobbits in their times at Rivendell. They passed numerous unfamiliar rooms, before entering the more recognisable former resting place of Narsil, and taking another unknown turn from it. Eventually, after passing outside into the warm air for a brief time, Aragorn stopped on a covered walkway and opened an ornately carved door.
Frodo was the first to follow, stepping forward into a room he had only heard of but never seen – Rivendell’s armoury. Although Rivendell was a haven of peace, hidden from the world beyond, occasionally those within its halls needed to arm themselves to fend off hostile elements who drew to close, or to be outfitted for a long journey. There were also master craftsmen in Rivendell who enjoyed practicing their craft to hone their skills, and the armoury was often the recipient of the results of their crafting.
As it was, much was contained within the room. Shields of all kinds and shapes rested along the walls; some proudly displaying traces of battle. Some were round, some curved, some were the standard size and others could cover a person almost fully. Frodo could see a variety of crests on some of them – variations and interpretations of Rivendell’s crest, Mirkwood’s sign – even some that appeared to be connected to the Golden Woods of Lothlorien. One or two had a triumphant white horse, and a few more a regal white tree – Rohan and Gondor held their place here.
Many different types of armour hung on stands around the room – carefully tooled leather armour, shining plate armour in the typical woven elven style, chain mail of glimmering rings. There were also carefully made individual pieces of armour – gauntlets with delicate golden flowers that belied their strength, greaves that told a story within their inscriptions.
Upon the walls in rows, catching the light the open door threw into the room, were elven blades – curved and straight, daggers and swords both, their elvish inscriptions spidering up and along the metal. Elegant, tall even spears were stacked up against one corner, their polished hilts a dark, majestic brown and their spearheads almost as long as some of the swords. Elvish lettering spiralled along the blade, telling of deeds and names from long ago.
Bows hung on the walls, of all sizes. Almost all were different in their own way – a different wood, a different string, one slightly thinner than those around it, one a heavier solid design. The ends of the bows were capped in elegantly worked metals, ending in spikes, curves or what appeared to be a personalised design. Alongside the bows hung quivers, filled with elegantly crafted arrows. Each set had different fletching, and it was clear some of the quivers had been specially made to match the bows that hung alongside.
The four hobbits could not help but stand in awe of their present surroundings. None of them had, of course, need to visit the Rivendell armoury before, and so the deadly elegance of it held them spellbound for a few moments. Pippin and Merry, who had both been familiar with armouries during the War, agreed afterwards that the armouries in Gondor and Rohan, as well equipped and serviceable as they were, could not compare to the sheer display of beauty and craftsmanship that was evident within the room at Rivendell.
Slowly the first impression died away, allowing them to enter fully into the glittering array, moving over to where Aragorn and Gandalf awaited them beside a low table.
“It is quite something, is it not?” asked Aragorn quietly, casting a reverent glance around the room. “The elves have always been master craftsmen, and I do not doubt they always will be.”
“This armoury was set up to aid those in need rather than outfit an army,” Gandalf said. “And it has grown over many years not just from the craftsmen here, but the gifts of others. I see you noticed that our friends of the South are represented here,” he added with a respectful nod towards Aragorn, who smiled.
“But this, my friends, was what I bought you here to see,” the King of Gondor said, gesturing to the table. His four small friends moved closer to cast their eyes over what was laid out before them, not expecting the sight before them.
Next to him, Frodo heard Sam’s soft gasp of awe and surprise. He himself was beyond speaking, and could only stare as conflicting emotions played through him in a matter of seconds – unease, fear, determination, hope… For atop the dark wood of the table lay several pieces of hobbit-sized armour, each piece beautifully crafted and tooled with elegant designs.
Aragorn turned to the table and lifted from it a chainmail shirt, made of light and delicate rings. “Merry, I cannot give you anything better than that which you already have well earned, and worn to great deeds in your service to Rohan. If you return to the chamber where your armour was placed after you arrived here, you will find it has been repaired and cleaned, and strengthened where needed. The detail on it was cleansed but not changed in any way, so the work of Rohan can still be proudly displayed. To that end, all I have for you personally is this,” Aragorn offered Merry the chainmail, and the hobbit took it carefully as he murmured his thanks, holding it to the light to look carefully upon it. “Although it looks somewhat ornamental, the rings are made of mithril-infused steel – it is stronger than normal steel, and lighter, and will fit under the leather armour you already own.”
Aragorn placed his hand on the next piece of armour on the table. It was a hobbit-sized chestplate of dark, rich brown leather. Upon it were carefully tooled designs of an elven feel, which had been slightly silvered in some way. Although they stood out against the darker leather, the effect was not garish. It was understated and gentle, and beautifully crafted. Beside it lay a pair of soft gloves, and two gauntlets in the same leather as the chestplate, with matching silvered patterns.
“Frodo…” Aragorn met the eyes of his dear friend. “For you, I hesitated. I wanted to give you these gifts, to provide what aid I could not, even though I know you do not connect yourself to such things as battle and heroism. Please do not look on them as tokens of impending bloodshed, but gifts of protection and honour willingly bestowed by one who cannot walk by your side in this time of shadow.”
Frodo reached out and traced one edge of the flowing pattern with his finger. He had never worn armour before – well, not armour made specifically for him, at any rate – and especially not with the intent of it being worn so visibly, like some kind of warrior. “Aragorn, My Lord, had I received these gifts from almost any other, the feel of being outfitted specifically for bloodshed would enter my thoughts. But as it is you, I know the heartfelt friendship and sincerity that went into their making, and the honour that you bestow up on me – upon us all – by giving these to us.”
Aragorn nodded, warmth in his eyes. “For you and Sam both, who have not been outfitted in such a way before, I had a chance to request something special. For you, the designs on your chestplate and gauntlets speak of stars and their light.” He pointed to one corner of the design tooled around the edge of the leather. “Within the elven designs, the work becomes the device of the star, you see? And it is mimicked on the gauntlet.”
Frodo took the gauntlet Aragorn offered him. The leather was light and supple in his hands, as his eyes followed the simple workings to their centre, where a silver star was visible within them. “It’s beautiful, my Lord.” I never thought I would wear such armour, Frodo thought to himself. It is so elegant, and so delicately worked, yet will in all likelihood save my life.
Aragorn looked somewhat pleased with himself as he picked up the slightly larger chestplate that lay beside Frodo’s. This one was of a lighter brown, the brown of freshly cut chestnut wood. The designs which adorned it were similar to that on the one next to it, elvish in origin, but they had been traced in pale, unobtrusive gold. Revealed as Aragorn lifted it were matching gauntlets and gloves, and an elven sword-belt. Aragorn handed the chestplate to Sam.
“This is yours, Samwise Gamgee. Gilded chainmail I know you have, but this is something more. Elven in origin as well, but with some difference. Although the designs are similar to that of Frodo’s, you are a different spirit, and as such have a different motif that is apparent on your armour. You see how the pattern flows across here, and up to the shoulder? It is reminiscent of not starlight, but…”
“…sunlight,” Frodo finished quietly, looking over Sam’s shoulder. Sam himself looked stunned beyond words, and he lightly held what he considered to be a piece of art more than a piece of armour. He could only mutter his thanks, as he carefully ran his hands over the intricate designs, following every point and curve.
Aragorn left him marvelling over his gift, and turned back to the table once more. “Pippin, as King of Gondor I know only too well the make and strength of your Guard of the Citadel regalia. I have had the chainmail cleaned, and your gauntlets re-tooled, so the Tree of Gondor is all the clearer. Yet to fit with your companions, you need not the heavy and ornamental black velvet…” Aragorn handed Pippin his own leather chestplate. “I thought something modelled after that of the Rangers of Ithilien, though somewhat more ornate than theirs, would be appropriate, my friend.”
The chestplate was light and strong, and had been carefully patterned with the White Tree. Pippin took it gently, his grin revealing his thoughts. “And it will fit atop my citadel chainmail?”
“Indeed it will.”
In addition to the precious gifts Aragorn had bestowed upon them, there were also four keen elven daggers, their curved blades both wicked and elegant, with dark hilts of polished wood. Next to them were four small elven bows, light, springy, capped with silver and made of a highly polished light brown wood. The quivers to go with them were there, emblazoned with the same symbols as the leathers – Gondorian, Rohirric, and elvish.
“These pieces of armour, and these arms, are my last gift to you before we part. I pray you will have no need of them, but we cannot be sure. Much has changed after the War of the Ring, and orcs still prowl the lands though they are leaderless - the lands you cross will be dangerous. I give them to you as a blessing of Gondor, Rohan, and the free peoples of Middle Earth.”
Merry’s chainmail clinked as his grip tightened on the garment. “Aragorn, Sire, we can’t take these…”
Aragorn shook his head, looking more like the king they knew and less like the ranger they had met in Bree. “I will not hear of it. They are gifts; I insist you take them, and wear them with pride and my blessing. It would do my heart good to know you are well protected, as I cannot be with you myself to lend my blade in assistance.”
“Not that any of you necessarily need protecting by others,” said a soft voice from behind the hobbits. They turned to see Faramir standing with Eowyn in the open door to the armoury together, arm-in-arm. “You are more than accomplished in protecting yourselves,” Faramir continued, as he and Eowyn entered the room proper. “We received message you were looking for us, Sire?”
“Indeed I was – I have for you a parting gift of a special nature,” Aragorn said as he turned to a shelf behind him. When he turned back, he was holding two parcels wrapped in a light paper. “These are not only special in make, but very close to my heart.”
The hobbits, their natural curiosity kindled, leaned forward to look as the two parcels were unwrapped. Within the papers were two cloaks of soft grey-green, pinned with an all-too familiar Mallorn leaf brooch.
“Thank you, Lord Aragorn,” said Faramir softly, as his hands ran over the soft material. “I would be honoured to wear this.” Beside him Eowyn nodded, her eyes shining as she traced her fingers over the green brooch.
“Aragorn,” Gandalf said softly, “we must bid these fine people farewell. The day grows late.”
The smile on Aragorn’s face faltered slightly as he realised the time had come to leave the safety and serenity of Rivendell. Together the group left the armoury, tracing their steps back to the main courtyard. There they found King Eomer and Prince Imrahil with four horses, making the final preparations for their journey south. Eowyn made her way over to her brother, who swept her up in a tight farewell embrace. Faramir spoke quietly to Aragorn for a moment, before embracing him tightly and moving forward to make his farewells to Prince Imrahil and his wife’s regal brother.
Aragorn sighed quietly to himself, standing before the hobbits. “Now is the time for our own farewell, my friends. I wish you all the luck in this world, and ask that you spare a thought for us now and again. Take care of yourselves, and of one another.” He looked down at them and smiled sadly. “My heart grows heavy at this parting. Once this shadow has passed, I would have you come to Gondor, if you wish it.” Aragorn knelt before them. “I wish my path laid with yours – to travel the wild as a ranger once more is most tempting to me. But my kingdom needs me, and I serve her gladly.”
“Give our best wishes to the Lady Arwen, My Lord,” Pippin said, “and any who we may be dear to in the White City.”
Aragorn nodded. “I will, of course. She fares well, though this new shadow worries her. As it does us all.”
He embraced each of them in turn. As Frodo held his dear friend close, Aragorn’s voice reached his ear. “I know you doubt your strength. Trust in yourself, my dear friend, trust in your friends. We stand with you as brothers.”
Standing again, Aragorn surveyed them one last time. “Farewell; periannath. My friends; my brothers.” He bowed deeply, before leaving them alone with Gandalf and walking to speak with Eomer, who had an arm around Eowyn.
Gandalf smiled a little as he, too, knelt to the same height of the Hobbits. “My dear friends. My brave hobbits. Again the shadows of this world fall on you, and again you rise above them willingly. Through all we have gone through, you have always amazed me. I have no doubt you will do so again. I know not where we will next meet, be it Rivendell, Gondor, or beyond the limits of this world.” He embraced them, and reached his hands out in front of him. Merry and Pippin grasped one; Frodo and Sam clasped the other. Gandalf smiled at them proudly. “Namarie, my heroic friends. Namarie.”
With that, Gandalf rose from them and mounted Shadowfax, who was waiting patiently for him. Behind him his three companions had done the same, and were finishing with their final goodbyes. After one final bow to the Master of Rivendell, who had come to give them his blessing, the riders spurned their horses out from the courtyard and up the winding valley path.
Eowyn’s eyes shone with unshed tears as she watched her brother and her friends leave for an uncertain fate. Resting her head on Faramir’s shoulder, the two quietly walked away into the sunlight. The four hobbits returned to the small courtyard outside their rooms – from here they could see the top of the valley path, and before long saw the horses pass over it before they were lost from sight.
After a moment one horse returned, the other three following. A long horn call split the air, its melodic tones carrying down to the valley haven beyond.
“Rohan.” Merry ran inside his room, quickly retrieving his own Rohirric horn, which had been gifted to him at the end of the War of the Ring. Standing to face the horses still visible at the top of the ravine, he blew an answering call. The sound was rich and pure, a call of joy that lifted the hearts of those who heard it. The horses turned and cantered away, Merry’s return call still echoing in the valley below.
Thanks for being so patient. Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and Season’s Greetings to all!
Chapter 9: Of Musings and Hobbits
I hope everyone had a great Christmas/Holiday/New Years celebration. I managed to see the new year in on a beach with a pile of friends, and we had a midnight swim which was most excellent. Then we went back to a party (which most of us had slipped away from to go beach-wards) for dancing. So far, my 2013 has been pretty good.
“Well met, Master Holdwine,” said Eowyn, coming out of a nearby passage, as the melodic tones of Merry’s horn-call faded. “That would have bought a smile to my brother’s face, to be bid farewell by a horn of his own land.”
Merry smiled as he inclined his head towards her, grinning. “I am glad to hear it.”
“It seems I came upon you at the opportune moment – I must admit it was not the sound of a Rohirric horn that bought me hence. I was bid by Lord Elrond to find you all and tell you that it is time for us to take our own leave from this place of serenity.” Eowyn cast a longing glance around at the elegant architecture and sunlit valley. “Although I find myself dreaming of Edoras, or the fair lands of Ithilien, I must admit that my short time here has made me think ill of leaving.”
“What path are we to take, My Lady?” Frodo asked her softly. The thought of leaving Rivendell was, for him too, not one he wanted to entertain. He would take the path laid before him, but his heart would remain here, with the sunlight, with the elves, and with Bilbo. Frodo had stolen moments with the old hobbit, and knew that tonight he would now have to say farewell, and tear himself away from the peace he felt here.
Eowyn considered him for a moment. “Lord Elrond, and Gandalf, before he took his leave, spoke kindly to the Eagles – they have agreed to fly us over the Misty Mountains and to the western edge of Mirkwood. It means that the mountain passes will prove no problem to us, and we can be on easier terrain. From there, it is thought we will make our way south to Lothlorien, keeping to the western edge of Greenwood the Great.”
“A fair plan,” Pippin said, his eyes distant. “I suppose we can receive any news in Lothlorien of the battle.”
“If it goes ill, we will travel further south – to Minas Tirith; or Edoras.” Eowyn sighed. “We will need to be prepared for many eventualities, my friends. Rest well tonight, take comfort in our last hours here. Faramir and I will see you tomorrow morning in the main courtyard.” She smiled to them and took her leave, walking with her face towards the sun.
The remainder of the day was spent in preparation for the journey. Slowly the hobbits carefully gathered their possessions and stowed them in their packs, as well as retrieving Aragorn’s gifts to them. There was an air of regret around the four of them – while travel was what they needed to do, having to leave this haven was not something they were looking forward to.
Frodo particularly made sure to leave himself time to walk through the winding paths of Rivendell one last time. He wanted to truly take the time to commit every last detail, hidden garden and waterfall to memory, in hope that the memory of those places would help keep the shadow at bay should it fall upon him. Although he knew Sam – or indeed, Merry or Pippin – would have gladly accompanied him on this thoughtful walk, he craved the solitude Rivendell offered so many of its residents.
After the revelation of Melkor’s plan, Frodo’s mind had been constantly buzzing with thought. But now, having had time to consider the situation and work through his thoughts, he was beginning to realise how tired he was. Was he up to this, really? Another trek through the wild, pursued by shadow? After his recovery in Gondor (if he could ever really claim he had ‘recovered’ after the ordeal in Mordor) and his return to the Shire, Frodo had come to recognise and live with the wounds and exhaustion of mind and body that were with him still. He could be strong when need be, mentally and/or physically, but it was never easy to sustain. Would he ever regain strength of any kind again?
But then again, I don’t exactly have a choice.
Later, when inky darkness had filled up the valley and the stars were all alight, Frodo lay on his bed. The others had long since bid him, and each other, goodnight and left to their own rooms to sleep. But such sweet rest would not come to Frodo just yet. He held a hobbit-sized gauntlet in his maimed hand, inspecting it by the light of the lamp that glowed softly beside him.
The dark leather was rich and elegant, the stiffened leather’s strength belied by its light weight. The elvish starlight motif that was gently tooled into it glowed softly where the intricate designs caught the lamplight. Truth be told, Frodo was a little embarrassed by Aragorn’s opinion of his likeness to starlight, but at the same time was also flattered by it.
Even though it was an elvish design, the gauntlet itself reminded him of Boromir. His gauntlets, adorned with the Tree of Gondor, had borne their scars of age and battle like a badge of honour. Frodo had always meant to ask Boromir if there was a story to them, but never had the chance. Something else was always more important, and then the situation had become…complicated, and Frodo had left the Fellowship with Sam.
And Boromir…had fallen, defending Merry and Pippin. What happened between him and Frodo hadn’t really been his fault; Boromir was not weak to give in to the Ring’s pull, just distressed over Gondor’s strife and desiring of supernatural help. Frodo had heard Boromir calling out an apology as he had fled, the Gondorian’s voice heavy with regret and shame, but he hadn’t been able to bring himself to turn back. He didn’t want to see the odd gleam come into the eyes of a man who was so proud, so strong, and so desperate to save his country. And now that he, himself, had gone to the very heart of Mordor bearing the accursed item, Frodo felt that he understood Boromir better now.
Aragorn had taken Boromir’s gauntlets after his death. He still wore them, out of respect to the fallen Gondorian, even though Frodo was sure the offer of ‘better’ gauntlets had been given to the king. Aragorn would not think any others better than those he wore out of respect for the noble fallen.
Frodo gently put the gauntlet back with his own armour, the moonlight reflecting off the silver adorning. He had set it in a pile ready for the morning, and whatever it might bring. Unable to shake a feeling of trepidation as he looked at the armour, Frodo lay back down on his bed and fell into a dreamless sleep.
The morning dawned bright and clear, as good a day for travelling as any. A thoughtful stillness was over the Last Homely House. Not much was said, yet at the same time, few stayed silent but conversation was quiet.
Frodo rose not long after the sun, giving himself a cursory wash from the basin provided. He made sure everything was packed and ready, before turning with some apprehension to the neat pile of armour, and beginning to hesitantly strap himself in.
As he did so, he caught sight of himself in the looking-glass, and was surprised at what he saw. He didn’t recognise himself. Instead of a normal, albeit weary, hobbit who had literally been to hell and back, an elven warrior stared out at him from the depths of his reflection. Frodo stepped towards the looking-glass, to inspect himself closer.
There he was. In the eyes especially. They were his alright, blue pupils that were haggard on close inspection, the light of life a smaller flame than it once had been in his youth. But to look at himself overall…it seemed a young elf stood before him, pale and solemn. Goodness, was that really how Aragorn saw him?
Frodo sighed inwardly, knowing that his life would never be truly the same again. It hadn’t been after the War of the Ring, of course, but now he felt changed beyond words. The thought that once again, out of all those in the world, it was him who was at the centre of it. It was him the enemy wanted. Always him that bought danger to his friends and kept them in harm’s way…and now him who had been outfitted like a mythical hero he didn’t identify with.
Frodo was so lost in the innermost depths of his thoughts he didn’t hear Merry knock softly and enter. So it was he found his elder cousin staring at himself in his looking-glass, seemingly oblivious to all else.
“What?” Frodo started and turned around, seeing Merry with a grin on his face.
“Cousin, you’re in front of the mirror, in shiny new elven armour. One would naturally assume you’re being impressed with yourself and how you look – which is very striking, I will point out. However, since I never ‘naturally assume’ I know that’s probably not what you’re doing.”
Frodo stared down his cousin. “Never ‘naturally assume’?”
“Alright, almost never,” said Merry, shrugging innocently. “But I do know my cousins, and I know when something is wrong, and on that you cannot fault me.”
“Nothing’s wrong, as such, Merry. I’m just thoughtful.”
Merry crossed his arms and raised an eyebrow. “Is it me, or do you use that answer a lot?”
Frodo grinned despite himself. Trust it to be Merry or Pippin that restored his humour and good faith. He took the moment of companionable silence to look at Merry fully. Merry was attired in his Rohirric armour, the same which he had worn to battle and been seen in about the Shire. Frodo knew it well, and had seen Merry in it many times, but for some reason it felt like this was the first time he had really looked. It suited Merry, who wore it with ease and pride. The Brandybuck noticed Frodo watching and performed a twirl.
“How do you think I look?” he asked, imitating a woman in a dress.
Frodo laughed. “I don’t think I dare risk reply to that.”
“Frodo? Merry? Where are you two?” Pippin’s voice floated in from the hallway beyond.
“Here, fool of a Took.”
Pippin entered, and scowled melodramatically at Merry. “I resent that.”
Sam, who had come in after Pippin, rolled his eyes at the bickering pair and walked around them to Frodo. They stood apart from one another, each trying to grasp the concept of their best friend in elven armour. Frodo thought it suited Sam, even though he could see his soul’s brother was embarrassed by it. Once he is used to it, Frodo thought, he will truly become Samwise the Brave. Not that he isn’t usually, but now all we meet will know it immediately, and he might just see it himself.
“I don’t feel like myself,” Sam said, looking down at himself.
Frodo shook his head, smiling. “Nonsense. Samwise the Brave you are, and Samwise the Brave you look.”
Sam blushed, and smiled back. “I could say the same about you. You look like a hero of old. And are you two finished?” This last comment was directed at Merry and Pippin, who were still insulting each other. The two younger hobbits stopped mid-sentence and nodded innocently as if nothing was out of the ordinary.
“We were never started. Faramir wants us in the courtyard in about half an hour.” Pippin said.
“Already time? It seems like we only arrived mere hours ago.” Frodo didn’t want to leave this safe haven, to face danger and despair once again. But he kept his misgivings to himself. It would do no good to complain aloud to the others; they were coming because of him, because he had to leave. It was plain none of them wanted to leave, and if Frodo were to voice his concerns, he felt his friends would feel all the worse about leaving Rivendell. And that he would not do to them.
Merry and Pippin excused themselves to go and check their packs, still casually bickering at one another. Frodo and Sam took a moment to stand together on the balcony, overlooking the valley as they contemplated the journey ahead of them. They both shared the same train of thought – what was going to happen? Would they survive? Would they come back changed again? How strong was the enemy? Was the enemy watching Rivendell? Did they stand a chance?
The silence they shared was somewhat comforting. It reminded Frodo that his friends were his allies who would never turn their backs on him, yet at the same time reminded him that his involvement was what drew them in to this in the first place.
Sam put a gentle hand on his shoulder. “Frodo? We should get to the courtyard.”
Frodo nodded, still suspended in thought. “Of course, Sam.”
Eowyn pulled her gaze from the tranquil early-morning valley. “Faramir?”
“You’ve met Frodo and Sam before, haven’t you? More than I. Only briefly have I met either.” She looked down, momentarily unsure of her question. “Tell me, what are they like?”
Faramir stopped strapping his pack up and paused, his mind going back to the fateful day when he had met Frodo and Sam, and what had come after. “I met the two of them in Ithilien, as they journeyed to Mordor. I will admit I was unsure how to react, as they were being secretive, and apart from my men, only spies travelled there. To my shame, I was fairly hostile towards them. After discovering what Frodo carried, I could only think of taking it to my father. That was partly the Ring itself, and partly the thought of doing something good in the eyes of Father. I was blinded by the thought. I took – I forced them – to Osgiliath.”
Faramir sat on the edge of the bed, as Eowyn came to sit beside him, taking one hand in hers. It was evident her beloved regretted his actions and they pained him to talk about. After a moment of silence, he continued.
“There were Nazgul at Osgiliath, my love. The Ring’s influence grew stronger, and Frodo almost put the Ring on and succumbed to the darkness. But the Wraith was foiled by Sam, who stopped Frodo and pulled him out of reach of the talons of the Fell Beast. I do not know what happened to Frodo at that point, but he drew his sword point at Sam’s throat, alarmingly out of normal behaviour because of the Ring. I do not know what words passed between them, but recognition sparked in Frodo’s eyes and he dropped his sword. It was then I realised what they were truly like.
“Hobbits are very individual, but some traits they share. Frodo is unusually thoughtful, more a philosopher than a warrior, yet he will fight with vigour and purpose when the need drives him. He is quiet, the silent observer who stands back and takes in everything before making a decision. He loves his cousins and Sam more everything in the world, and would never do anything to cause them harm. I think he is unsure of them coming with us. He is as loyal to Sam as Sam is to him, but shows it more subtly than Sam does.”
Eowyn laid her head on Faramir’s shoulder. “And Sam himself?”
“Loyal, in a word. Very loyal. Not just to Frodo, but to anyone he trusts. It will take a little to convince the trust of Samwise, especially if you acted as foolishly as I did. He is never afraid to speak his mind, sometimes bluntly, but can also be so very gentle and kind. He is more a fighter than Frodo, but almost as thoughtful. Sam will do anything for Frodo, they have become like brothers after their recent ordeal. Whereas Frodo is a silent observer, Sam will add to the discussion, observing as he goes.”
Faramir lapsed into silence, considering the halflings he considered honoured friends. Eoywn shifted embarrassedly. “But my love, how should I act towards them?”
Faramir laughed at her serious expression. “What a strange question, my Eowyn, my dear,” he said as he pressed her hand gently. “Be yourself. They will like you for who you are.”
Rising from the edge of the bed, Eowyn smiled. “You have set my mind at ease. Come, O Steward, we must meet our companions in the courtyard.”
I am sorry for the lateness of this update. Things just got away on me, and I started my new job too. I hope late updates aren’t going to become a habit, I’ll try my best to not let it become so.
Chapter 10: A Shadowed Mind
Thank you to all my kind reviewers! Your encouraging notes have kept me smiling through the working week – seriously, a few seconds of your time, an encouraging sentence, is a real confidence boost to a writer and means a lot.
Leaving Rivendell was bittersweet. Although the six companions greeted one another warmly, the mood was subdued with the prospect of returning to the shadowed world beyond the hidden valley. Their brief stay had renewed heart and limb, but it could not lessen the danger beyond Rivendell’s bounds.
Lord Elrond sighed as he looked over the group before him. “Not even a year since the last ordeal was over, I once again bid farewell to a group of companions in this courtyard. Go with speed and secrecy, take care on your paths. You are most welcome to return when the growing shadow is no more. May Iluvatar be with you all.” He inclined his head in a gentle dismissal.
There was marked hesitation as the six companions turned their backs on Elrond and the elves that had come to see them off. Climbing the winding path that led up the side of Imladris’ valley, each footfall led them further from the warmth and civilisation that was Rivendell, further into the wild lands beyond. Although none would voice the thought, it was shared between them – each step was also leading them towards an unknown future.
They walked in silence, each companion lost in their own thoughts and feelings as they concentrated on the path before them. There would be a time for talking, and perhaps even a time for song and merriment in the face of darkness, but this was not the time. For now a companionable and reflective silence had fallen over the group, and this was not interrupted with idle conversation.
It was similar to the Fellowship’s leaving, Frodo supposed, but the overall atmosphere of the group was different. The Fellowship had known the impending danger; known the enemy was watching; known the enemy knew where they were and where they had departed from and all were worried, all didn’t know what could happen. They were pursued by spies and doubt, on an errant many thought to be folly.
This time, the companions knew the danger, yes – but the enemy had no idea where their path was to lead. They had no errand, no destination – all of Middle-Earth was open to them. True, their future was clouded, but one thing the companions knew – this was now not a game of speed or stealth as it had been last time, but instead a game of strategy and wits, as the companions would have to craftily elude the enemy. This time their silence seemed not to come from fear, but from the slender confidence that came with the knowledge that they had the slightest advantage at this point in time.
At the crest of the path, Frodo paused and looked back. The Last Homely House seemed to glow with a soft radiance in the valley below, and already he missed the atmosphere of peace it gave. Frodo wondered if he would ever see it again, or if this final vision was to be his last.
The Eagles met them at little way from the top of the valley path. Greetings and respectful bows were exchanged as the wingless companions climbed onto the backs of their escorts. The trip across the Misty Mountains to the wildlands between their peaks and Mirkwood took just over an hour. Frodo was so lost in thought he hardly noticed the leagues speeding away under him.
As they touched down on the eastern side of the mountains, Frodo dismounted to look upon a part of Middle Earth he had never seen before. The Fellowship’s path had led them south by the paths west of the mountains, only crossing east through Moria – so this was a land he had really only heard about in stories – Bilbo’s stories, to be exact. Frodo fleetingly wondered how far they were from the Carrock, and the house of Beorn. He knew they had crossed the Anduin in the air.
Frodo turned back to Landroval, who ruffled his feathers in the slight breeze. “Luck be with you, Frodo Baggins,” he said gravely, bowing.
Frodo, surprised at such respect from the great creature, bowed low in return. “May the wind always bear you where you will, Mighty Landroval.”
With a last nod the great birds swept into the sky. Frodo watched after them until they became specks, before vanishing from his sight all together.
The travellers started their own journey. It was now late morning; the sun was getting high and the air was warming up. They saw no living creatures save for some deer in the distance, but the feeling of the group was generally optimistic. They made their way towards the line of trees in the eastern distance that was the edge of Mirkwood.
Because they could go at their own pace and speed was not their objective, there was no need to drive themselves – so they did not try to push through rest breaks or cover leagues and leagues of ground before stopping for the night. They kept up a solid and constant pace, but did not attempt to reach the edge of Mirkwood before nightfall. Instead, they made camp in the shadow of a small copse of trees that provided some shelter.
Faramir hesitantly suggested there would be a need for a watch every night now they were beyond the safety of the hidden valley. Everyone agreed, even though it bought the prospect of danger from a morbid thought to a reality. Sitting alone on his watch that night, Frodo looked up at the shimmering stars. Although a part of him was glad to be out travelling again, across new land and sleeping under stars, he could not shake a sickening dread that crept upon him in the shadows.
He knew they had an advantage; he knew there was no end destination or goal to work towards. There was only keeping him safe and out of the clutches of the Nazgul and Melkor. Still the ever-present danger hounded his mind, until the darkness seemed to draw in around him. Frodo pulled his cloak tight about him and moved closer to the fire, staring out at the night. Even though every noise made him jump slightly with the possibility of what it could be, his watch passed without incident.
It was late the next day when the small group came upon a small stream, flowing with cool water that was clear as glass. There they refilled their water-skins and followed it’s path for a while. It appeared to be flowing from the Anduin, the Great River, and headed more or less towards Mirkwood’s edge.
They followed the stream until it vanished over a small cliff, musically falling down the short, rocky height before snaking away into the forest proper. After some investigation, the cliff turned out to be the edge of a clearing on the forest’s edge. By some curve of the land, the forest ground on either side sloped into a natural dell, while the land west of Mirkwood continued without falling. It created a hollow, bordered by the forest along one curved edge and rocky cliff on the other. A small clearing separated the two.
It was Pippin who discovered a way though the edge of the trees to the clearing itself, and so it was he who reported to the others that there was a dry, and seemingly unoccupied, cave within the cliff that they could easily shelter in. “It’s not a palace,” he called up to those on the cliff above, “but it’s comfortable enough for the likes of us.”
It was agreed that the dell would be a good place to spend a day or two – it was well sheltered and with no signs of a Nazgul even on the horizon, it was unlikely anyone had seen them come upon it. There was a semblance of safety here.
The glade quickly came to feel like a near equivalent to home. The forest provided game and wood for a fire, and the stream gave them an abundance of crisp water. Spirits rose again, and there was hardly talk of anything outside of their little clearing.
Even though they knew they could not tarry on any one place long, Faramir used the morning of their second day to see what archery skills the hobbits possessed. Watched by Eowyn, who declined to participate in favour of spectatorship, the Prince of Ithilien set up a crude target on a tree and let the hobbits try their skills.
None of them were altogether unfamiliar with the weapon – there were many bows in the Shire, even if their use was restricted by circumstance. Sam had only held a bow once or twice as a boy, but could remember how to hold it and draw the string smoothly. Pippin had done it the most, being taught by his father, and Merry’s experience was limited to a few lessons here and there over his years at Brandy Hall. Frodo, for his part, had done it a few times before moving to Hobbiton with Bilbo, but was mostly surprised to find his injured hand did not impede his skill as much as he thought it might, as it was the first time he’d used his hand so strenuously since loosing his finger.
The four of them turned out to be fair students under Faramir’s guidance. Pippin was the best marksmen of them – which none of them found surprising – but Frodo, Merry and Sam were all able with their bows; although Frodo did discover after a while the strain of pulling the bow did cause the stump of his missing third finger to ache.
They also began to practice swordplay. Merry and Pippin were agreeable to such sport, giving them the chance to hone their skills. Taking care to wind fabric around the blades to spare one another harm, they sparred with each other and with Faramir initially. The bouts continued until their stamina gave in, someone lost their blade or one broke through the other’s defence. Frodo and Sam, having been given no formal or hasty training with the blades other than what was instinctive, were more hesitant to join in.
“I am no warrior, Faramir,” Frodo said when Faramir asked him if he wanted to join, glancing down at the scabbard on his hip.
"Then come join us not for skill, but for leisure. It passes the time and after all, it is exercise.” Faramir’s eyes glittered. “Scholars can handle swords as well as any other.”
To that Frodo had no answer. He was gently convinced into it under this pretence, and so Faramir took the time to give both Frodo and Sam some informal training. After a few simple lessons and sparring bouts, Frodo could see that Sam was beginning to enjoy the art of swordplay, and he had to admit that he could see its attraction – not for bloodshed, but as a physical discipline it was almost like dance. The feeling of using his wounded hand in a purposeful way also heartened him, especially when Eowyn showed him an improved grip which made his grip stronger even with a missing finger.
This practice took up most of the sunlight hours in the day, and the moonlight ones were spent around a fire swapping stories and telling tales before sleeping a contented sleep which bought refreshment to all. Faramir had decided against a watch for a few nights, as now the Greenwood was cleansed it did not provide the threat it once did.
Except one’s sleep was not so restful.
Although he mentioned it to no one, Frodo’s nightmares were beginning to plague him again. On their few nights out from Rivendell they had reappeared – within the Elven haven they had been scarce. Like the nights, the days had been drawing closer, but Frodo knew to tell anything would break the relaxed, but alert, atmosphere. For the second time that night he sighed, rolled over and tried to get back to sleep.
The next day was similar to its predecessor – spent in practice or discussion, relaxed but always watchful. Frodo smiled despite his tiredness, and near wept on the inside. He tried not to let on that something was bothering him – seeing his friends in such enjoyment of their practice was a constant reminder of the danger he led them into again, the guilt he felt to see them have to learn such crucial skills – even though it made him proud to see the skill they had, and to see who they had grown into, he knew that in some way, it should never have been necessary.
He tried not to let slip that his mind was in turmoil, and it seemed to work. So in the late afternoon, on the pretext of exploring, Frodo climbed alone onto a sunlit rocky ledge. It wasn’t very high above the camp, but the ledge was deep enough for him not to be seen. Out in the open, away from Rivendell, tears filled his eyes as the mounting anxiety he felt crashed over him.
What have I led them into? Have I led them to their deaths?
All the thoughts that had been in his mind since Rivendell came together.
He couldn’t take the feeling of being the cause of this trouble, this problem – again – it was overwhelming. He was the reason people were going to war, to keep him safe. He was the reason Sam had been torn from Rosie with no guarantee of return. People were going to die because of him, because of his actions. Because he fell, and still survived, when he did not deserve it? Hundreds – maybe thousands – of good warriors had died to defend themselves from Mordor, and provide a distraction for his safe passage across the Plains of Gorgoth. Was more death to be given on his account?
He sat a while longer, letting his pent-up emotions out, and took the time to just sit. The warm wind dried his face; talked to the trees, and for a moment Frodo could believe that nothing was wrong. He felt ashamed and childish to have so little control over his emotions – this was happening, and there was little to control that. He had to help as much as he could, and if that meant running like a fugitive and feeling hunted, then so be it.
When he was sure his mask of calmness wasn’t shattered, he climbed back down to the clearing, determined not to give away that something was amiss.
Again, Frodo woke. Another nightmare we still on the edge of memory as him eyes adjusted to the gloom in the cave. Casting a glace around, he noted all his companions were still asleep, lost in their own dreams. Knowing no sleep would come to him for a while; Frodo crept silently past his companions and out of the cave to the moonlit glade.
Shadows lay on the softly light ground, nightly noises of the forest a whisper in the background. Drawing close to the stream, Frodo saw his own reflection in the swirling water. It wasn’t like the gaunt face from the War of the Ring, of a Hobbit infected by the Ring’s corruption, but it was melancholy. Without the ‘mask’ he had been wearing, anyone who looked in his eyes would see what he thought. See the terrified, saddened, anxious soul within.
He sat next to the gently running water. History was repeating, it seemed. To be the hunted one, again; fear for his life and the lives of his companions, again; know that he would be responsible in part for their possible deaths… again.
The very thought chilled Frodo to the core. This situation was almost unbearable – he feared for himself, for those who were putting their lives on the line to protect him, for what could come with the dawning of the new day. There was no way to know, but that did not stop the fear that grew with every day. Frodo did not know if his companions shared his thoughts – they all seemed confident, finding the good things in their circumstances. All he knew for sure was the thought of what could happen, and the danger he put those he loved in, was eating away at him.
He knew, bitterly, that the ‘brave’ thing to do would be to save those he loved from danger by leaving them. The threat followed him, not them, after all. He had had the courage to do that once, but now he was too much of a coward. He couldn’t bring himself to tear himself away from them again, and face the thought of terrible danger alone. How weak and selfish, that he was letting them face the danger rather than taking it away from them.
If he had died on the original quest, what then? If he had died in the Shire? What would happen if a minute from now his spirit flew free, and he was suddenly removed from the equation? Or died in his sleep while on this journey from, say, illness? What would happen then? Would Melkor’s plan be destroyed? Would there be another way; so even if he had died on the original quest this would still be happening?
The thought hit him like a thunderbolt from above. The blood of the Ringbearer who took the Ring to Mount Doom. Strictly speaking, that wasn’t just him, now was it? Sam had carried the Ring – if only for a short time – after Shelob attacked. Though not tainted by the Ring’s siren call – not good-hearted Sam, never dear Sam – he too was a Ringbearer. Would he be next, if Frodo were to die somehow, and be rendered unusable to Melkor’s plan?
Frodo rested his head in his hands, and sighed deeply, feeling the weight of the situation settle on his shoulders. He was called a hero in distant lands. He had been given the title of Prince of the West. Some people bowed low whenever he walked near. There was even a song about him and Sam. But when it came down to it, he was just a hobbit, scared for himself and his friends, guilt-ridden with the past, lost in an unforgiving world.
Hooray! Angst-ridden consideration of the messed-up situation as a whole! I wanted it to come off as desperate and guilt-ridden, but without being too melodramatic. Hope it worked.
Chapter 11: Light in the Darkness
Thunderstorms are officially the best weather to write in (waiting for the bus after work… not so much).
Deep in her dreams, Eowyn felt someone move lightly past her. Half opening one eyes, she glanced around at her sleeping companions quickly noting, without too much apprehension, which one was missing. She was about to dismiss the movement all together, and lie back down, when she caught a glance of a figure in the moonlight, by the edge of the stream. An animal of some kind? An attacker? She was about to rouse Faramir and reach for her sword when she realised the figure was Frodo, her unaccounted for companion.
What was he doing sitting alone in the middle of the night? As she watched, Frodo put his head in his hands and sighed heavily, the noise barely audible. Concern washed over her, as he was obviously unhappy, and Eowyn gently eased out of her blankets so as not to wake her beloved Captain. She moved quietly out of the cave, walking lightly down to the hunched figure on the stream’s bank.
Frodo started slightly, and lifted his head to watch at as she approached. Her face wore an expression of concern, and he immediately felt a stab of regret and guilt that his own emotional turmoil had interrupted her otherwise peaceful night’s sleep.
“Are you well?”
Frodo found himself speechless as he tried to tell Eowyn what it was that was in his thoughts. As he did, the blank mask of his face fell away, and he could only shake his head as tears threatened to fall.
Eowyn felt pity for this hobbit, who had been thrown into this situation through no cause of his own, given further tasks he should have never had to endure. He had already suffered so much – and now here he was again, far from his home with danger pursuing him again. She crouched, and, hoping she was not overstepping herself, gently put her arm around his still form, trying to provide some comfort. Frodo didn’t react, but stared with unseeing eyes into the near-darkness.
“Frodo, what are you doing out here?” she asked softly.
He breathed in deeply, then slowly exhaled. “Thinking about … everything.”
Eowyn didn’t know how to reply to that, so instead sat down beside Frodo, her arm still around his shoulders. She guessed that what Frodo needed was someone to listen – it wasn’t easy to be in this situation in the first place, but to be at the centre of it… she couldn’t begin to imagine how that must feel, and how it must weigh on Frodo’s mind. All she could do was lend her support and friendship to him, and be there in this time of need. She resolved not to push for or demand answers or conversation; she would let him talk when he was ready and share as much as he saw fit.
Frodo sighed quietly, appreciative of Eowyn’s companionable silence. “I couldn’t sleep. I was woken by a nightmare, I admit – they are fairly common for me – and I stepped outside to have a quiet moment to arrange my thoughts, and attempt to make sense of them.”
“Would you prefer that I left you be?” Eowyn asked. She didn’t want to leave him unhappy and alone, but if that was what he deemed was needed, then she would grudgingly respect his wishes.
“No,” Frodo replied sincerely. “No, Lady Eowyn. I welcome the company.”
He fell silent again. Eowyn was considering what else she could say, when he sighed again and flicked a stone into the water.
“Not even one year of peace…and but four months had I been back in my own land! We thought this over. We could go back to our land, live our lives again – or as close as we could get. But now the shadow threatens our lives once more, and I am the cause. You put yourselves willingly in danger for me – how do I deserve that? I want to keep the others out of harm. I cannot bear the thought of losing one of them. I’ve done this before, My Lady; led them into danger. They almost died. I didn’t want to do it again – and I never thought I would.”
Eowyn sighed. She wished she knew the right thing to say to help Frodo out of the shadow that clouded his mind. “I have been told hobbits prefer to keep themselves out of the affairs of others and keep themselves isolated in peace, which in some ways I envy. But you know the world outside your land has never been free of risk. Your peace does not extend beyond your borders like some wish, nor is the outside world immediate death as others guess. Our land exists in both the good and the bad, the horror of war and the peaceful beauty of sunrise in the mountains. How can it be your fault that it is so?”
Frodo said nothing, staring at the dark waters of the stream beside him.
“If you go so far as to blame yourself for the risks of the world, of the choices of others and the hostilities that exist, then you are equally responsible for the beauty and love found in all places.” Eowyn raised an eyebrow at him. “As extraordinary as you are, Frodo, I do not think you are responsible for the state of the world as a whole.”
The hobbit glanced at her, unable to prevent a small smile from gracing his face.
“I claim no such thing. I simply cannot shake the visions of seeing my kin fall. They have so much to do and to be, and I cannot bear the thought of that being taken away from them so soon. I feared for them so last time, and now I must again. We are not warriors, and to die in a battle, in a war…”
“…is a truly honourable death, Frodo. Those who go to fight know that. To die in defence of the people, cause or place you love is one of honour and those who go to the battlefield are ready for whatever may happen next. Eomer once said Merry was unsuited for battle, that he had the heart but doubted he would be able to conquer the fear. Merry rode into battle with me, and saved my life with little thought for his own. Do you take responsibility for that choice? Or do you trust your beloved cousin?”
Frodo sighed again. “Yes, My Lady, you’re right. I just…didn’t want to repeat anything. I never thought anything like this would happen again.”
Eowyn tightened her arm around Frodo’s shoulder. “We never do, but must face it when it does. We must do what is required of us.”
“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us,” Frodo murmured, as if to himself.
“Wise words,” Eowyn said.
“Gandalf’s words.” Frodo smiled briefly again at his mention of the wizard. “How I wish he were here to advise me – but King Elessar has more need of his council at present.”
The sound of the stream filled the silence that grew between them until Frodo spoke again.
“I would give anything to see them safe. I would give anything to see you all safe, untroubled by shadow and battle. If my blood would grant Middle Earth peace, instead of condemning it to darkness, I would give it instantly,” he said quietly. “It would be a simple trade.”
Eowyn smiled sadly, though Frodo couldn’t see in the darkness. Always thinking of others before himself, worrying about burdening others with his pain. She briefly wondered what Sam might say, if he was here to hear his beloved friend’s sentiment.
“Why did you not tell anyone how you felt? We need to trust each other, Frodo.”
“And I do, Lady Eowyn, I do. I trust all of you with my life. Yet, I knew if I spoke out, I may be treated like some sort of fragile object, too delicate to be of worth, only seen as a chore for care. And that would make me fare worse.”
Eowyn nodded. She was aware what that could feel like.
Frodo’s voice was tinged with bitterness when he spoke next. “I don’t understand. He wants my blood – simply a red substance that flows through me, insubstantial as it is. How can it hold strength? What strength do I have that would aid him?”
“You may not see your own strength, but be assured that those around you do. What else could make so many willing to protect you, and accompany you even when we all know the risk? Consider, that to have such feeling displayed toward you – feeling that is not lightly given, I might add – you must be deserving of it and others must recognise that within you.”
Frodo frowned slightly, his eyes on the stream’s water. “You are very kind to me, My Lady. But I do not deserve it. There are dishonourable things about me that I fear could be a part of Melkor’s interest in me.”
Eowyn stiffened slightly. This was different.
“I am tainted by my experience. Hero am I called, but hero I am not. I was not the one who succeeded in my quest. It was Sam who was the hero, I was only a pathetic Master who could not rely on himself. I can never forgive myself for the things that happened.”
Eowyn waited to hear more, but Frodo did not volunteer any information. The pair were quiet for a while longer, before he spoke again.
“Lady Eowyn, Shieldmaiden of Rohan, do you know what today is?”
“No, O Prince of the West, I do not.”
Frodo frowned slightly at the honorific before answering. “It is the 25th day of March. A year since the Ring was destroyed, and Sauron fell...” His words trailed off, as his left hand gently touched the stump on his right. Eowyn glanced down at his maimed hand. She had never really looked at it, simply accepting that it was part of Frodo, but could guess how such a stark reminder might affect his mind.
“I apologise; I have kept you awake enough, My Lady.”
“You have kept yourself awake also,” said Eowyn, helping Frodo to his feet. “Perhaps an apology to yourself is warranted.”
The two companions walked back to the cave, leaving the small stream behind. Once back to her blankets, Eowyn looked over to her hobbit friend, feeling she understood him more. He smiled at her from where he was climbing back to his own bedding, and she returned the gesture, before curling herself up next to Faramir and regaining sleep for a few more hours.
Frodo settled himself back into his own makeshift bed, but sleep did not come immediately, as tired as he was. He was not the only one - having heard the conversation that took place between Shieldmaiden and Hobbit, Merry also lay awake; worried for his thoughtful cousin. It was a year, a year since Frodo had undergone such turmoil with the Ring, a year since he and Sam faced Mordor. Merry knew the whole story, and had often wondered what Frodo thought and remembered, but had never really wanted to question his cousin so directly.
“Frodo?” Merry whispered.
“My dear cousin! Why are you awake this early?” Frodo whispered in reply.
Merry decided not to mince words. A direct approach may be best in this circumstance. “Frodo, I heard your conversation with Eowyn.”
“Oh.” Frodo immediately broke his eye contact with Merry and looked down at the cave floor. Merry felt a little guilty for coming out with it as he had, as it obviously took his cousin by surprise, and Frodo did not look as if he wanted to talk about it. Merry propped himself up on his elbows and leaned in closer to Frodo.
“Frodo…my cousin, we’re all here because we choose to be. You didn’t get us into it, nor did anyone play a part in our making up our minds. Our own minds. We choose to be here, with you. If you go, we go. If you stay, we stay. I would go mad sitting in Brandy Hall and wondering what could be happening. If it were me in danger, would you not stay by my side and refuse to leave? You would do the same as I.”
Frodo stayed quiet, so Merry continued. “You’re my cousin, you’re Pip’s cousin, and you’re a brother to Sam. You know this. We all trust you, and you, I pray, trust us. You don’t lead, we don’t follow. We walk together. We are all free to make our own decisions. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
“Thank you, Merry. I appreciate that,” said Frodo, smiling at his cousin.
“And I know today is the one year anniversary, but please, don’t dwell on it. It’s in the past. Remember it, yes, but don’t spend every minute of every day thinking of it.” Merry hesitated before speaking next, aware his request would be hard for Frodo to follow through with. “If you find yourself obsessed by the past, then perhaps you could speak freely to us? You can tell us anything. We love you, Frodo, all of us do.”
“And I all of you. I’m sorry this has been affecting me so. I fear I must be terrible company.”
Merry shook his head. “There is nothing to forgive.”
The two cousins clasped hands. Merry smiled at Frodo, who smiled back – this time, it reached his eyes.
“Just don’t tell Sam or Pippin yet. I don’t want them thinking I’m unhappy and need to be treated differently. I am all right – but I cannot help feeling regretful this happened… that any of it happened.”
Merry shrugged. “We were all forced to grow up during the War. No one at home – with a few exceptions – would believe what we’ve seen and done. The threats that we’ve faced – they just don’t exist at home. We all changed, but you…” Merry sighed, smiling sadly at his cousin, “you were forced to change more than all of us. We know that, and it breaks our hearts.”
Frodo nodded, his face suddenly weary. “I never will escape it, Merry. I’ve come to terms with that, but it doesn’t make it any easier. You, out of the others, perhaps understand that the most.”
Merry nodded. “Indeed, I do. I only was affected for a short time by the Witch King – thanks to Aragorn – but I will never forget how it made me feel.” He instinctively ran his left hand over his right forearm, remembering his experience on the Pelennor Fields. “We’re all right here for you, Frodo, you know that.”
“You always have been, Merry mine. And I cannot express how much I am blessed by it. Perhaps one day I will find a way to repay you all for it.”
Merry watched as his cousin wrapped himself in his blanket and attempted to fall into slumber. He watched in silence as Frodo’s breathing eventually evened out into the deep pattern of rest.
“Repay us?” Merry whispered to the now sleeping figure. “Frodo, my dearest cousin, you do so everyday.”
Next weekend I’m heading off on a week-long trip to a medievalist event. A week of dressing in period clothing, drinking with friends around the fire, feasting, drawing and writing – it’s going to be great. So if I don’t get another chapter up before then, I apologise, but I hope to have another up just before I go.
Chapter 12: The 25th Day of March
So…you might have noticed I didn’t get a new chapter up before my holiday. Sorry about that – but I did have the most fantastic time. Nine days away; a week of which was medieval events and activities and wearing period garb (I need more pirate-inspired garb). Quite a bit of drinking (there’s a brewer’s guild), swimming in the water hole, singing around the fire under the stars, and learning a little medieval arts and sciences. I even had the chance to try archery again (I’ve not held a bow in close to ten years) and had a brief sparring session with a friend who gave me a ten second crash course in Messer swordplay then let me attempt to hit him, which was great.
The next morning’s dawn was bright and clear. A brisk wind teased the tops of the trees as the companions awoke to greet the day – but although their words and actions belied nothing amiss, there was a strange feeling over the camp nonetheless. A change was in the air, a sense of remembrance that was without obvious cause. Each companion came to the realisation of the day’s significance on their own terms, but even then, no one stated it outright. Understanding glances were shared rather than words.
The day passed slowly, as the six companions busied themselves in whatever way they saw fit. Archery was practiced, a few rounds of swordplay sparring were had, low-spoken conversations took place. Sometimes silence took precedence in the camp, as those in the glade were lost in thought.
Frodo, to his surprise, felt strangely peaceful. The others noticed he was thoughtful, as was fairly normal for him, but that there was also a serene, gentle look in his eyes. It was as if he was hardly watching the world pass by around him, lost in some memory – considering it, but not tormented by it. Reaching a year since It was destroyed, knowing that even though it was difficult, he had survived a year of wounds, weariness and nightmares was somehow heartening to Frodo. It wasn’t easy, of course, but here he was.
Frodo and his companions were not the only ones who realised the significance of the day. Many hundreds of leagues away, Aragorn Son of Arathorn, King of Gondor, awoke from dreams as the sun slowly rose for the new day. As the grey light of dawn covered their campsite, he tried to recall what he had last been dreaming of, but it slipped away. Frodo had been there, Aragorn was sure, but where he had been or what he was doing had already passed from memory.
Shaking off the last vestiges of sleep, Aragorn rose and stretched after another night of sleeping on the hard ground. He and his fellows had been riding almost a week, south along the western edge of the Misty Mountains. The Gap of Rohan was drawing close, and soon the land of the Horse-Lords would pass by under their steeds.
Taking one last glance around his surroundings, Aragorn bent to his bedroll and started to put his armour back on, picking up the pieces from where he had discarded them the night before. At least with these companions there was little need for ceremony or correct decorum, and they didn’t blink when a king haphazardly cast his helm, greaves and the like on the ground beside him. As he finished buckling on his sword belt, there was a waking groan from the direction of the King of Rohan.
Eomer emerged from under the edge of his blanket, hair mussed by his night’s rest. Aragorn hid a grin as the usually stoic king nodded a greeting and attempted to shake his hair into a more usual appearance. Gandalf had been the last on watch, and was murmuring to Shadowfax at the side of the camp, and seeing the horses were ready for another day of riding. Imrahil still appeared to be asleep, but woke without hesitation to the sound of Eomer sliding his sword into its sheath.
None of the four riders were talkative in the grey light of dawn, and after a light meal and clearing of their camp, they saddled their horses and rode out into the growing light of day.
Once the horses had reached a steady and strong space, the rides began to relax. Although keeping himself alert and watchful of the land ahead, Aragorn let his thoughts wander. Images of events of the past year flickered in his mind’s eye – pledging his sword to a brave hobbit at the Council of Elrond as leaves blew around him, charging the corsairs with the Army of the Dead at his side, tending to a wounded Eowyn after her battle with the Witch King of Angmar, facing down the Eye at the Black Gate of Mordor…
A brief smile graced his features as Aragorn realised the day it must be. It was the Gondorian New Year – he felt a wave of regret that he could not be beside his beloved wife to celebrate with her and the kingdom. And it was the New Year because of…
Because of two, pale figures that had been bought before him, wounded and nearly dead.
Aragorn’s smile slowly faded as he remembered his friends; the hobbits who had become more than anyone could have guessed. They had been drawn into the fate of Middle Earth, having been overlooked and underestimated by so many, and had come out changed. Although, Aragorn supposed grimly, everyone had been left with some resulting change from the War of the Ring. And now the Periannath were drawn in once again – or at least Frodo certainly was, but his loyal friends would, of course, never let him go alone.
When the four riders stopped at midday to rest their horses, Aragorn sat with Gandalf on a small hill. A little distance away, Imrahil and Eomer who were talking about their respective armies and various battle tactics. Aragorn’s glance moved from the two of them and out over the land before them. He sighed.
Next to him, the White Wizard inhaled on his pipe. “The day’s significance is not lost on you, Sire.”
Aragorn distantly noted that it was a statement, not a question. “No indeed, my friend. My thoughts turn to our friends in the wild. I cannot help but wonder where they are.”
“I cannot say, and I think it best we do not know. Faramir was unsure of their specific route, and so I can only hope that wherever their path leads, they are all safe and well.”
Aragorn nodded, his eyes still distant. “Do you think they have realised the day?”
“They are very perceptive, our hobbit friends,” said Gandalf as he tapped out his pipe to clear it of burnt leaf. “Frodo I am sure is aware, and I would be surprised if the others had not the same inkling.”
“Yes, Frodo will know. He can never forget.” Aragorn ran an exasperated hand over his face. “Gandalf, why must we repeat history in this way? Why is it we face the armies of Mordor once more?”
“Had I an answer, I would gladly give it, Sire.” Gandalf cast a glance around their surroundings. “But alas, you know that I do not know. History has chosen to repeat itself, and we must all play our part - and face whatever comes.”
Aragorn sighed, and when he next spoke his voice was soft with anxiety. “I fear that against Melkor, victory could be unreachable, Gandalf. Sauron was almost impossible to defeat – and this is a greater opponent.”
“There is always hope, Elessar. We are not so unawares this time, and will fight united. I cannot guess at how strong Melkor is, but I can guess that he is not at his full strength – he may, perhaps, even be mortal.”
Aragorn turned sharply to Gandalf. “Mortal?”
“Perhaps. It would explain why he would need a Ring, and why the world is not already covered in darkness. But it is only a guess, Sire, and one I have not voiced for fear of it being taken as fact.”
Turning his gaze back to the land before him, Aragorn nodded soberly. “I see. I hope that you are right, my friend, and this can all be ended soon.” He rose from where he sat. “We should keep moving. Rohan is drawing near.”
Calling to Imrahil and Eomer, the four riders mounted their horses and continued their journey. Aragorn’s mind dwelled on the words of Gandalf. There was, of course, no way to be sure – but if Melkor was mortal, and that was his reason for not revealing himself sooner, then perhaps this could be over with a single slash of a sword. Could Melkor’s hiding be resultant of preparation for war – or for protecting himself from a great weakness?
The sun was slowly sinking and the dell was growing darker, as the six companions came together for their evening meal. Across the fire it was discussed and agreed upon that tomorrow they should move on – Faramir felt that although the dell had provided them with shelter and opportunity to spar and train, they were verging on lingering too long in one place. It was agreed that the next morning they would bid farewell to their glade and keep moving south.
A little later, they all sat close around the fire. The night was still young, and weariness was not upon them yet – ordinarily the silence would have already been filled with conversation. But today had not been a day of usual communication, and so there was companionable silence while each figure wondered who would break it.
It was Frodo who felt the silence changing from companionable to slightly awkward. Surely there wasn’t need for such hesitation between friends? “Faramir, my friend – I wish you all the best for the year ahead. Happy new year to you.”
Faramir looked slightly taken aback in the fire’s flicking light, but he smiled. “Thank you.” He hesitated slightly before continuing. “In Gondor, we do not forget the reason for why our New Year now begins when it does.”
“I am sorry you could not be there to see it pass and celebrate in your homeland.”
“Do not be,” said Faramir as he shook his head. “Being alive is celebration enough.”
“Yes,” said Frodo, staring into the dancing flames of their fire. “Yes, it is.” His gaze considered the flames before him, comparing them to the flames of a distant mountain that had surrounded him and Sam on this day a year ago. White hot lava and dry suffocating air…and a wheel of golden fire that would not leave him be, until that day. “A year today.”
He sighed. Everyone was watching him now, wondering if he would speak again, hesitant to speak for fear of interrupting. “I have thought long about keeping my thoughts to myself. Out of desire to prevent pain, and, I confess, out of fear. I am afraid of what you may think of me for admitting my thoughts.” He faltered, and fell silent.
“Frodo,” Pippin said softly, “you know we would never think ill of you for feeling how you do.”
“Please, speak freely here and without fear of judgement,” Faramir added. “We all must feel we can trust one another, especially in times of need, with our deepest selves.”
“Then, if you will all permit me, I will lead by example,” said Frodo, glancing around them all. He took a deep breath.
“I am considered by many a hero – but hero am I none. I will never be able to convey what it was like to carry the Ring, allow others to know how it was to live everyday as a nightmare. It was difficult to rest, for even in dreams there was no escape from it. My hope was broken before my soul, but I was broken in the end. Never did I think I would return. By the end my mind was so poisoned I could not tell right from wrong, or reality from darkened dreams. I was my curse, and still it is.”
In the half-light Sam saw his dear friend run his left hand over the gap in his right, feeling the remainder of what used to be a finger.
“This is hard for me to speak. But I feel I must be honest, and that the time has come to admit it aloud. My dear Sam, and my noble cousins already know of what I speak – what really happened in the mountain. They have, to my everlasting amazement, forgiven me for treading so close to dooming the world and killing us all.” Frodo looked up at Faramir and Eowyn. There were the beginnings of tears in his eyes as he hesitated, but when he spoke again his voice was even and calm.
“In the final moment I claimed the Ring for my own. It showed me a vision of myself above all others, a King of Kings, as I led hobbits into leadership of the free peoples. I saw myself enthroned, with all the kings of the world at my feet, as the world blossomed. I would create great song and poetry, bring life and light and all united. That vision, that lie, I gave in to.”
Those around the fire shared amazed glances. Never had Frodo so openly spoken about this – and never had he discussed what temptations the Ring had given him. Sam saw that although he appeared calm, Frodo’s hands were clenched up and his knuckles were white – the missing finger’s wound seemed to be especially visible. This was something that was dreadfully hard to admit, Sam knew, and it was clear that speaking about it made Frodo feel great shame and derision for himself. Sam had always been aware of Frodo’s feelings towards himself after the quest, but now seemed to have them confirmed before his eyes – so he hasn’t forgiven himself.
Sam sighed, his thoughts travelling back a year to their fateful journey. “It was more than hard for me to see that happen and know there was nothing I could do to prevent it. Everyday I saw you slip away a little more, and I couldn’t help. And I know,” Sam added, as Frodo opened his mouth to speak, “I know that you feel I did something, and you feel you can never thank me for being beside you every step, and that you would have been dead without me. Perhaps that’s true, I don’t know. I just tried to help.”
Frodo and Sam were brothers in all but blood, the two people in Middle-Earth who had gone through so much that would break friendships. But their friendship had strengthened, rather than suffered, and it was plain for all to see. Frodo clasped Sam’s shoulder. “You did more than just something, my dear Sam. You helped me remember who I was.”
“I remember little of the action,” said Faramir with a sad smile. “I saw my share in Osgiliath, but my wounds prevented me from taking part. Even now only a fevered haze of memory remains – flames in the Tomb of Kings.” His voice quietened. “Though I remember my father’s death. I could hardly make out what was real. I could see him covered in flames as he ran. His face will haunt me forever.”
Pippin nodded, one hand fiddling with the Gondorian design on his gauntlet. “I could not believe Denethor would go to such lengths. He was taken by madness, but even then…I feared I would not find Gandalf in time and you would be lost to the fire.” Pippin’s usually smiling face furrowed in dark thought. “I never thought I would see battle. The waiting was the worst part. And never knowing if friends are alive or dead while the fighting continues.”
Merry nodded. “I was in and out of consciousness until you found me. I didn’t know what was real, what was borne of darkness. I thought I heard my name so often I thought it was just in my own head. But you did find me, Pip, where I had fallen after my battle with the Witch King. He filled me with such fear as I have never felt, but he represented everything I was fighting against.”
“And so you came to my aid,” said Eowyn with a smile. “My bones would lie on the field of battle if not for you. I could not back down from that abomination, not when it had taken my uncle from me…I will never forget his last words to me, nor how content he seemed with dying. For so long I felt as though I had failed to save him – but perhaps all I am guilty of is wanting him to stay past his time.”
Pippin was staring into the fire again. “I sometimes still dream of my ill-fated Palantir looking. The feeling of entrapment, as well as Sauron himself, was unbearable.” His eyes glanced towards his older cousin. “To feel that all the time…I cannot imagine.”
Frodo smiled sadly but gave no reply. Faramir threw a log on the fire – the sudden burst of sparks seemed to break the spell over the camp.
“We have all been through darkness in our own way,” he said, “and we feel no one will ever understand the darkness we felt. Yet one is not more important than the other, and now, although threatened by shadow again, we stand together in the light. The darkness we faced before has made our light all the stronger to face this new threat. We all play the roles given to us willingly; none shy away from the path before them. And we are all heroes,” he added pointedly, towards two hobbits in elven-tooled armour.
The Steward of Gondor filled all their tankards with water. “Not the best of wine, I’m afraid,” he said with a smile, “it’s somewhat bland. But, it will do.” He stood, and raised his vessel. “We drink to those who gave their lives, to those who risked their lives, and to those who changed their lives to keep the evil of Mordor and the Ring at bay. We drink to unwilling heroes, valiant hearts, and deeds of greatness and sacrifice. We drink to celebrate the lives passed, and those lives that we now live. And finally, we drink to ourselves – for our roles, for what we gained and what we lost. Hail to us all.”
Faramir’s five companions stood, raising their own tankards. “Hail.”
For those interested, Frodo’s vision of what the Ring offered him wasn’t in the book, but was drafted by Tolkien and is found in the History of Middle Earth series. Four of them are about the history of The Lord of the Rings itself, and this bit I found in The End of the Third Age (which is also the first section of Volume IX: Sauron Defeated; but can be found published separately). The first chapter has a lot of notes about what might have happened at the Cracks of Doom, including detail of what visions the Ring offered Frodo.
Chapter 13: Black Wings in the Night
Oops, this was meant to go up earlier than it has, but I was distracted by a dreadful cold (I still sound like a seal when I cough, hehe) and my eldest cousin’s wedding (which was absolutely magnificent). So, apologies!
The next morning’s light heralded the time to move on. The twenty-fifth day of march had come and gone, and the six friends knew they had to now look to the future, rather than lingering in the past. The past was clear as glass and easier to see, whereas the future was clouded and uncertain – they needed their minds clear to continue into it willingly.
While walking, Faramir considered aloud the path they might take. He thought they should head south to the golden woods of Lothlorien, until Merry cleverly pointed out that would require crossing the Anduin, as they were on the wrong side. Faramir’s face furrowed in thought at his logistical miscalculation.
Sam’s suggestion was to walk north. “We could cross at the Carrock, couldn’t we?”
“It is possible, but the travel would take a week, at the least,” Eowyn replied. “Is the Anduin so impassable?”
“I know it is night impassable without boats where its southern waters lie, but this far north I would guess it is tamer.” Faramir frowned, trying to think of an answer.
After a moment of silence, Merry spoke up. “What of the Old Ford? It was south of the Carrock, though I cannot recall how far. It was on a map in Rivendell.”
Frodo looked at his cousin, surprised. “We could reach that in no more than seven days. It would provide a crossing, though perhaps not very simply. I wasn’t aware you had an interest in cartography, dear cousin,” he added in an undertone with a grin.
Merry inclined his head slightly sheepishly. “A passing interest, my dear Frodo.”
Faramir’s face cleared as he considered Merry’s words, before he nodded. “Then that is our road.”
They walked together at what one might call a leisurely pace, but an outsider looking closely could see there was purpose to their movements and an alertness about them. Coming out of the hidden glade had re-awoken fears and reminded them of the shadow they now faced, the danger that was present, and the unknown nature of the future.
Although they were alert, there was no sound of black wings on the air nor any other sign of the dreaded Nazgul during their travel. When they stopped for the night they made sure to make camp somewhere sheltered so their fire could not be easily seen, and put it out not long after the deep of night fell. They set a watch and slept, weapons close at hand.
The next morning the sky wore a mantle of cloud and the wind was cool as they continued. They saw no living creatures, save a fox and a few rabbits, but it didn’t provide any comfort to them. A strange sense of unease had been growing in Frodo’s mind much of the day. He knew the Nazgul were airborne and searching – searching for him – and the unease was growing from the wait. It had been too quiet, for too long, and Frodo felt it was the quiet before the storm. The wait for their chilling cry, or the feeling of pain lancing through his never-to-heal wound, was putting him on edge – and the knowledge that it could happen at any time only made it that much worse.
As it was, he felt them before he saw or heard them. The recognisable feeling of cold pain that spread through his left shoulder made him stop in his tracks, his right hand gripping his shoulder. There was no need to speak, as his travelling companions knew exactly what the gesture meant. A brief nod from Frodo was all it took to spur them into action.
The edge of Mirkwood was still near, so they ran for the shelter of its trees. The Nazgul’s drawn-out cry was still far off, and they reached the relative safety of the forest. The rapidly growing black shape in the sky screeched again, angry that it had lost its prey. It turned its airborne steed and vanished back southeast.
Faramir turned to his friends in the shadow of the trees, his expression grim. “They know where we are.”
Night was beginning to fall over Edoras. The four riders had reached it in the early afternoon, as cool wind was sweeping over the plains of Rohan. It was evident that Eomer was pleased to be back in his own land, and evident that the people of Rohan were glad to see him return. He had all but embraced his advisors on his arrival.
But his elation at being home could not suppress what needed to be done. Messengers were summoned and sent out to gather whatever Rohirrim could be found, armed with an official edict from Eomer explaining the situation.
Once the messengers were gone, all bearing the summons of war, Eomer called for refreshments for himself and his companions. As they ate, discussion turned to the estimation of armies that could be gathered and called upon. Gandalf only half listened, his own thoughts going to Frodo and the others – just like it had so many times in the year passed.
Some hours later, Eomer was holding a close council with some of his captains. Prince Imrahil had left with a fresh horse, taking with him a retainer of Eomer’s to assist in gathering his army at short notice. Aragorn and Gandalf stood on the parapet of the Golden Hall, looking out over the plains of Rohan to the north as the darkness became deeper.
“You mind is far from here, is it not, my friend?” Aragorn asked, without turning.
Gandalf nodded. “Away in the wilderness. I pray they are faring well, and have been free of trouble.” He frowned slightly. “Questions concerning our own journey have been gathering in my mind. This war is not so straightforward as it was before – if, indeed, the past can be called such.”
This time, Aragorn did turn to Gandalf, his voice soft. “In what way, Mithrandir?”
“Have any of us considered how exactly we will defeat Melkor when we reach the Morannon? There will be a great battle, we will fight his orcs. Yet we do not have a Ring that can end his power. Many men will die in this battle. I put the question to you, King Elessar. Why do we go to the Black Gate? My suspicions of his mortality are a faint light, yet we may never fight him if he does not take to the field himself.”
“There will be a way. If he does not meet me on the field, I will take the Black Tower.”
“So easy, is it? And what will you do with him?”
Aragorn’s grey eyes clouded with uncertainty. “That I do not know.”
Gandalf nodded. “Nor do I. That is what troubles me.”
Together they stood at the edge of the Golden Hall until the great plains of Rohan had vanished into blackness, lit only by the stars glinting across the sky and the silver light of the moon.
Tension was high as the Faramir’s group warily set a watch over their camp. All were on edge after the afternoon attack, and the fear had not subsided. There was a more than likely chance that tonight there would be trouble - any sign of danger and the watcher was to rouse the others as quickly as possible. Everyone slept restlessly with weapons at their hand, drawn and ready.
Not that sleep was common. Frodo was sure he was not alone in his insomnia, for his dreams were haunted with old fears and best-forgotten memories that the Nazgul had rekindled. He had taken an earlier watch in hope to make himself tired, but still lay awake, wrapped in his blanket, staring up at the starry night sky. After a while he closed his eyes, trying to find an undisturbed restful sleep, a dreamless sleep that would allow him to pass the rest of the night away in peace. But the nightmares were never far away; and this time there was no escape. There was pain that seemed so real he could hardly think, shadow that no light could penetrate. He felt as if he were trapped, unable to move.
Frodo’s pained cry woke the rest of the companions from their light slumber. In moments they were around him, watching in fear as their friend cried out in his sleep, unresponsive to their attempts to wake him. After a few moments he suddenly stilled, limp as a doll and unconscious. What had happened?
It didn’t take long until the terrifying answer presented itself. Nazgul calls – many of them – echoed along the night’s breeze. The pain from the presence of seven Nazgul must have been overwhelming, enough to make Frodo pass out from it.
The others quickly prepared themselves for battle, drawing swords and retrieving a few smouldering brands from their now weak fire. These Merry and Pippin quickly coaxed into torches, as Faramir quickly moved the unmoving Frodo closer to the rekindled campfire. Flame was the best protector they could use in this fight. Sam’s drawn sword glinted in the flickering light as he stood next to Frodo, daring the world to try and take the former-Ringbearer.
The lead Nazgul swooped low, trying to scare its prey, its black wings blocking out the stars above. The fighters stayed strong, bracing themselves against the evil wind, not fleeing in the face of terror – the Nazgul could hardly be seen in the blackness of night, becoming almost invisible until they swooped and tried to attack. Such advantage meant they could never be tracked until it was almost too late.
Some of the black figures dismounted from their beasts, coming towards the ring of firelight on foot rather than wing. Faramir and Eowyn bravely stepped forward to engage with these infantry, while Pippin un-slung his bow and attempted to pierce the blackness with arrows. Merry and Sam covered him as much as they could, none of the halflings straying too far from their fallen friend.
Sam stared into the darkness, trying to catch a glimpse of the Nazgul at would swoop at them next. “Light,” he murmured to himself. “We need…” he trailed off as another Nazgul swooped, and an idea came to him suddenly. Cursing his foolishness, he swiftly knelt next to Frodo. It took bit a moment for him to find the Phial of Galadriel, from where it rested in Frodo’s pocket.
Why it had never occurred to him before he did not know, but it had now and much good would come of it. Whispering the elvish blessing, Sam held the Phial up and illuminated their battle. The effect was instantaneous – the Nazgul screeched at the very first hint of light and backed away, giving the five defenders precious seconds to re-group. Sam held the Phial aloft, its white light unwavering in strength and continuity.
The light’s warmth and brilliance also reached Frodo, reaching through the shadows of his mind. The gloom cleared and he awoke beside the fire, the pain in his shoulder gone. He stood up, shakily at first but resolve growing every second to help his friends defend from the menace they faced. He drew his sword and took his place beside them.
“Frodo!” breathed Merry, his eyes searching the darkness keenly. “So good of you to join us.”
“The light will not keep them off for long,” said Faramir, his sword before him. “We must force a retreat and move back towards the forest in a retreat of our own.”
Their conversation was cut short as an airborne Nazgul dived. Its wing-tips skimmed the ground nearby and caused the group to duck for cover. As it did, the Phial was knocked from Sam’s hand and its light diminished. The Nazgul’s cloaking darkness was returned, as was their advantage.
The only light was now from their fire. The shadows around them were all but impenetrable, and only the sound of great wings could be heard. The sound was such that there was no way to tell the direction it came from, and so the six companions were left waiting in the darkness, waiting for something to happen. They did not have to wait long.
The Nazgul all swooped as one, forcing the fighters to the ground as the black wings and sharp talons passed over them. One swooped once more, almost as a parting gesture, and took to the skies once more, flying southeast.
None of the companions moved. Sam did not get up to retrieve the dropped Phial; Faramir did not move to embrace his beloved after a hard fight. On their final combined attack, the Nazgul has used their final weapon against the brave defenders. They had used what was known as the Black Breath, causing their victims to be overcome in darkness and lost to dreams of shadow.
After walking through black dreams of death and despair for what seemed like days, Sam felt light, and life, coming back to him. Slowly opening his eyes, Sam found he was lying on the cold ground in the grey light of dawn, the fire cold and black beside him. His other companions were with his, lying as he had been, simply where they had fallen – and he was willing to bet they too were lost in darkness and confusion as he had been.
Sam reached out to Merry, who was closest to him, and shook him by the shoulder. After a moment Merry stirred, the fear and shadow slipping from his mind like a veil being drawn back. He woke to find Sam beside him.
The hobbit beside him wouldn’t meet his eyes.
Merry’s heart went cold. “Sam?”
Sam only shook his head, and turned away.
Merry quickly woke the others. Everyone was disorientated and confused, but after a fire had been quickly rekindled Faramir remembered a parting gift for Aragorn – Athelas, though both rangers had prayed there wouldn’t be need for the remedial plant. The sweet scent from the leaves in water gave strength to their limbs and clarity to their minds, and along with it the dreadful realisation the confusion had been keeping from them.
The truth had been right in front of them, but the effects of the Black breath had stopped them from seeing it as a reality. Now it had been realised, there was nothing they could do. No one spoke. Pippin put his head in his hands. Faramir swore quietly. Sam just stared, into the newly rekindled fire.
There was nothing to be done. They had come through to much. And for nothing.
Sam stood and walked away from their camp. The fire could provide no warmth for the chilling cold that was in his chest. Now out of sight, Sam’s composure gave way and his tears flowed freely. He had promised not to leave Frodo, and to follow him where ever their paths would take them. He had stood by him so much but when it had mattered, he hadn’t been able to save his dearest friend.
Now he’d never see Frodo again.
Sam’s gaze looked unseeingly in the direction of Mordor, as he cursed the Nazgul, cured Melkor, and cured himself for not being able to stop it.
He was just one hobbit. What could he do but grieve? Mourn the loss of his dearest friend, his best friend, his brother, who he would never see again. The feeling of that knowledge threatened to drown him.
Frodo had been captured by the enemy.
Stuff’s getting serious.
Chapter 14: Lost in Despair
Another day, another chapter. As usual, up a bit later than I was hoping – had family staying and it’s all been a bit hectic (I write to you all from my basecamp on the lounge floor. Tomorrow, I will try for the summit known as “the couch”).
“I’m not giving up on him.”
It was a cool morning, and those left behind were trying to decide what to do. Although no one mentioned explicitly what had happened the night before, it hung grimly over the camp. Sam’s statement was plain and simple, and came as no surprise to his companions. Although none present wanted to admit the seeming futility of their situation, and it was clear certain things were beyond them, Sam’s staunch refusal to give up echoed the fondest wish of those he spoke to.
Eowyn sighed, one hand tangled in her hair. “Sam, what can we do? We can’t get there, and even if we could, how could we get him out?”
Sam ignored the Shieldmaiden’s reasonable reply. “I said I would follow him, and so I will. If he’s gone to Barad-Dur, then I’m going to get him, or die trying. And before you say it, I know I probably will, but that’s not going to stop me.”
“Sam, be reasonable! Would you willingly walk into death, into Mordor, when there is no hope of rescuing Frodo?” Merry’s pained words came through his silently falling tears. “We can’t lose you too.”
Sam’s eyes flashed. “There is always hope.” He sighed and his voice grew softer. “If we don’t have hope, what do we have?”
Faramir rested his fingertips against his lips, thinking. “Sam, we have to look at this realistically – ”
“There is always hope. I can still see it, although you might not, or maybe you refuse to, unwilling to put yourself in danger now the matter is apparently out of our hands. I thought you were a man of quality.” Sam said it with quiet rage, and the words cut Faramir like a blade. He flinched as the words hit home, knowing now that Sam would not listen to any council, but would go where his heart took him – into Mordor, once again.
Sam saw Faramir flinch, and immediately regretted his words. “I’m sorry, Captain,” he said quietly. “I can’t give up, just like that, in an instant. I know we are far away from Mordor, and I know even if we could get there, we would all be caught or be killed, but I still refuse to believe that there is nothing we can do.”
“Frodo wouldn’t give up on us,” Pippin said quietly, speaking for the first time in hours. “He’d do anything he could, we owe it to him to do the same.”
The truth in Pippin’s words settled over the morbid camp. After a moment, Eowyn looked up, her eyes brighter than they had been. “We could head south and meet up with the massing armies. King Elessar and Mithrandir are the most likely to be able to help – perhaps we could use the battle as a distraction to mount a smaller attack against the Dark Tower to rescue Frodo. It could be our chance.” There was silence as the others mulled over her words. Sam nodded and turned away to face the southeast.
“In any case,” said Faramir hesitatingly, “Mithrandir needs to be informed about Frodo’s–about the change in circumstance.”
“And if we can’t get to the tower?” asked Merry, quietly. The brief silence that greeted his words was deafening. No one wanted to think about the possibility.
“We will,” Eowyn said simply. Sam was right, they had to keep hope. Even if it was the only slim chance they had.
Clearing what was left of their camp, the five walkers resumed their southward trek in silence. The weight of the events of the previous night was stifling, taking over every thought and movement.
“Faramir, is this in vain?” Eowyn asked quietly, watching the hunched backs of the three hobbits who walked before her.
“I know not, best beloved,” Faramir replied with a sigh. “The only clear thought in my mind is to take further council with Elessar and Mithrandir. They will be at the Black Gate, so we travel there.”
“But we are weeks–”
“I know, my love. I know the distance is vast. But what else can we do?”
The two walked on in silence, before Eowyn spoke again. “I’m worried that our three friends will do something irrational. Try to get to Mordor before we have a plan or something of the like. They all love Frodo dearly, and would to anything for him. I only pray they realise the severity of the situation we find ourselves in.”
Faramir smiled grimly, more to himself than to the Shieldmaiden walking beside him. “I believe that would be the first thought to come to their minds – but the seriousness has also had effect. Do not forget, my love, that they have seen this before. They are not as fool-hardy as they once were…” He paused, suddenly deep in memory. “As we all once were.”
In front of them, Merry and Pippin walked together in silence. Each knew the other well enough to recognise that stillness was needed – time to reflect, to contemplate, and to lament.
Frodo had always been more serious than the two of them – he was, of course, their elder. Their trusted, compassionate, wise friend, and beloved cousin. To lose him was unfathomable – one moment here, the next…
Pippin was still trying to make sense of it all. Inside he was numb – the full realisation was beginning to sink in, and although he fervently wished he could dismiss and disbelieve it, his heart knew it was true. The knowledge threatened to drown him in despair – so he focused on his feet and the steps they were taking towards help, and wished for a miracle.
Beside him, Merry was thinking of his earliest memories of Frodo at Brandy Hall. There had been no shadow, no Ring, no Enemy then. The days just came and went, spent reading, playing, not caring about tomorrow very much. He missed those days of simplicity, when Frodo was the older, somewhat intimidating but always kind cousin that had known him since birth. Always there to help, always humouring him by joining in on games he was too old to play…
Beyond them, Eowyn and Faramir, Sam walked alone. He was deep in memory, thought and pain, as he re-lived some of his terrible experiences from Mordor. Never did he think he would be willingly walking back towards it, desperate to get there. He tried not to think of what might be happening to Frodo, what torture or pain he might be enduring even now, and wished for a horse, to cover more ground.
His feeling of helplessness aggravated him most. Mordor was so far away, so many long days of walking, so many miles. Would there be time to reach Frodo before the unthinkable? Was he going to lose his friend, his brother, forever?
Hold on, Frodo. Hold on.
It was darker than the deepest places of the Void. He couldn’t see. Couldn’t move. Couldn’t speak. The darkness pressed in around him until he was drowning in it, lost within its pull. Paralysed by the shadows, his only company was fleeting whispers, taunting him, chilling his blood– almost lost from hearing, stifled by the darkness, but at the same time clear as a bell’s chime. They murmured words of guilt and shame, assaulting his wearied soul.
Memories began to flicker before him, though if they were in the darkness around him or within his mind’s eye he could not tell. Evil memories, visions from his shadowed past, came to life before him. The weight of the Ring returned, as did the torment to his soul. The darkness continued to taunt and mock him, chilling him to the bone in his isolation.
(It’s such a weight to carry, isn’t it? Wouldn’t it be better to just lie down and die?)
(You knew you weren’t strong enough. They all knew. Knew you would fail. They expected you to die. Expected Sauron to win, and the world to fall to shadow. They expected it to be all your fault.)
Scenes flashed before his eyes, as if illuminated by unseen lightning. Boromir’s cries that he, the Ringbearer would take the Ring to Sauron and betray them. Falling under the manipulations of Gollum. Seeing the way the Fellowship looked at him, like some hated creature. The darkness was warm and beckoning to him, promising to care for him and make those who doubted him pay.
Indistinct corpses were seen, horribly mutilated and tortured, people who had been driven to the edge of life, and sanity, and hope, before their slow and painful death. The extent of their suffering was clear.
The bodies became clearer, familiar. Frodo stumbled away from the bodies of the Fellowship…mangled corpses of his friends…pained death-masks of his family…
It was evident they had been tortured before their deaths: the darkness forced him to look closely although he tried to turn away. Burn marks and bruises covered the bodies, inflicted with skill and precision to cause the most pain. Each had been eventually killed with specific one stab – wounds that never killed outright, but allowed the body to lie, sometimes for hours at a time, still alive as their blood, that precious essence of life, drained from them painstakingly slowly. Their blood mingled together and covered the image, tainting it in a red light.
Frodo was suddenly aware there was someone behind him. The figure was holding a bloodied sword, a wheel of fire shining on their right hand. They advanced, the shadows fawning around their every step as they approached.
(You claimed it.)
Sudden light, from an unseen source, illuminated the figure – himself. Wearing black armour and holding a naked sword covered in the crimson glow of blood, the mirror-image smirked and held up his right hand. There the Ring glowed, the gold band shining brightly, its power and malice unleashed. The image smirked again, nothing like the figure he was tempted with by the Ring; nothing like the song and music of Frodo King of Kings. Instead it was a corrupted and perverted image of himself, himself had he become like Sauron and taken Middle Earth for his own. Frodo felt ill staring at his shadow twin, full of guilt and shame.
The distant, dark voices began to laugh. Frodo watched as his corrupted self was obscured by shadow and transformed into another vision. Sauron was suddenly before him, in his full power, wearing the Ring. The Witch King stood to Sauron’s right, and Shelob to his left. They surrounded him, advancing on him. Death was on all sides.
(Won’t you join us, little Lord? Help us to slay the innocent? You have nothing else. You are one of us. Do not deny it.)
His corrupted self was before him again, offering a hand. Frodo backed away, not letting this perverted vision touch him. When he found he could go no further, his shadow twin came ever closer, wanting to pull him down to the depths of darkness…
Frodo opened his eyes.
The images vanished, the lasting vision of his corrupted self fading. Frodo took a few deep breaths, willing the ill-feeling of the nightmare to vanish and leave him be. After a moment breathing deeply and reassuring himself that was not what he was, Frodo took in his surroundings.
Dark, inconsistently shaped stone made up four walls around him. A large wooden door was set into one wall, it’s bars letting in flickering torchlight from the passageway beyond through the iron bars in the top. One other high window let in a reddened, dim light and a dull noise of iron and industry. A prison cell – more than that, a dungeon. The dungeon of Barad-Dur.
The darkness of the nightmare lingered upon his mind, as did the cold feeling of death and failure. He may have escaped Barad-Dur’s grip once, but no longer. He had failed again; and there was no way out – he would die here and Middle Earth would fall into shadow. He had doomed them all; he would perish alone and helpless, so far away from those he loved.
Moving slowly to one corner, and drawing his knees up under his chin, Frodo reflected on what had happened. He had been caught by the Nazgul, cast into a dungeon in the stronghold of Melkor. Yet, he was not dead. But for how much longer? How much longer did he – no, not just he, how much longer did Middle-Earth have? How much time, before the world was covered by darkness because one hobbit was fool enough to allow himself to be captured?
It was all his fault. If he had just…had just… had just what? There was no answer he could think of. If he just wasn’t a fool, maybe this would have been averted, somehow. Although he could not give himself proof of his own fault, he was sure it must exist. How else could this have happened if he had not been so foolish?
If he wasn’t so weak, wasn’t such a failure. The memory of his fall to corruption in Mount Doom was at the top of his mind, like some re-opened wound of a memory, hurting him, punishing him, reminding him. He had fallen, weak as he was, into the spell of the Ring and let it consume him.
There was nothing that could be done. He would have to fight the abide the darkness alone and hope he was strong enough to bear it.
Amidst his personal shadows that lingered in mind and memory, Frodo thought of Sam, of Merry, of Pippin. His three dearest friends in the world. He wept to think he would never see them again. No. This cell, this embodiment of despair, would be the last thing he saw. He would never see Aragorn, or the White City, or the Tree of the King. Never see Gandalf, Legolas, Gimli…the Fellowship. Or Eowyn and Faramir, who had become trusted and valued friends of him in the past weeks. Never see the Shire again.
Bitter tears fell as he thought of them – of what would become of them because of him. Of what would happen. There was no stopping it. Hope was gone, smothered by shadow and doubt, and Frodo was alone in the darkness.
Bit shorter than usual, but needs must. Next chapter: The First Confrontation.
Chapter 15: The First Confrontation
This chapter gave me a few shivers to write, I’ll admit. Hope you all enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it.
Slipping out of the dark and dreamless sleep he could not remember falling into, Frodo opened his eyes and sat up, casting his eyes around the cell in the wild hope something would have happened. Nothing, however, had changed. Leaning back against one of the cold walls, Frodo sat numbly, thinking about…everything.
Dark memories, long suppressed, now rose up unbidden from the depths of Frodo’s mind. Nothing could be worse, not Shelob, not Sauron. Closing his eyes, Frodo re-lived some of the previous quest in his mind. Running headlong into the unknown, into Shelob’s Lair, into almost certain death, blindly. Looking back, how could he have been so stupid, so sightless, so naive?
There was no time for self blame now, however, Frodo thought, rebuking himself. He did not know how long he had alone, before his life's end would approach him in black armour. His thoughts turned instead to a happier memory; Aragorn’s coronation. Minas Tirith. How wonderful that day had been! It was almost impossible to think that, for a fleeting moment, his personal darkness had stopped, kept at bay by the thought of peace and the happiness of his friends.
He was halted in his reverie by the sound of footsteps approaching his cell. Frodo scrambled to his feet, wondering with a disillusioned heart who – or what – could be coming. In the moment before the door opened, however, Frodo suddenly realised he no longer cared who, or what, it was. This was happening, he couldn’t stop it – and as such he would face it.
The door swung inwards and an orc appeared. Dressed in scraps of black leather and chain mail, Frodo noticed no device or emblem – just plain black, the trademark red of the Eye of Sauron missing. The orc gave a twisted smile when it saw Frodo standing opposite. Inclining its head in a mocking bow, the orc slowly and roughly spoke.
“My Lord is coming to see you. I would be ready.”
He gave another twisted sneer and rambled out of the door. It clanged shut behind his, and the lock snapped into place. Silence fell once more, as the orc’s footsteps faded.
My Lord? Melkor. Melkor was coming here. Inescapable fear crept up on Frodo, as he sank back down to the floor and put his head in his hands, his breathing becoming laboured. The Lord of Darkness? More powerful than Sauron himself…he couldn’t bear to think what would happen. It was going to happen now…he was going to die…Middle-Earth would fall…it was all his fault.
For a moment Frodo though he would vomit, but the nausea passed. Instead, a feeling of numbness descended onto him and he felt like he couldn’t move, couldn’t speak, couldn’t feel. The effect…the sense…of the terror was unexplainable. Frodo thought he had known true fear, but nothing he could think of could compare. Sauron, the Nazgul, Shelob … they had all been earthly, had been tame compared to Melkor. He was the Disgraced Valar, whose power, however suppressed in the void, was still present, still malicious, still all too real.
Frodo did not want to think ahead, think ahead to this meeting – confrontation – with this fallen, yet angelic being. Would he die in an instant? Was that the likeliest course of events? Would he be tortured? Left an inch from death in a world of cold, black pain? And why was Melkor coming to see him? If anything, Frodo had been expecting to be taken to him. He was a Lord, after all. A divine being.
He fleetingly wondered what would become of himself. Left alone to fall into the grip of despair, or madness? Broken beyond recognition? Broken in body, and not mind? Or in mind and not body? No matter what was going to happen, Frodo knew one thing – before the end of the day, he was sure he would wish for death.
There was a call from the corridor. Footsteps echoing off the stonewalls. The scratching sound of orc-feet… and the harsh echo of metal boots, whisper of a cloak. He was coming.
As the sounds drew closer, Frodo reached up to his neck and gripped the Evenstar, still there and hidden beneath his clothes. The cool metal and gemstones gave him a wavering confidence, a courage dampened by the stonewalls and impending darkness. Still, it was something. Frodo saw his current position with clarity. He would not survive this. He would die, Middle-Earth fall to ruin. For some reason, this revelation, not matter how depressing or unfortunate, gave him strength, steeled his heart. He stood, no longer trying to shy away from whatever may await him.
His visitor was now outside the door. There was the jangling of keys and the sound of the lock opening. The door swung open.
Melkor swept in, alone. Taller than Aragorn, and more muscular, he created an imposing figure. His hair, shoulder-length and wavy, was black as starless night, and his skin as pale as a corpse. His eyes were completely black, no white at all – giving the impression of deep pools of nothing, never ending and tormenting. Although Frodo knew the truth of his being tens of thousands of years old, the body he had looked young – a man only ten or fifteen years past his coming-of-age. He wore the same black spiked armour as Sauron had, but his head was bare, with no crown nor helm. A black velvet cloak swung around his shoulders, sweeping across the floor in a gentle whisper.
His eyes – or whatever were in the place of eyes – seemed to sweep around the cell and alight on Frodo. His mouth became a cruel smile as he stared Frodo down. Frodo was forced to look away, look down in submission. There may have been no eyes, but the stare was unbearable nonetheless.
“My greetings to you, halfling.” His first words made Frodo flinch. That voice – there was nothing human about it at all. It was cold, sharp, and painful, yet somehow also silky and smooth, unnatural. Every word cut through Frodo like a spike, carving the meaning onto his soul, yet his face remained expressionless. He stayed silent, staring at the floor.
“No greeting for the new Master of Middle-Earth? How disappointing; I will let it pass this time. Next time I will not be so courteous. I trust you appreciate your accommodation. Delightful, is it not? Do enjoy it; it will be the last thing you see…On to further matters. I trust you know why you are here. But do you know the full story?”
“Why are you here?” The words slipped from Frodo in a whisper. He had not meant to speak, to question Melkor, he would not dare… but Melkor seemed pleased.
“You question me? Such spirit. It will be fun to break. You wish to know why I am here? The answer should be obvious, halfling. To finish what I begun, when Middle-Earth was only just created.”
“My apologies, my lord. How are you here?” Frodo kept his voice low, words expressionless. He couldn’t let his fear show. He was terrified inside, but he had to ignore it if he was to maybe, just maybe, survive this initial encounter. But after all, hadn’t the Valar, blessed spirits that they were, banished Melkor to the Void in chains? He was their prisoner – or at least used to be. How was he here, standing before Frodo?
Melkor’s abnormal smile appeared again. “Ah ha, a much more specific question. You know then, a little of the Valar? And how I am the Fallen One? As you wish, halfling, I will tell you how I am here today, and not still trapped in the Void as I know my dearest brother would like me to be.” Melkor’s voice was like ice, chilling Frodo to the bone, dripping with malice and cruelty, especially when he mentioned Manwë. Frodo couldn’t believe he wasn’t already dead, let alone his questions were being answered.
“My trusted servant, Sauron, was never destroyed. You know the story of his destruction, and were a key player, were you not? Did you believe he had truly gone?” Melkor laughed, the unnerving sound making Frodo flinch slightly again. “How naive. Sauron was only made weak beyond all comparison; weak so he could never take form again. He was never actually destroyed. His weakness made him be forgotten, dismissed into story. You thought he was gone. After all, how could he pose anymore threat?”
Frodo slowly lifted his gaze from the floor. He now watched Melkor properly, listening. Melkor stared back, unblinking.
“Do I sense a hint of fortitude?” The dark smile appeared again. “No matter. Sauron fled to Utumno, my long deserted fortress.”
“It was your first fortress.” Frodo spoke the words clearly, his eyes never leaving Melkor’s face.
Melkor smirked, his smile deepening. “Ah, the halfling does know his history. Yes, it was my first fortress, where I suffered defeat at the hands of the Valar.” He paused, then continued with bitterness in his voice. “I may have been taken back to Valinor, chained and blindfolded, yet my fortress remained. I performed a lot of dark magics and created my own races there - but this you know.
“Remaining there, deep under the earth, was a pool of dark magic I had left behind. It had long been forgotten – and fortunately magic tends to be like the most potent of wines. The longer you leave it, the more it ferments, mutates, and spoils. It had been left for so long, it was more powerful than it had been, mutated and harder to control. Sauron, weak as he was, performed a summoning, with the aid of this magic. I was awoken from the Void. I was weak myself, but nowhere near as weak as my faithful servant. I drew the leftover magic from the pool and became a shadow of my former self. I took this form of a man, and started to regain my power.
“After I had gathered enough power, I rewarded my Lieutenant for freeing me – I returned to him his strength and power, and gave him command of my army: he is the Witch King of Mordor. The other Nazgul were bought back, with Sauron as their leader. He informed me of the Ring and other events, and he informed me of you. You, the Ringbearer who had taken the Ring to Orodruin, the one who had thwarted him. This idea of a ring intrigued me. Sauron explained how it was made, and I came upon the idea of how to make it more powerful. A blood sacrifice would enhance the power. But who?”
“Me.” The word echoed around the stone walls. Me … me … me
Melkor laughed bitterly, clearly enjoying Frodo’s discomfort. “Yes, we came to that decision. How could we not? Who knows what it was that allowed you to carry the Ring so far – when I knew about its ability to corrupt, to torment, to drive even the strongest to darkness and despair. You were a threat, halfling, a threat and an apparent strong-willed one at that. Yet also an interest. There is also the thought of the Rings’ effect on you – how has the Ring tainted you? It makes you all the more perfect for a sacrifice. You know that. You can still feel it sometimes, the darkness drawing you in. You know you will never be free of it.”
Frodo’s gaze on Melkor’s face began to waver. Melkor laughed, watching. “There, it surfaces. The scars left on your soul, the darkest memories imprinted on your mind. You will never be the same. Tormented, wounded, and fatigued. But still, you are alive.” He paused. “For now.”
Melkor smiled that dark, twisted smile once more.
“One final thought– unfortunately, your blood must be given willingly for this ceremony to work. Do not think you can just refuse – there is more than one way of making you give it willingly. Think on my words, they are the only company you have. Farewell.”
Melkor’s voice had a hint of sarcasm within it, and he seemed to enjoy watching Frodo for a reaction as he spoke these words, before he turned and swept out of the dungeon. The door swung shut behind him.
Frodo sank to the floor shaking. The confrontation that had just happened seemed like a nightmare, a nightmare that will plague and torment for as long as one is asleep and awake. He had expected Melkor to kill him instantly. But this would be much worse – Melkor obviously knew that too, that was why he was letting Frodo live.
He did, however, have one chance – after all, it would be a while until he gave his blood freely, condemning Middle-Earth to Melkor’s wrath and darkness. But what had Melkor meant – there were other ways of making him obey. Frodo shuddered to think about what that could mean. He would have to steel himself against whatever Melkor tried to do, try to prolong his submission to the forces of Mordor. If he could.
Melkor had not mentioned anything about when Frodo would be bought before him. It could be in the next ten minutes, of the next ten days. Melkor would draw everything out; give Frodo as much suffering as he could. Alone, with nothing but thoughts and memories was torture enough. But not knowing the time, whether it was day or night, how long it would be before he was put to the test, made it a living hell.
Frodo knew he would have to try and bear it. He suddenly found his meeting with Melkor had left him exhausted – but could not say why. Slowly, Frodo felt himself slipping into the waiting darkness of sleep and nightmare…
He saw Aragorn, sleeping on the throne of Gondor with a Nazgul behind him – he tried to cry out a warning but couldn’t – then his vision was obscured by an Oliphaunt, with Sam riding atop it in armour…but Sam wouldn’t speak to him. Then the Fellowship lay dead, the only other colour against the red of blood was a tiny glint of gold…
The image faded, but the gold remained. He tried to pick it up, but his hand went through it, as a shadow appeared behind him – a shadow with eight legs. He tried to turn, to face Shelob, but she hid in the darkness. The phial was gone. So was the Evenstar. Then Melkor was above him, holding a naked sword, wreathed in flame…
Frodo woke, sweating. He could no longer sleep. He lay on the floor of the cell and thought about his current situation, his life, his quest and his friends. Everything rested with him now. There would be no rescue for him; all he could do was try to not give in.
I feel oddly drained now. Melkor is interesting to write; he’s silky and slimy, but really powerful and intimidating.
Chapter 16: Familiar Faces
So at last, dear readers, we come to the final chapter of the unfinished original story – the last one that was written before it drifted away from me. This has been a mammoth effort, re-editing and writing all I had done of the original – and starting next chapter, I begin with a clean word document, and the chance to continue and finish what I started so long ago.
Sam was woken by a gentle hand on his shoulder.
“Are you sure you want to take the last watch? I can do it…” Faramir tried to read into the hobbit’s expression, but found it impossible. Sam had blocked out almost everything since the night Frodo was taken – over the past few days he had been quiet in mood, and cynical in speech the few times he spoke.
Although his companions were in mourning too, they had also tried to keep the spirits of the group somewhere above ground-level – but nothing had helped Sam’s mood, even for a moment. Merry and Pippin were quiet too as they worked through their own grief, though not as unresponsive as their fellow hobbit. What Sam was going through had no comparison.
“No. I can do it, Captain.” Sam didn’t meet Faramir’s concerned gaze, simply stood and walked over to a nearby rock to sit. Faramir watched him go, and shook his head sadly at Sam’s back. Sam turned his head slightly, and spoke over his shoulder. “Get some sleep, Captain.” He drew his sword and put it across his knees, the bare blade glimmering slightly in the starlight.
Faramir knew there was nothing he could do to aid Sam, who had become a steel-hearted warrior overnight. His own helplessness made his own heart ache more to see this once optimistic and kind hobbit become despondent and indifferent. “As you wish, Master Samwise,” he said quietly as he walked softly over to Eowyn, who half-woke and sleepily reached out an arm to welcome him.
From his position on the rock, Sam surreptitiously watched Faramir settle next to Eowyn and close his eyes. Seeing the two of them next to each other suddenly, and painfully, reminded him once again of what he had left behind. Rosie was very accommodating about what her husband and his friends had been through – she knew all their tales and experiences, from the darkness of Mordor to the reality of battle. She had listened closely to them, understanding rather than disbelieving their stories and the trials they had encountered on their journey.
And here Sam was, out on a different journey, having left her behind – again. He had been swept up in another adventure, and had, once again, been involved in more than he thought he would. She had taken it in stride, watched him go into the unknown, sent him abroad with all her love. And now she was waiting patiently for him to return, once again – but would he? After escaping near death the last time, would fate be that kind to him again? Or would the image of Rosie standing on Bag End’s doorstep, tears in her eyes, be the last memory he ever had of her?
Would fate be that kind again to anyone, though? Those involved in this further complication of life had all escaped with their lives before, against the odds. All had come close, yes – and some more than others, he shuddered to remember – but maybe one more chance was all they were going to get. Could this be their final adventure?
“Hopes fail. An end comes. We have only a little time to wait now. We are lost in ruin and downfall, and there is no escape…”
The words came unbidden to Sam’s mind, clear as daylight. Frodo has said that to him, on the side of Mt Doom when the Ring was finally gone, and together they awaited death. Sam let his mind drift back to it. The heat, the ash, the air that choked them on every breath. The volcano…
But it had been peaceful, somehow. Strange, the realization of how peaceful it really was had only just occurred to him, now he was looking back. The freedom from the burden, the loss of control over their destinies and, over all, the ability to be themselves, now released from the Ring’s influence. There was nothing that could be done, and they both had known it, so they had walked until they could go no further, and knew death would come. They were prepared for it, and that was somehow…peaceful. What was going to happen would happen.
But death hadn’t come, like they expected. Life had come, rescue, borne on Gwaihir’s swift wings, and they were saved against all odds. Although he wanted to believe it, Sam doubted in his heart that they would be so lucky a second time. Indeed, Frodo could be dead already. Dead in mind, or spirit, or body…
No. Sam refused to believe it. Not because he was hoping for the best, or waiting on a miracle – he just knew. When Frodo died at the hands of Melkor, something would happen. The world would shake, the sky would storm…or something. But aside from this probability, Sam felt as though he could still feel his former Master beside him. He just knew Frodo was still all right for now – or at least, as close to all right as was possible in the current circumstances.
Sam prayed quietly to whoever was listening that if Frodo had to die – what a thought to think – then it would be merciful and quick. Sam, sitting and thinking, knew he had no idea what was happening in the Dark Tower. If only he could get there somehow…or get there faster. They were still days – weeks, even – from anywhere near the Black Gate.
“You let down your guard, Master Gamgee,” said a familiar voice from the shadows, breaking into his contemplation. Sam sprung up; sword raised, but then calmed and let his face relax into a halfsmile when he saw the speaker.
“Master Greenleaf! What are you doing here?”
Legolas smiled as he came to sit next to the hobbit. “Helping to lead the Mirkwood Army to the Black Gate. We were taking the night to travel, to cover more ground – our footmen are a day behind us, but we are the cavalry. I saw your firelight and came to investigate.”
“Tell me, how long have you been waiting in the shadows?”
“Mere moments. When I saw whom we had chanced upon, I came forward.” Legolas noticed Sam’s face had changes as he looked away into the darkness. Something was not right. “How goes it with you and your companions?”
Sam began to speak, but stopped. How could he phrase it, without saying it directly? How could he voice what had happened without killing hope? “We are…one short.”
Legolas’s brow furrowed in concern. “Dead?”
“We do not know. He has been gone for a few days now…he was taken in the hours of darkness, during a fight. We did not know until the following morning.” Sam’s face had turned stony and betrayed no emotion.
Legolas’s eyes flicked over the sleeping figures by the fire. Four sleeping – two human, so Faramir and Eowyn were both safe. Which could only mean – yes, there were only two hobbits. Even with his elven eyesight, Legolas couldn’t identify the two smaller sleeping figures. Which one of the beloved hobbits had been taken? Surely not…
Sam glanced up at him, tears in his eyes, and Legolas knew his worst fears to be true. “Frodo’s gone, Legolas. The Nazgul took him to the Dark Tower. We don’t know what’s happened to him…but we fear the worst.”
Legolas stood quickly, softly hissing in the elvish tongue to an unseen associate in the shadows. The elf moved into the slowly growing grey light of dawn and had a short but rapid conversation with Legolas, before nodding and vanishing back into the trees.
“Then time is against us.” Legolas turned back to Sam, who stood, re-sheathing his sword. “We must get to Mithrandir and Aragorn before anything can come of this. Wake your companions – I will fetch us horses and ride with you. Speed is our greatest objective now. And, Sam…” his voice became more gentle. “I am sorry for your loss. We will not give up on him, you have my word.”
Sam nodded as Legolas melted back into the trees in the grey light. Sam made his way over to his sleeping kindred and woke them gently, pulling them from the peaceful realm of sleep. Both looked up at him enquiringly, aware that it was a few hours before they would usually awaken.
“Legolas has found us,” Sam stated simply, by way of an explanation.
Both younger hobbits sprang to their feet. “Legolas?” Merry asked in surprise.
Sam nodded as he walked over to Eowyn and Faramir, who upon waking were more cautious. “The Elven Prince of Mirkwood? His army is here?” Faramir asked.
“The riders are at least,” Sam replied. “Those on foot are a day behind. He’s lending us horses so we can cover more ground.”
“I will also come with you,” said Legolas, reappearing from the trees leading a horse. Two more elves, with two more horses, followed. “Together we can reach Aragorn in a number of days, if we are prepared to push ourselves and rest only when our mounts require it.”
Faramir hastily bowed to the elf, but Legolas waved his hand. “This is not the time for such formalities, Captain. Time is against us, and we are bound by an errand – and love for he who we wish to aid. We must go as soon as you are able.”
It took next to no time to clear the camp. Belongings were packed, the fire was put out, and a light meal was taken. Before it was truly light, the three horses were spurred by their respective riders, and galloped away to the south.
“If we keep to the Anduin’s right, we will end up at the Emyn Muil and from there we can strike southeast for the battle plain of Dagorlad. The armies of Gondor and Rohan are marshalling south of it, in Northern Ithilien,” Legolas called above the rushing wind.
The miles and days drew quickly by. The horses, elven-bred and trained, were somewhat remarkable – they ran fast and tired little, but each night the six companions stopped to rest themselves as well as their mounts, sleeping a short stretch of hours then continuing on.
The sharp rocks of Emyn Muil were a welcome landmark, and before long the desolate plain of Dagorlad was before them, as their path took them down one side; as far away from the black mountains of Mordor as was possible. Sam could hardly suppress a shudder to see them once more.
Riding into the greener land of Northern Ithilien, it was not long before a Gondorian banner, alongside the white horse of Rohan and the swan of Dol Amroth, could be seen in the distance waving in the wind. A horse rode out from beside the banners towards them, halting them in their approach.
The rider slowed his mount and saluted to them, the Tree of Gondor on his raiment. “Who goes there?”
“Prince Legolas of Greenwood the Great, Lord Faramir; Prince of Ithilien and the Lady Eowyn, White Lady of Ithilien. With us are the Periannath – Lord Perhael the Cormacolindo, also called Samwise; Lord Meriadoc, Knight of the Mark and Lord Peregrin; King’s Messenger and Guard of the Citadel. We request an audience with King Elessar immediately.” Legolas had the distinctive air of someone who had done this before.
There was no need for any further explanation, for as soon as Legolas mentioned their names, the sentry bowed low atop his horse. The names of those before him were legend, heroes of the War of the Ring; and on top of that Faramir and Eowyn were, of course, well-known members of the King’s Court.
“Of course, My Lords and Lady. Come, I will announce you.”
The rider called to his fellows, who relaxed their guard on the perimeter, and parted to let the horses through with looks of wonder on their faces. Together, the horses rode to the encampment’s gate and were soon beyond it, entering into the busy fray of the preparing armies.
Aragorn’s pavilion was set apart from those surrounding it by a little way, and clearly marked by the shining banner that hung before it. Upon approaching, the rider from the gate dropped from his horse and entered. The companions took their time getting down off their own horses, as none was sure what would happen in coming audience.
Aragorn was in close discussion with Gandalf when the sentry entered, dropping to one knee in a low bow before his king. Aragorn motioned for him to rise. “What news?”
“Sire, Prince Legolas is here with some companions. They seek an immediate audience with you.”
Surely the elves weren’t here already? All the better if they were. Hiding his delight at the chance to see another familiar face, Aragorn nodded. “Send them in. and see that no one disturbs us, unless on an errand of utmost importance.”
“Yes, Sire.” The sentry made a quick bow before leaving.
Aragorn turned to Gandalf. “You think the elves of Greenwood have arrived?”
Gandalf frowned. “I am not sure. There is something amiss here.”
“You think so?”
“My Lord, my dear friend,” said Legolas as he entered, “it does my heart good to see you again.”
Aragorn stood an embraced the elf. “Well met, Legolas, well met. You bless us with your presence so soon?”
“I am not here with the army, Sire.” There was something in Legolas’s eyes that worried – and frightened – the king. This was not an elf who was easily overcome or burdened with emotion, yet here he was evidently unnerved and saddened.
Aragorn’s brow furrowed. “My scout said you had companions.”
“And so I do. But not elves. I met up with some of our original companions. But,” he continued softly. “All is not well. The situation has become much more complicated.”
So Gandalf had been right, Aragorn thought anxiously. All is not well. Aragorn sank back down in his throne as Legolas began his story and gave them the news they feared the most – Frodo had been taken by the enemy. When the graceful elf’s speech ended, Aragorn felt numb – torn between fear for his people, his kingdom and what they may have to face; and fear for Frodo himself alone in that Dark Tower.
Gandalf felt despair settle over him like a cloak. This was what they had all feared, what they had tried to prevent. But now one brave hobbit who had already endured so much was caught once again in the shadows – and this time there was even less hope for him than the last. Gandalf knew what Melkor was capable of and refused to let himself think of what Frodo may be undergoing, even as they stood here talking. He looked to the king, who had his head in one hand as he processed the information, and called out to the guard just outside the audience space within the pavilion. “Beregond.”
Beregond entered with a hurried bow, hearing the urgency in the wizard’s voice.
“My good man, outside you will find Prince Faramir, Lady Eowyn and three of the Periannath. Escort them to the quartermaster – see he finds them suitable pavilions nearby and supplies. Then leave them to their own devices; they are allowed to come and go from the king’s pavilion as it pleases them.”
With a low bow, Beregond withdrew to carry out his orders. Legolas watched him go. “They will appreciate that, Mithrandir. Their road had not been easy.” His words hung in the air as silence descended within the pavilion.
“Can it be true?” Aragorn muttered softly. “He is gone. We are doomed.”
Gandalf sighed as he collected his thoughts, standing for a moment before choosing his words carefully. “My heart breaks at this news. But no move have we seen from our enemy. There is still time.”
“How much time?” Aragorn stood and began to pace before his friends. “How much time before he strikes? Darkness will descend with no hope. It is over.”
“There is always hope, Sire. See through the shadows of grief on your mind.” Gandalf reached out a hand to Aragorn’s shoulder, stopping his pacing. “It is a blood sacrifice; you know what lore you and I read together on our travel here.”
Aragorn met Gandalf’s gaze steadily. “It must be given willingly,” he said, hearing Legolas give a soft exclamation as he understood. “Frodo would never.”
“You and I have travelled with hobbits, we know of their stubbornness. And the Baggins family is worst than most when it comes to such a trait. He will buy us time – but we must use it wisely.”
Aragon nodded slowly as he sat back down on his throne. There was distinct hesitation when he spoke again. “Gandalf…what do you think is happening to him?”
“I could not say, nor start to guess. Nor, I think, do I want to do such things. He suffered greatly during the last quest, but I think that suffering would feel like heaven compared to what the Black Tower is like for him now. I only pray he can give us the time we need.”
Chapter 17: A Wielded Whip
For anyone reading this who knew the original – this is for you. The long-lost continuation of the story that I never reached in the original tale. Thank you for sticking with me so long.
(Warning: violence and torture)
Frodo awoke on the stone floor from a dreamless state he could not recall entering. The cell was dark, as it always was, so he had no way of telling how much time had passed. Was it a new day, or had he only been asleep for a few short hours? If the rest he had had could be called ‘sleep’, that was. All he could tell for sure was it must have been some decent length of time, for he was stiff from sleeping on the stone.
As Frodo stood, he paused to run his fingertips along the delicate designs tooled into his gauntlets. His armour hadn’t been taken from him – not yet, at least – and the designs reminded him of Rivendell, its peace and tranquillity and the feel of the warm sun. It bought him some small measure of comfort in the cold dark of his stone prison. The Evenstar, too, remained hidden beneath his tunic, but it was only a matter of time until it was discovered and taken from him.
The waking world provided no comfort to him, so Frodo settled himself in a corner of the cell. For the hundredth time, he let his mind drift back to all the places he’d never see again, all the dear friends who he had been taken from. Sunrise over the Shire, a lazy afternoon at the Green Dragon, the gleaming white walls of Minas Tirith. Rivendell’s hidden paths and soft grasses…
He was unaware of how much time had passed when he heard footsteps approaching his cell door. Frodo scrambled quickly to his feet, sure that the Disgraced Valar had returned to get his sacrifice. But instead of Melkor, as he had feared, a leering orc came into view. His orange eyes glowed as he gave a condescending smile and bob of the head Frodo guessed was a patronising bow. The orc gestured out the door with the shabby whip he carried.
“Get out here, dung-hill rat. My Lord wants an audience.”
Frodo hesitantly crossed the small cell, stepping out into the passageway beyond. The torchlight here was brighter, and it took his eyes a moment to adjust. When his vision cleared, he found three more orcs awaiting him. All were tall and imposing, making the orc who had retrieved Frodo appear small and lanky by comparison. Their livery was black and without device, and they all carried evil-looking weapons. Roughly, Frodo was pushed into place – two orcs leading him, and two falling into step behind.
His hands were not bound for the journey, as he had half-expected. Presumably, he considered grimly, the orcs thought an unarmed halfling unlikely to cause trouble. They consider me no threat. And they would be right.
The halls of the tower were made of the same rough, dark stone of his cell. Frodo fleetingly realised he was likely one of the few not of Mordor to ever see these halls, and see more of the tower where the Dark Lord resided. He tried to remember the path he took to get from the dungeons to the audience chamber, should he ever escape – though even entertaining the notion was foolish, if comforting.
Frodo’s orcish escort led him into a wide audience chamber. Above him, the roof domed high, its apex lost in shadow. Torches cast a flickering half-light over the room, and he was pushed into the centre of the room to stand before a stone dais.
Atop the dais was a wide and curving throne, surprisingly elegant in appearance to be in Mordor. It was high backed and deep, making the one seated there seem as if he sat within shadow itself. Melkor looked down at Frodo with undisguised contempt, reclining in his grand throne. Frodo kept his eyes on the Dark Lord as much as he could as he entered, willing himself to be strong and not look away.
To one side was a small table, hewn of what appeared to be stone. Laying on top of it Frodo recognised his own possessions that had been taken from him – his elven cloak; Sting, still in its sheath; and his bow and quiver from Aragorn. To the other side of the throne was…
Frodo’s eyes widened against his will, and his heart skipped a beat in fear. Long black robes fell to the floor, concealing the body beneath them. Jointed, metal gauntlets encased malicious hands, one of which sat atop the hilt of a long and brutal blade. A crown of twisted metal was atop the white-blond hair, and beneath it lizard-like eyes glowed with cruelty in a pale face with high cheekbones. He was scowling as he stared at Frodo, his eyes narrowed in hatred.
“I see you have noticed my Lieutenant.” Melkor’s voice cut through the stillness of the room. The orc attendants had faded back to the shadows by the door, leaving their Master to his own will. “You have never seen him like this, but you recognise him, do you not?”
The robed figure stepped from the dais and slowly circled Frodo, who felt terror clutch at his heart with icy fingers. The figure was silent until he had paced in a full circle, whereupon he turned to face the halfling directly.
“You.” The voice was harsh and forceful, like a physical blow. “You are the one? Who stole my Ring, crossed my land, bought about my downfall?” Sauron stepped close to Frodo, towering over him. “And to think, you believed you could claim it.” He sneered. “Pity my Master has such need of you or I would bleed you slowly.”
“Enough, Sauron,” Melkor said lazily. “Have your revenge later.”
“I will enjoy watching you beg for death, halfling,” Sauron hissed has he took his place beside Melkor’s throne.
Silence fell as Melkor leaned forward, closely looking at the halfling before him. Frodo felt as if Melkor’s gaze passed though him; into him – knowing exactly how terrified, how despairing, his prisoner felt and how close to breaking he already was.
“I ask kindly first. Will you give your blood?” Melkor’s voice was quiet and sharp, cutting through the room.
Frodo took a breath and willed his voice not to shake as he replied. “N…no.”
Melkor nodded as he sat back in his throne. “I see. Take his armour.”
The orc attendants came forward and Frodo’s armour was taken from him roughly, stripping his frame of Aragorn’s gift. His heart twisted to see the carefully and beautifully tooled armour in the grubby, clutching hands of the orcs, the elven designs obscured by the grime of Mordor. He watched at it was taken away in a pile and unceremoniously dumped on the smaller table beside Melkor’s throne. Melkor cast a leisurely eye over it.
“I’m surprised, this armour is somewhat impressive. A gift, was it?”
Frodo forced himself to speak. “It was. From King Elessar Telcontar, High King of Gondor and Arnor, and King of the West.”
Melkor’s only response was to raise an eyebrow. Beside the throne, however, Sauron twisted to face Frodo, eyes ablaze, hissing in anger. “Isildur’s heir? That pathetic mortal? Bah!” He spat upon the stone floor. “He should have died, and his bloodline with him. I will cut him down in battle and enjoy it. Oh yes,” he added, seeing the brief look of horror cross Frodo’s face, “Oh yes, halfling. I will coat my blade in his blood and leave his corpse to the orcs.”
Melkor steepled his fingers. “I know your friends intend to mount a pathetic resistance against me. It is no surprise. Sauron, as Witch King, is to be my High General.”
“It is the highest honour, My Lord,” Sauron replied, turning to bow low to Melkor, who dismissed him with an idle wave.
“Be sure, halfling, that he will seek out you beloved King. And he will kill him slowly and mercilessly until he begs for death.” Melkor smiled, his enjoyment of the prospect evident. “He will bleed him like an animal.”
Frodo’s blood ran cold at the words. One brief glance at Sauron, at that black-cloaked visage and glowing eyes, and Frodo knew that was exactly what the newly crowned Witch King would do. He would make Aragorn suffer, in payment for his own part in the War of the Ring and in payment for the bloodline he belonged to. The thought of noble Aragorn bought to his knees, broken enough to beg for death from Sauron himself, made Frodo feel like he had been struck.
Upon his throne, Melkor’s lips formed a twisted smile in the face of his captive’s discomfort. “Do you see where stubbornness gets you, halfling?”
He gestured to Sauron, who moved forward towards Frodo. As he passed, hatred glowing in his eyes, he looked the figure before him over. Something caught his eye, and he stopped. He suddenly reached out and grasped Frodo’s arm tightly in his metal-clad fingers, making the former Ringbearer cry out in pain as his right hand was pulled up for Sauron’s inspection. “So someone has already started on you. Missing a finger, I see. A ring finger, no less.” He bought his face close to Frodo’s. “I will make that wound seem like paradise.”
Frodo let out a shuddering breath as Sauron stepped back. His eyes bore into Frodo’s as he took something from his belt and slowly revealed it, revelling in the suspense of the moment and the rising anxiety and fear of the halfling before him.
Unlike the ragged and filthy whip Frodo had seen the orc carrying earlier as he was led to Melkor, the whip Sauron uncurled before him was a different design altogether. Instead of ripped hide and thin ropes, Sauron’s whip was razor thin and black as shadow, made of something Frodo couldn’t identify. Sauron swung it once – it cut through the air and snapped, a loud, harsh sound, above his victim.
Frodo knew he was right to be afraid; he had been whipped before in the Tower of Cirith Ungol. It remained one of his worst experiences from the War of the Ring, and he bore silvered scars across his back where his orcish captor had struck him. That had been an orcish whip, and had left him with horrible stinging welts that eventually scarred. Looking at Sauron’s weapon by comparison, Frodo knew it would inflict deep cuts and in all likelihood rip his skin apart. He took a breath and braced himself as best he could.
Melkor gave his Lieutenant a barely perceptible nod.
Sauron raised his arm.
The sound echoed around the stone of the chamber’s walls as Frodo screamed despite himself. Melkor made no movement or sound, he merely sat and watched what was going on before him as if it was mildly interesting. After a brief pause, in which Frodo could feel every inch of the deep cut across his back and every nerve that was screaming in pain, Sauron raised his arm a second time.
The whip bit deep again, slashing open the pale skin of Frodo’s back. The cuts burned like fire, sharp and agonising, making Frodo’s head spin. Had he ever felt such pain? Yes, he supposed, but not like this. These strikes were hard, razor-sharp, and never-ending – each one felt like a burning brand being pressed to his skin without relief.
The whip lashed across his back again, opening another gash that blazed like the fires of Mount Doom itself. Frodo could feel the slight movement across his skin that meant blood was flowing from the wounds. He cried out, gritting his teeth so it didn’t become a scream again. Something like that would give Melkor too much satisfaction.
“Had enough?” Melkor asked quietly.
Frodo forced himself to speak. “N…no…” he whispered with ragged breath.
Melkor sighed heavily – was it in impatience? – and nodded to Sauron again. Sauron smiled thinly in reply, his enjoyment in getting revenge on one so entwined with his previous downfall obvious. He was making Frodo pay for his past actions, as well as ‘convincing’ him to make his future ones.
The next blow was so heavy that Frodo fell forward, only just catching himself on his hands. As he did, the Evenstar swung from where it had been hidden beneath his tunic and glittered in what little light illuminated the chamber. Melkor’s eyes were drawn to its light immediately, but Frodo had no strength to hide it from him.
Sauron reached forward and snapped the chain of the Evenstar as he pulled it from Frodo’s bloodied neck. “An elven jewel, Master. Filth.”
“Bring it forward.” Melkor took it from his Leitentant and inspected it. “Ah yes. I see. Aids in warding off darkness.”
“Shall I crush it, Master?” Sauron asked eagerly.
Melkor looked down at the bloody figure before him. “Not yet. I can see the fear in his eyes, the concern for this trinket. A sentimental possession.” He cast it nonchalantly onto the table already covered in Frodo’s other belongings. “It may come in useful later.”
Frodo bowed his head, staring at the stone of the floor. It was taking all his strength to stay conscious and support himself on his hands and knees, to stop himself from shaking, to stop the burning pain from sweeping him into unconsciousness.
Sauron’s next blow came swiftly, and without warning. Frodo was caught off guard and one hand slipped from the shock of the pain and he fell heavily onto one shoulder. In the following silence, raising himself back up was an agonising experience. Every miniscule movement made his body cry out in protest, the feel of his torn tunic scraping along the open cuts was like molten metal being poured over his skin.
He knew he was close to unconsciousness. He wanted to be strong, to resist, but it was becoming too much strain on his body. His muscles wanted to give out, he wanted to fade into the darkness and not feel any more pain. Another lash came upon his back, another line of fire, and his arms threatened to buckle. He was too close to breaking point now; as tears fell onto the stone floor all Frodo could do as a last stand of defiance was desperately try not to cry out again. He grit his teeth hard as another blow struck him, bringing him closer to the darkness.
Crack. Another strike. Pain was obscuring his vision, he was weeping openly as the room spun around him, and he could hear Melkor’s laughter ringing in his ears. He was slipping as the chamber grew hazy around him, and knew he couldn’t hold out anymore.
Even as Sauron struck him once again, Frodo let the soothing darkness take him away from the pain, as he slipped into oblivion.
When Frodo woke, he was lying on his chest on the cold stone of his cell. Cast beside him was his tunic – or what was left of it. He tried to rise, but pain flashed through him and he froze, biting his tongue so as not to call out. After a moment, as the fire in his back dulled ever so slightly to a sharp gnawing sensation, he reached one had behind him to feel the damage.
He was surprised to find his wounds were covered in something – a poultice of some kind. Foul smelling, but evidently medicinal. Why on earth had he been given such a kindness? The answer was, of course, not kind in any way. It was so he would heal enough to be fit to endure more…convincing.
Frodo ran a hand around his neck, wishing he still had the Evenstar. But all his wishfully searching fingers found was his own skin, made sticky by his own semi-dried blood.
Without the Evenstar, what aid from the dark could he hope for now?
That was surprisingly difficult to write. Hope it wasn’t overly difficult to read.
Chapter 18: Strategies and Risks
Urgh, apologies for the delay, readers! Had a bit of a motivation-loss last week, and a couple of late night that didn’t help either. So I dropped the ball a bit, sorry for that.
Night had fallen. A soft breeze wound its way through the camp, sweet with the fragrance of Ithilien.
Sam sat alone, outside one of the many pavilions that adorned the land around him. He had to admit to himself, that even in current circumstances, there was something that fascinated and intimidated him about the magnitude of an encamped army. So many people, from different backgrounds and paths, camped together in camaraderie, each one prepared for death in the coming days. And so close to danger, too – the nights were never truly peaceful, the sunshine of the days never truly warming. Danger lay so close on the other side of the mountains.
Above him the stars glittered, far above without care or concern for the coming day. Sam envied them. They would be unchanging no matter what the future bought. Those around him were taking life a day at a time, for how could they plan far ahead with their survival in the balance, hanging like a thundercloud above them?
Sam sighed to himself. He knew he should be more sociable with his companions, and take comfort in their company, but he couldn’t bring himself to. Foolishly, he thought to himself, he had been acting like Frodo’s capture only affected him. He was sure he must have been rotten company, and he was obviously not alone in his mourning – Merry and Pippin were solemn too, knowing the danger their beloved cousin was in, and the high likelihood of his death. They were suffering as much as he, but not, Sam guessed sadly, more than him. He did not mean to belittle their grief, but simply felt that it was true.
It wasn’t right for him to act like that. Right now, more than ever, they needed to stand united. For their own sake, and for Frodo. Sam stood and dusted off his hands, still looking up at the stars. They reminded him of his beloved friend, even more so since Aragorn had Frodo’s armour made with the starlight motif. Sam wished Frodo could see the stars from where ever he was, but knew that in Mordor starlight was uncommon, and in a dungeon seeing the sky at all might be a blessing – let alone being able to see the outside world. He would just have to hope that Frodo’s own memory bought the stars to him in the darkness.
Only torches lit the night-covered camp, allowing Sam to carefully pick his way through the pavilions towards those that had been given to him and the others – a small, private camp, alongside Aragorn’s kingly war-tent. In the few days they had been here, the five unexpected arrivals had been given the freedom to come and go around the camp as they pleased, request anything they needed and be included as advisors for the upcoming battle – tomorrow they were all to sit in on Aragorn’s council of war with the other leaders.
As Sam drew closer, he could see four familiar figures around the fire burning in the centre of their tent-ring. The sound of voices drifted back to him, but he couldn’t make out the words. He stepped quietly into the ring of fire-light and cringed internally as the talk died away.
“I’m sorry for my silence over the past days,” Sam said quietly, staring into the fire. “I’m not the only one feeling this way, and I shouldn’t be acting like it.”
Faramir inclined his head. “We understand, though. It is hardly an easy situation for any of us, but you most of all.”
Sam smiled at the Gondorian’s gentle and sympathetic words. “Maybe, but right now it’s not doing anyone any good.”
“I’m not going to disagree with that,” Merry replied, looking at Sam across the flickering flames. “Though it is hard to feel any optimism for the situation as a whole. Come, Sam. Sit down.”
“We owe it to Frodo to look ahead, not behind,” said Pippin quietly as Sam sat down beside him and Merry. “We don’t know what’s happening, or has happened, to him. Until we know his fate with certainty, we must turn our minds to helping him.”
Eowyn nodded. “Tomorrow’s war council gives us opportunity to properly discuss and present a plan. Mithrandir and King Elessar will help us in whatever ways are open to them – but I feel it will reply upon us all to take the chance. The upcoming battle cannot spare its commanders or have its focus divided.”
Faramir nodded, and leaned closer to the fire so his lowered voice would carry to the hobbits but not be overheard by any others. “I have been thinking this though, my friends – and there is a chance for us to get to the Dark Tower. It will require great risk, moreso than what we have faced thus far, and some of us may not return. But it is a chance…”
Aragorn’s hand tapped the map spread before him. “We draw their forces out to the battle plain. Infantry on the front lines will be covered by Gondorian and Rohirric archers behind them, and elven archers on the higher ground. Cavalry will be divided to break the main force from either side without concern for injuring our own men.” He looked up and at the faces of the leaders and advisors gathered for this council for the coming battle. “Then we are decided?”
There was a murmur of agreement. Aragorn nodded and leaned back in his chair again. “King Thorin III, where is most advantageous for your axemen to fight from?”
The Dwarven King thought for a moment, then nodded at Eomer. “All we need is space, Sires. If we rush the main forces after the Rohirrim have swept through, then we eliminate the risk of killing or wounding our own cavalry.”
Aragorn nodded again. “Then your axemen will divide also, and follow the horses through. I can only guess the size of their force, and how it will be organised. We must prepare for creatures of great size, such as trolls – but not for Mumakil, I think. It is also unlikely they will be on beast-back, but then again we can challenge them if they are.”
“It is likely, too that the Nazgul will take to the fray – and that must be considered. Gwaihir will come to our aid in the skies, but the Nazgul are just as dangerous on the ground as they are in the air.” Gandalf looked around the table, fixing each leader in turn with an even stare. “Make sure your troops know this so they are not caught unaware by fear.”
“And what of Melkor?” Eomer asked. “Will he lead his army?”
Gandalf sighed heavily. “There is something that must now be said, though I do not reveal this lightly – if I am wrong, it could mean death for those who believed my words implicitly.” He paused. Those gathered waited in anxious silence for him to finish speaking, wondering what information could be so important but so dangerous to know or take as utter truth. After a moment, the White Wizard looked around at his captive audience. “It is my belief that Melkor may be mortal.”
Aragorn had to wait for the murmurs of disbelief and amazement to subside before speaking, his voice quieting the last hushed discussions that had appeared because of Gandalf’s information. “I agree with Mithrandir that certain things point to Melkor’s mortality being a distinct possibility. Why would he need to create another Ring if he was the same as before? Why would he still be hiding in Mordor until such a thing is created? But we cannot be sure – to take this as truth would be foolish.”
“Do you know if he will take to the battlefield?” Eomer asked, leaning on his gauntleted hand, atop the table.
Aragorn and Gandalf exchanged a glance. “It is hard to guess,” Gandalf answered, as the King of Rohan nodded gravely. “If his mortality is truth, then it would make sense for him to not lead his army into battle himself. That being said, Melkor is known for his arrogance and pride – he may wish himself seen in glory.”
“Forgive me for speaking out, but I feel it must be said,” Prince Imrahil said quietly from further down the table. “If Melkor does not take to the field, what then?”
Aragorn held up a hand. “I am aware that the outcome of this battle cannot be spoken of until it has happened. If he does not take to the battle personally, then we will council our next steps once the battle is over – regardless of the outcome.”
Faramir stood slowly, leaning forward on both his hands. His slight hesitation in speaking was underlined by the silence that had fallen as those in the tent eagerly waited to hear what he had to say. “My companions and I have discussed our own wishes for this battle. As you all know, Lord Iorhael; known to most as Frodo Baggins, Cormacolindo and Prince of the West, has been taken to the dungeons of the enemy – something we did not forsee happening. We know our fate lies with him; and beyond that, he is a dear friend who we would not see abandoned to his fate.”
“What is it you propose, Captain?” Gandalf asked curiously.
“A rescue effort, Mithrandir. My companions and I will ride through enemy lines during the battle to the Dark Tower and infiltrate it during the chaos of the battle.”
“And how is it you propose to cross the battlefield alive?” queried Prince Imrahil.
“On horseback,” Eowyn answered. “With my brother’s permission, I will ask for thirty Rohirrim volunteers to aid us in breaking through the chaos. We will wait for an opportune moment when their lines are weakened.”
Eomer nodded after a moment of thought. “I can spare you that. I presume my expressing my misgiving for you taking this risk will go unheeded?” When Eowyn only smiled in reply, her brother knew he was beaten. “I thought as much.”
A few hours after the council had been dismissed, and the leaders had dispersed to take the battle plans back to their own commanders, Gandalf found himself alone with Aragorn for a brief moment. The King of Gondor looked exhausted, as he leaned back in his chair and took a deep breath. “What do you think of Faramir’s plan?”
“It is well conceived, and undertaken by those whose will shall not falter, Sire.”
Aragorn fixed his advisor with a even stare. “However, you have misgivings?”
“If they should come across Melkor…”
“If they do, then he hides from the battle because of his mortality,” Aragorn said firmly. “Faramir and Eowyn both are formidable swordmasters, and the skills of our smaller friends has improved I hear, from what news I exchanged with Faramir. If they come across him, it will be his downfall.”
Gandalf stood silent as the King of Gondor and Arnor sighed heavily. He looked up at Gandalf, his grey eyes anxious – it was clear that as much as Aragorn believed his own words, he held the same fears as Gandalf himself did. “I know, my friend. I too fear the possibility of losing them all. I would go myself if I did not have a duty to lead – but we must trust them, now.”
Aragorn turned away, his face distant, his eyes seeing beyond the canvas of the pavilion. “They are not the same hobbits I met in Bree,” he murmured, as if to himself. “They have grown into respected and honoured figures, skilled in ways they never imagined they would have cause to be. I have watched them transform from fearful Shire-folk into stalwart heroes, stood by them and been constantly amazed by their strength and honour – as I know you have, Gandalf.”
Gandalf’s reply was cut short by the arrival of Gondor’s chief captains. Aragorn stood to greet them all before beginning to outline the tactics and troop placements that had been decided for the battle, his weariness hidden, his attention focused on the task at hand. Gandalf knew he could slip away without much notice being taken, and left Aragorn to his Kingly duties.
His feet took him through the assembled warriors, many of whom greeted him as he passed, and to the gate of the encampment. Staring out at the surroundings, the beauty of which belied the danger they hid, he considered what he had heard at the council not long before. After Faramir’s confident explanation of their plan, fraught with risk as it was, Frodo’s plight had been brought to the forefront of the Wizard’s mind once again.
Truthfully, the former Ringbearer was never far from his thoughts, but with a set plan for his rescue, Gandalf turned his mind to the unfortunate truths of what might be found by the rescuers. They wanted to rescue Frodo – of course they did, who among them didn’t fear for him and want to see him again? Gandalf himself was tempted to lend his aid, but knew his absence at the battle would be noticed.
Turning away from the serene views before him, the White Wizard made his way back through the camp, looking for those so heavily on his mind. Sure enough, around the not-yet-lit campfire among their tents, he found the group of figures he was searching for.
“Mithrandir!” Faramir called, as he drew closer. “Will you come and share a drink with us?”
“Indeed I will, Captain, as you are the company I was seeking.” Gandalf settled himself amongst the group as Faramir handed him a goblet of rich red wine. “I wanted to speak to you about your plan - I assume you have taken your own council in regards to the risks and danger you face, and you mean to go ahead with it nonetheless?”
“Yes,” Faramir said simply. “Is there any doubt of that?”
"No, no, I did not mean that.” Gandalf said, looking between the three hobbits before him, their challenging stares unwavering. “I cannot express how much luck I wish upon you all in this rescue, my friends. As much as I pray to see our dear Frodo returned to us, I wish it did not risk so much.”
“He’d do it for us,” said Pippin simply.
“I have no uncertainty of that,” Gandalf replied, smiling fondly at him. “I only hope we do not lose all of you too, in the process.”
Merry’s expression softened. “We have to try, Gandalf.”
“I know, my friends, I know.” Gandalf sighed, his hands tightening around the goblet he held. “I find my thoughts turning to what you may find.”
Sam paused before taking another draft of wine. “What do you mean?”
Gandalf fixed the hobbit with a kind but unflinching stare. "We cannot know the state Frodo will be in. Getting him out may be harder than your getting in; due to injury, illness – or any manner of things he has been through in this ordeal. You must be prepared for that eventuality. I do not mean to dishearten you, my friends – but you must be prepared.”
Apologies for any typos or mistakes – this chapter, while necessary to set thing up later on, I found hard to write and I struggled with a block more than once.
Chapter 19: More Than Life
Let’s check back in with our favourite former Ringbearer, shall we?
Frodo was still partly conscious the next time he was taken back to his cell. He was dragged into the room roughly and dumped on the ground like before, a sticky poultice slapped on his back. When he was alone, Frodo could feel the cold stone against his check and the warmth of the fresh blood on his back. Sauron’s second performance with his whip had been as effective as the first.
They had come for him some hours after his first ordeal – five? Ten? - although Frodo could not tell for sure, having no way of seeing the outside world or guessing at time, it was also just long enough for the orcish poultice on his wounds to heal them somewhat. Sauron’s next round of strikes had reopened some of the original wounds, reversing the little healing that had been done and causing more damage.
Bitterly, the former Ringbearer was well aware of the subtler ways he was being controlled and tormented. The pain, followed by the poultice…he was being purposefully kept just well enough so as to experience every horrible moment of his capture – there would be no escape through delirium or exhaustion bought on by infection; or hunger. Frodo had been quick to realise that his food, such as it was, was being carefully monitored – yet he was being fed, which was surprising in itself. Stale bread and the bitter, oily water typical of Mordor was what he was given: it was just enough to keep him conscious and alert, but not enough to help him regain any real strength. Everything was designed to wear him down, and make him submit.
Frodo sighed again, cursing his plight once more. He had lost count of the amount of times he had done so, and wished he could see the outside world once more. Beyond everything, it was the isolation and blindness he felt that affected him the most. How long had it been since he had seen the sky, the stars, felt a soft wind against his cheek? Instead of being alone with agonising wounds and foul company.
Was this all that was left for him? Darkness, loneliness, pain upon waking and a nightmarish existence? What was left?
My life is all I have left, Frodo thought. All they can take from me.
No, said his own voice, inside him. That is not so. Think. Your life is but the one thing they can take from you. But is not the only thing you have left. Other things matter so much more. Friendship. Trust. Love.
These things matter more than my life.
Yes. You’ve always known this. But now you are faced with the very real threat of losing your life, you are afraid. Afraid of the pain, afraid of what comes after, afraid of suddenly being no more. Understandably so.
Frodo closed his eyes against the sight of the cell. My friends, my home – they matter more than my life. To condemn them to darkness is something I cannot do. Nor can I bear the thought of condemning the whole of Middle-Earth. But it is up to me whether I give my life for them willingly, freely, or fear death until it is upon me.
Your choice stands between darkness and freedom. It is not a choice at all – your life is a pittance to pay for what you can save. What you can stand for. What they can never take from you; not through torture, not through despair. You are wholly yourself, they cannot take that from you.
I have nothing left to lose, nothing left to fear. I have everything to fight for.
Be still. Be calm. And be safe in the knowledge that whatever Melkor does to you, however Sauron threatens you, they can only take your life, nothing more. Your integrity, your love, your willingness to die for your friends – that can never be taken from you. It will shield you against the shadows.
Calmness descended upon him. It was the last emotion he expected to feel in such a situation, but it was somehow strengthening. The way forward was clear to him – he would die here; but die willingly, calmly. Sauron would never get satisfaction from whipping him again, Melkor would never break him, they would try anything but nothing would work – his blood was what Melkor needed, and he would never, ever have it.
The pain is nothing; whips will not hurt me now. Not as long as I fight for those I love. For them, I die willingly. This is my gift to them – to rise above the darkness, not fall like I did before.
It wasn’t long before he found himself in the audience chamber again, his knees on the cold stone of the floor. Melkor, indifferent as ever, sat before him on his throne, calmly watching as if the display going on before him was nothing more than a mildly interesting performance. Sauron, spiteful as ever, was wielding the thin whip with undisguised glee and skill, enjoying the pain of the figure before him.
The whip’s strike bit deep, leaving another thin and bleeding cut across Frodo’s back. His previous partially healed gashes were being re-opened by whip’s sting once more, causing him to gasp as the strong pain washed over him. But it was only pain, he knew that now. It would not work, it would not wear him down.
Frodo’s gaze rose until he was unflinchingly looking at Melkor. The smirk on the pale face before him was unchanging, but Melkor’s eyes glittered with curiosity. He rose a hand, and Sauron paused, his next strike never falling. “Something to say, halfling?”
Frodo nodded, feeling the razor-sharp, burning pain retreat slightly with the pause in his torture. He nodded towards the whip. “It won’t work.”
The Dark Lord raised an eyebrow. “Really, now?”
Frodo laughed softly. Upon the throne before him, one of Melkor’s hands clenched at the sound. “Do you not understand?” Frodo inclined his head towards Sauron, who scowled. “I spent months of my life with his whisper in my mind, driving the sanity and humanity from me. Whispers of every moment of every day; confusing me, unbalancing my judgement, turning my own memory against me. He has already put me through torture. And in the end-”
“In the end, you fell to the darkness,” Melkor interjected, sneering. “You failed in your task! Given the hope of all the world, and you were willing to throw it away. You did not succeed, Sauron’s Ring was destroyed by a happenstance. No, instead you failed, you broke like the pathetic figure you are.”
Frodo considered Melkor for a moment; the sneer that was on the face, the black orb-like eyes that stared in contempt. He thinks it hurts me to hear that. Does he think I’m going to deny it? It shames me to this day, but I will never deny it.
“Yes, I failed.”
Melkor’s eyes narrowed imperceptibly. Was it curiosity? Or disappointment that his words didn’t find their mark? To one side, Sauron’s gauntleted hand tightened on the handle of his whip, but Melkor scowled at him, stopping his lieutenant from raising the weapon. Sauron growled at his direct order, but obeyed nonetheless, allowing Frodo to continue.
Is this fallen Valar actually curious about what I may say next?
Breathing deeply, Frodo slowly rose from the stone floor to stand before the throne. The gashes on his back screamed in protest, but he managed to stand without showing any of the pain on his face. Melkor rose an eyebrow as the former Ringbearer stood defiantly before him.
“Yes, I failed. I fell to the darkness and claimed the Ring for my own. I have never forgiven myself for it, for failing all those who depended on me and condemning the free world to shadow.” Frodo stared at his captor evenly, willing himself to keep talking – is this was his once chance, then he would make it memorable. “I will never go back to that. I will not fall to you, or give in to your threats. Nothing you can do will make me fall against the darkness and doom those I love.” I owe them this. After everything, I owe it to them to protect them.
Silence fell. It was all Frodo could do not to flinch under the ruthless gaze of the creature before him. His fingernails dug deep into his palms to stop his hands from shaking, but he held Melkor’s eyes. The fallen Valar’s contempt for him was palpable, his gaze was no longer of curiosity but of cold fury.
“Brave words, halfling. But foolish,” Melkor hissed quietly, scowling at Frodo’s defiance, all indifference forgotten. He rose from his throne and stepped off the dais. “Love? Pathetic. I will promise you something, halfling.” He bent down to be eye-level with Frodo. “I will make you beg for death.”
He held his hand out to Sauron, who passed over his whip. Melkor’s hand wrapped elegantly around the handle as he stepped behind Frodo, lost to the hobbit’s sight. There was a pause before the first blow fell.
Melkor’s strokes were heavier than Sauron’s, the whip biting deeper than it had done before. Blood welled up immediately in the newly formed gashes as Frodo was forced back to his hands and knees on the stone floor as Melkor prowled around him.
“You will fall.”
“You will die.”
“You will obey.”
Even with his knew-found strength of will, Frodo couldn’t keep his body from giving out. The pain was taking its toll, and he was falling into darkness again. The sound of laughter was in his ears – but it wasn’t the evil, tormenting laughter of his captors. It was his own laughter, the loud, clear sound echoing off the stone walls – such a contrast to his surroundings, such defiance in the face of darkness.
Frodo laughed as Melkor growled, and willingly fell into the soft, welcoming darkness of unconsciousness.
Upon waking, Frodo found he could hardly move. Melkor’s onslaught upon him had left him deeply bruised as well as cut to ribbons, more so than before. It took more than a few attempts for him to stand, as his muscles and injuries protested at every slight movement. Eventually he was able to get into a far more comfortable sitting position, while he ate and drank the meagre offering that had been left out for him.
As usual, he didn’t know how long he had been unconscious, but something told him it wasn’t long – only a few hours, maybe. Perhaps it was because he could feel how raw his latest injures still were, and that they were still bleeding under the now familiar poultice.
Nonetheless, it felt like mere moments after he had eaten Frodo heard keys at his cell door, and the orc overseer shambled in, as dirty and foul as ever. He scowled down at Frodo and pointed out the door.
“Get out here, scum.”
Frodo obeyed as fast as his wounded back would allow him to, which wasn’t fast enough for the orc – a jab in his back sent a fresh wave of pain upon him which made it more difficult to walk. Outside his cell he didn’t have his usual retinue of escort orcs, just the overseer. Something about this struck him as strange, but Frodo guessed it was because of his now extensive injuries and troubles moving – he certainly wasn’t a threat before, and now in extreme pain was even less of one.
Upon entering the throne-room, Frodo was greeted with the familiar sight of Melkor reclining in his throne, and Sauron standing to one side. This time, Frodo noticed immediately that Sauron was not carrying the whip – nor was it on his belt. Immediately the feeling of unease grew and he felt uncertainly begin to settle upon his mind. What was going on here?
Frodo was pushed to his usual place before the dais. Upon the floor he noticed dried red smudges – he’d never thought to look, but his own blood was now staining the stone floor of Barad Dur. He looked up at Melkor, who was considering him with an empty gaze.
“So,” Melkor said quietly, his voice dangerously calm, “not only do you still defy me, you have the audacity to suggest pain will no longer work upon you. You have given me cause to consider other...avenues, other methods of suggestion at my disposal.”
Sauron slowly walked down from the dais as his Master spoke, prowling around Frodo until he stopped behind him. Frodo stiffened involuntarily – having Sauron standing behind him was unnerving to say the least. What ‘other avenues’ could Melkor be speaking of? What was Sauron’s latest duty?
“If you will not respond to pain, then there are other things you will respond to,” said Melkor. “And for that I require inside information.” He nodded once at Sauron, who wrenched off one gauntlet.
A hand, so cold it felt as if it was burning him, wrapped itself around the base of the back of Frodo’s neck. He gasped as the coldness seeped into him, obscuring his vision in swirling dark grey shadows and chilling every nerve in his body to the very tips of his fingers. He felt like he was falling, but somehow knew he was still standing. Visions began to flicker at the edge of his sight, snippets of memory – just before he was engulfed by them, one clear thought broke through.
Sauron is in my mind.
Snatches of images before Frodo’s unseeing eyes filled his perception. He saw the Shire, the marketplace and Bag End’s front door. Talking to Sam in the garden; writing in the study. Sitting in the Ivy Bush in Hobbiton with Sam and some of the other lads, sharing local news. Or in the Green Dragon with Merry and Pippin; singing drinking songs. Gandalf’s fireworks lighting up the Party Tree as Bilbo vanished before them all.
The sights of Middle Earth seen while travelling – sunrise and sunset over so many different places, how the light changes. Meeting Aragorn in Bree, trusting him and his guidance as they crossed the wild. His own ill-fated accident in The Prancing Pony, how foolish he was. The ancient beauty and grim danger of Weathertop, the sight of it at dusk and the terror in the night.
Rivendell’s covered pathways and ornate carvings, waterfalls and hidden gardens. Standing before the Council of Elrond – a council of strangers – and agreeing to take the Ring. Waking up after the encounter at the Ford and finding Sam waiting. So happy to be alive.
Waking again, on the Field of Cormallen, less one finger. Reunited with friends – Gandalf, now in white and thought to be dead, Aragorn crowned as King. Legolas and Gimli alive. Merry and Pippin, the pride felt at seeing them honoured. The White Tree flying on banners with the Horse of Rohan. Survival against all odds. Bonds of love and friendship.
No. These memories are mine.
The journey home, seeing everything anew. The Four Travellers, healing the Shire and being individual in their experiences. Gathered around a fire at Bag End, talking long into the night about everything; being totally honest and open with one another. Love. Companions.
All of a sudden, the piercing cold on Frodo’s neck vanished, and he collapsed. He was gradually aware of his surroundings again, the chill that was still upon him, the heaviness he felt in his limbs and the cloudiness of his thoughts. Frodo soon became aware of voices somewhere above him.
Sauron was breathing heavily out of the effort of searching Frodo’s mind. “He has many friends, my Master. And some are…” Sauron hesitated; “…unfortunate. He is close friends with that upstart Elessar, and with Olorin.”
Melkor’s head tilted. “Olorin? The Maiar?”
“The very same, my Master.”
Melkor glanced down at Frodo, who was struggling up from the floor, the effects of Sauron’s possession still making him uneasy. “Fools all, but mighty friends for such a worthless one to have.”
Frodo stayed silent, feeling the chilling cold dying from his mind. He felt more like himself again, and with that came the fear of what this could all mean. Had Sauron found something that could be used against him? What else had he seen?
“But I kept seeing three other halflings, my Master. They are very close to his heart. One in particular he shares a strong bond with. Loves him as a brother, my Master. A little fat one, with lots of spirit.”
Frodo felt the blood drain from his face. No. No, they couldn’t.
Sauron smirked at Frodo’s evident discomfort for a moment, then his voice lowered with malice. “The same one responsible for killing Shelob. And he played a part in the War. He cares for this one as much as this one cares for him.”
Melkor nodded thoughtfully. “Excellent.”
With a wave of his hand, Melkor dismissed Sauron, who left the room – but not without giving Frodo one last haunting smirk. As Sauron’s footsteps faded, Frodo turned back to the nonchalant Dark Lord.
“Where are you sending him?”
Melkor’s eyes narrowed. “No concern of yours.”
“If you touch Sam, I swear I’ll-“
“You’ll what?” Melkor swept down from the dais to pace around his captive. “Attack me?” He laughed coldly. “You may have powerful friends, but they are many leagues from here. They can do nothing. You are alone, and pathetic, and hardly a threat to anyone.” He glanced at the orc overseer, who waited in the shadows. “Take him from my sight.”
As Frodo was painfully marched back to his cell, Melkor’s words rang in his ears. There are other things you will respond to. He didn’t want to think what that could mean; and could only hope and wish that wherever they were, his friends were safe and far from the shadows.
Chapter 20: Melkor's Guest
I went out of town for a few days – to a little group of houses near the mountains, to have a bit of a family reunion and spread my grandfather’s ashes near his favourite walking/tramping spot (it wasn’t as morbid as it sounds; it was a really positive thing and the family got a chance to catch up). Out there, there was no internet connection, but there *was* beautiful scenery and stunningly fresh air. So, I sat down and wrote in the evenings. And it was glorious.
It had been a normal morning, if such things existed on the brink of war, Sam supposed. There hadn’t been much to do now except wait – and waiting for a terrible and dangerous battle was hardly something that passed the time easily. It had been a relief when Aragorn and Gandalf had visited their little camp with an urgent mission in mind.
“I need minds and eyes I can trust,” Aragorn had said quietly. “This is by no means a secret mission, but its importance cannot be understated. If you agree, I would like you to journey to the Black Gate – it is not more than a few hours from our camp – and study its condition and defences.”
It was common knowledge the Black Gate had suffered damage from the fall of Sauron a year earlier, and as such did not pose as much of a threat as it had during the War of the Ring. It was, however, still was positioned in the vale that created the main entrance to Mordor, as mountain-sided as it was. Because of this, Aragorn wanted a small and trusted scouting party to discover the current state of the area and report back to him and the other leaders.
It had only taken moments for the three hobbits and the Lord and Lady of Ithilien to agree. They had gathered their weapons, taken some basic supplies should they find themselves unable to get back to camp, and set off before the sun had reached its mid-morning zenith. Getting out of camp, and into the shadow of the mountains, had been easy. They had found themselves unhindered in their path, and few signs of orcs. After a while of walking, the landscape had begun to change to the slag-hills and shifting stone that was the ground around the Morannon.
Sure enough, the Black Gate itself was still damaged, and far from its imposing past as a the high metal structure that secured Mordor. One side was broken and no longer closed; and as such was almost completely abandoned. The other side appeared to be in better repair, and still provided a significant barrier – there was a garrison of orcs atop it, but from what the scouting party could see makeshift barriers had been formed behind it, to compensate for the loss of one of the gates. As it was, Mordor was partially open already.
“That’ll please Aragorn,” Pippin had muttered. “They’ll have no choice but to open the other gate wide if they need to march their army out.”
“True,” Faramir had replied. “If anything, the damaged gate now provides them with a hindrance rather than a help. They will come out to the battle plain rather than risk being disadvantaged.”
Reconnaissance completed, they had moved back from the Black Gate. Once out of sight, the group had just come into more open ground when the all to familiar shriek had torn the sky. Ducking for cover and drawing weaponry, they had reluctantly engaged the three Nazgul who had swept over the broken gate to attack their escape.
One had swooped dangerously close to Sam. So close that he had caught sight of the rider atop it – a figure in black, spiked armour; his helmet an elongated skull-like creation of nightmare. There was something instantly chilling about it, and Sam had sprung out of the way so the clasping talons of the creature missed him.
Pippin had sent one back with an arrow in its side; and now the five defenders awaited the next pass of the remaining two. They were banded together, ready to fight and drive back the shadows that were assailing them. As the Nazgul swooped together, their harsh cries echoing against the rocks, Sam felt a chill run through him as he realised the lead beast – with the armoured rider – was aiming for him, even as it scattered the defenders with a high-speed low swoop.
Diving behind a nearby boulder so the fell beast’s talons closed again on empty air, Sam’s mind went completely blank for a moment, before suddenly kicking into high gear. As he leaned against the boulder, safe for now from the predatory menace in the sky, he tried to get his thoughts in some kind of order.
It was almost as if…
…almost as if the Nazgul wanted to capture him.
The Nazgul was aiming for him. He had thought this was because he was the most exposed; the easiest target for the creature to kill. But now, after two failed attempts – two calculated attempts – to catch him, when he could easily have been killed, Sam was sure of a far more sinister truth. He was being targeted for capture.
Sam frowned, turning the idea over in his head as the fell beast in the sky above screeched in rage at losing its prey. That conclusion made no sense. What use was he to Melkor alive? There was no reason for him to be involved, was there? He wasn’t the former Ringbearer, it wasn’t his blood that was so sought after as part of a nefarious plot.
He wasn’t the former Ringbearer.
Oh, but yes he was.
He had held the Ring, hadn’t he? He had taken the burden after the harrowing encounter in Shelob’s Lair, willingly borne it for a time. The sudden realisation made his blood chill. He was a Ringbearer, albeit for a short time, but a bearer of the Ring nonetheless. That would mean his blood was just as useful to Melkor, wouldn’t it? The blood of a Ringbearer.
But that made no sense either. Frodo was Melkor’s captive, alone in the Dark Tower, at the mercy of his captors with the blood that they so wanted. It was Frodo they wanted for his part in the Ring’s destruction, for the mark it had left on him and the strength that he possessed to have carried it so far. It was Frodo they had hunted, from Mordor to the Shire, to the wilderness where they had found him. Why on Middle Earth would he, Sam, be of any use to them if they had already imprisoned the one person who they were so desperate to capture?
Numbness descended onto Sam. He could feel pressure, like an invisible hand, pushing against him from all sides. His hearing became muffled, as the loud screeches of the fell beast were reduced to half-heard meaningless sound. His sight darkened, the detail of the landscape around him becoming hazy and he felt his mind swimming through the fog, trying to comprehend his thought.
They wouldn’t want him unless Frodo was dead.
Melkor would have no interest in him unless Frodo was dead, and his blood with him. Dead from torture, starvation, illness – did it really matter? – but gone from this world, refusing until the last to give up and condemn the world to Melkor’s darkness. Sam felt a thrill of pride for his beloved friend; of course Frodo wouldn’t have given up. He was – he had been – so determined not to fall again.
And that left Sam. The next Ringbearer, the other possible sacrifice Melkor needed to doom the world to darkness. His blood carried the mark of the Ring, didn’t it? Not nearly as much as Frodo had been changed by it, but enough for Melkor to hunt him down.
These thoughts filled Sam’s mind with a distinct lack of feeling. Melkor wanted him. He would never see Rosie, his dear Rosie who danced with ribbons in her hair, again. And Frodo, his beloved friend, who’d he’d known for so many years and followed to near-death and back, was dead. Killed by an ancient and evil force because of something he couldn’t control – and didn’t want to be a part of.
He couldn’t feel anything. Not grief, not sadness, not even anger. He was empty of all thought and feeling. Somewhere he could hear Merry and Pippin calling to him, shouting; somewhere there was the noise of fighting and the screech of a mighty beast. As it was, Sam was so lost within himself that he only saw the fell beast’s talons just before they swept him up into the sky.
The talons held him tightly but did not crush him, as he felt his sword fall from his hand to the ground below. He could hear screaming, but it was distant, incomprehensible, meaningless to him. There was nothing left now. Frodo was dead, and soon he would be too. Would he be strong enough to withstand whatever happened, as Frodo had been? Or would he beg for mercy and give in to make it all end, letting himself escape this world in the process? No, he vowed silently, letting the thought fill him. I will not give in to the man that murdered my best friend, my brother.
Frodo sighed heavily. He was lying on the floor of his cell – one of the few positions that provided some degree of relief from the pain Melkor’s punishment had left him with. His forehead was resting on his arms, and his eyes were closed. He was thinking of the Shire, picturing the sunset over the Water, and the brilliant colours of the sky. The light would bounce off the Water’s surface, and the different shades of the dusk would be reflected in it too, like some kind of painting. It was always an enjoyable walk from the Ivy Bush back to Bag End, often with Sam, as the sun was setting and the Shire was quieting for evening.
It was those times he loved the most. A quiet walk in the sweet air, through familiar paths, with such contentment around him that Frodo could almost forget his past experiences and his part in the War of the Ring. How could it even have existed, when the sky was streaked with mauve and pale orange, and there was the scent of honeysuckle in the air? How could there have been so much death, when the last light of a peaceful day glinted on Bag End’s brass doorknob? How could he have been so tormented and injured, when snatches of song and glimpses of lanterns were all around him? The Shire was so removed, so different from all that. Frodo could almost believe it had been a nightmare and nothing more…
But then October came, and his shoulder caused him great pain and left him unable to rise from bed. March 13th and he was ill again; the great spider’s wound reminding him of that horrible encounter. And always, nightmares. And now…
Frodo sighed again. Now this. This whole mess of a situation. There would be no setting sun on the Water for him now, just rough stone walls and unforgiving torment. At least alone in his cell he could relive the Shire in every detail; and all the other places in Middle Earth that offered him comfort. And that was enough.
He could hear the shuffling footsteps of an orc approaching. Sure enough, a few moments later there was the sound of a heavy key in the lock and the door swung open. Frodo declined to rise, opening one eye to stare up at the orc, who was carrying something.
“Oi, you. Master wants to see you.”
There was a thud as something was thrown down beside Frodo’s prone figure. He didn’t glance over at it, but kept his gaze idly on the orc.
“And you’re to wear that. Master has a guest, says you’re to be properly attired. And if you’re not when I come to get you,” the orc grinned, showing jagged teeth and dark gums, “then I’ll drag you to before him myself.”
Still grinning, the orc shuffled off and relocked the door. Frodo looked over to what had been thrown down beside him – his armour. Every piece that had been stripped from him was there, and what’s more, it appeared to have been untouched. He rose gingerly from lying on the floor and began to slowly put it on. His mithril shirt gave him the most trouble; as it sat painfully close to his back wounds and caused every movement to be accompanied by the pain of the rings scraping over his injuries. The chestplate was almost as bad – it pressed the mithril closer to his back, and hurt greatly to buckle up – so much so that Frodo had to pause after it was finally secure to let the pain fade somewhat.
All the while, he was thinking on the orc’s words. A guest? What could that mean? Another captive, maybe? Or someone like Sauron, important in Melkor’s grand plan, who he was to be shown to, then beaten in front of? Either way, Frodo felt dreadfully uneasy about whatever was to come next.
He was just slipping on his last gauntlet when the orc returned. Although Frodo was still troubled about what this could mean – with Melkor such things were never straightforward, or pleasant – it was a comfort to have his armour back on. Even though he had been anxious about even wearing armour at first, it had grown on him since those days in Rivendell. Now, wearing it felt not only comforting, but as though he stood not alone, but with the blessing of Aragorn, and Gandalf.
Walking along the now familiar stone corridors – Frodo thought that he could probably find his way on his own, but that would never happen – he internally steeled himself for whatever was about to happen. He couldn’t falter if this was another attempt to make him give in; couldn’t show emotion no matter what was waiting for him.
“Ah, halfling,” Melkor was reclining in his throne, as usual. “We have a guest.” He gestured lazily to the side wall of the chamber, where a figure was against the wall. Chained or tied there, Frodo suspected, internally shivering at the thought.
Melkor had risen, and was approaching the figure. “I think you know one another?”
A torch flared into life, casting its light across the figure. Despite his determination to not react, Frodo could not help the strangled cry that escaped him as the half-conscious and beaten figure was revealed.
“Sam!”Melkor stretched out his hand, running a single pale finger down the side of Sam’s face. He showed Frodo the red smudge of blood that came away. “Do I detect some kind of affection, halfling?” When Frodo stayed silent, his eyes fixed to Sam’s form, Melkor approached him and leaned close. “So now you have a choice. You can let him die by your stubbornness, or save his life by cooperating. And for every hour it takes you to decide, I will take great pleasure in hurting him.”
The Dark Lord straightened, nodding to a waiting orc. Frodo was roughly escorted from the room, still unfeelingly staring at his captured friend, trying to make sense of what had just happened. It wasn’t until he was alone in his cell again that the weight of what the situation descended upon him, and Frodo sank to the ground, so stunned that he didn’t even register the pain leaning against the wall gave him.
It was a few moments before he realized he was shaking. When he had been alone in this, trapped as he was, at least it meant that no one else was at immediate risk. But now, Sam of all people, was here, in pain, and suffering. His dear Sam, who had only ever stood by him, who didn’t deserve any of this, who had a wife waiting for him.
Frodo couldn’t help but put his head in his hands and weep. How could he condemn Sam to death, even if it meant saving the rest of Middle Earth? How could he justify turning his back on the world to save his dearest friend? How could he live with himself were Sam to die, even if his own death was not far behind? How could he doom the world to darkness, even if it meant Sam was spared agony and torment?
He was caught, and Melkor knew it. Either he saved Sam by giving in to Melkor, and doomed Middle Earth; or he let his brother-in-all-but-blood die in his refusal to bend to Melkor’s wishes.
Frodo knew what he had to do.
He could only hope he would be forgiven for it.
Things are now just a bit more complicated...
Chapter 21: A Red Day
It’s all getting a bit climactic now…
Aragorn leaned forward, his elbows resting on the table before him. His jaw was tensed; hidden behind one hand that rested against his chin. The news that had just been delivered to him grieved him, angered him, and wounded him deeply. How could this have happened, again? Beside him, Gandalf put down his wine cup with a purposefully loud clunk, breaking the King from his reverie.
Aragorn looked up and around the table. The faces before him were some of those he held most dear; and at the moment all of them were blank in shock and grief. As soon as they had returned from scouting, Aragorn had sent all other leaders and commanders from him so he could speak privately with the four who had returned. Their faces had betrayed them; he knew something terrible had occurred and it hadn’t taken him long to work out what it was.
Faramir, to his credit, had still given Aragorn the information he had asked for, and a messenger had been dispatched to those in command to relay the condition of the Black Gate and what it would mean in their upcoming campaign. Now that was said and done, a deep stillness had fallen over the table.
Gandalf sighed, the sound audible in the heavy silence. “I can construct only two answers to this riddle. Neither one is encouraging.” He glanced around the group, his eyes coming to rest on Merry and Pippin. “Either Sam has been captured to be used against Frodo, who is still resisting Melkor…or he has been taken to be a blood sacrifice himself, and our dear friend Frodo is dead, unwilling to give in to Melkor who now needs a new captive.”
If it were possible, the silence deepened. It lasted a few moments before Aragorn shook his head. “I do not believe it.”
“I do not want to, Sire. But we must consider it a possibility.”
Pippin shook his head, and exchanged a glance with Merry, who did the same. “He’s not dead.” He shrugged as many eyes turned to him. “Do not ask me how I know. But I feel Frodo’s still alive. Sam too.”
“I called to him,” Merry said quietly, staring unseeingly at the table before him. “Shouted to him as the Nazgul swooped. He didn’t respond; he didn’t even look at me. It was like he was suddenly turned to stone, unaware of everything around him.”
Eowyn nodded. “I saw that too. He threw himself behind cover, as we all were doing, then suddenly…he was still; oblivious to the fight still going on, the danger still present to him.”
“Sam’s mind is quick,” said Faramir. “He may not loudly let on about that truth, we all know Samwise Gamgee’s mind is sharper than most. I daresay he realised what the Nazgul’s plan was, and what it could mean for Frodo.”
“The shock of considering his dearest friend’s death would certainly give Sam more than just pause.” Aragorn sighed, his face softening. “We know how close Frodo and Sam were; and the lengths they endured during the Quest. I have no doubt that realising Frodo’s possible fate would have made Sam forget the waking world and whatever danger was present. A moment would have been enough for a Nazgul.”
Pippin sighed quietly. “A moment was all it took.”
Aragorn turned his gaze to Gandalf. “What say you?”
Gandalf shrugged. “Neither answer I provided for Sam’s capture is positive, but nor are they certainties. If I had to choose one solution to act upon, I would consider that one, at least, of our friends is still alive.”
“Whatever the truth to the situation, nothing is changed,” Eowyn stated softly. “We are still going to the Dark Tower. It does not matter if we go to rescue the living, or retrieve the dead. Our way forward is clear.”
The rising sun found the large encamped armies already busy, having awoken in the dim grey light before dawn. There was a quiet yet busy feel as the various fighters prepared themselves for the coming day. Some sat around newly kindled fires and had one last ale with their close friends; some lamented to others about those they left behind and fought to protect. Snatches of song and soft laughter drifted through the air.
Standing outsider her tent, armour on, Eowyn considered the dawn. It was strange to think she might never see another. Or that Faramir might not, or Eomer, or any number of those she cared for. But somehow the possibility did not frighten her like it once might have – this was their path, they could only walk it. If she was to die today, she died with the love of a good man in her heart, and the joy of being present to see the beginning of the world’s healing from the last War.
Soft footsteps in her direction shook her from her reverie. She turned to see her brother making his way over to her. He too was already dressed in armour for the upcoming battle, his helmet under one arm. Eomer smiled as he came to stand beside her.
“Do not look so worried, dear sister. I have not come to talk you out of this.”
Eowyn looked at her brother sceptically. “No?”
“No.” Eomer’s face became sombre. “No, I have not. I know you will not be turned from this path, no matter the dangers, and that you will stand to the last to fight for those you care for. But I cannot say I am altogether glad you are here.”
“I could say the same for you you, brother of mine. I dearly wish none of us were here; but here we stand.”
“At least this time I know you fight with me.”
Eowyn smiled at the memory. “You would have never let me come with you to Pelennor willingly; you would have claimed the danger too great and the horror too much.”
“And in that I was proven wrong,” Eomer admitted, somewhat sheepishly. “There is no doubt among any of the Free Peoples that you are not a seasoned warrior, and a hero of our time.”
Eowyn smiled, linking her arm through her brother’s. “Strength be with you today, my brother.”
“Strength be with you,” said Eomer as he kissed her hair.
The march took the combined army some hours to complete. More than once Merry and Pippin privately marvelled at Aragorn’s ability to get so many armies together, let alone in such organisation. Neither hobbit wanted to guess at the number of warriors that had been bought together; or question how it had all been planned out so carefully.
They travelled with Eowyn and Faramir and the band of Rohirrim who had volunteered to escort them over enemy lines. Thirty brave men and their horses, willing to go deep into dangerous territory for a purpose they had only been told the vaguest details of. Their group was near the back of the long march, as they were not to be on the front lines; but wait for a perfect moment to slip though the back lines of Mordor and fight their way through to the Dark Tower.
Before them, snaking slowly over the landscape, was the great force. The standards of each army caught high in the breeze, their warriors following it proudly. Behind Gondor’s White Tree came battalions of armoured infantry, some cavalry and the leather-clad Ranger bowmen. Rohan’s proud horse heralded cavalry of impressive numbers, and fewer (thought no less important) infantry, their long spears beginning to catch the sun’s increasing light. Dol Amroth’s majestic swan swam over more armoured infantry.
The Elven archers walked together – each with their own beautifully crated bow – under the combined elegant flags of Lothlorien and Greenwood. They were all lightly armoured, singing softly as they marched. Behind them were the colours of Erebor, as a great host of Dwarves strode along, tapping their axes and heavy swords idly.
Upon arriving at their destination, the armies set about their orders quickly. Half of the Rohirrim horsemen and of half the Dwarves set out for the other side of the battle plain they were to fight on. Infantry of Gondor and Rohan set themselves in battalions and companies as their arches set themselves behind the front lines, and the Elves gracefully set out to cover the surrounding slag-hills in whatever way seemed best.
Faramir positioned the Rohirrim volunteers near the top of the high ground that was closest to the gate. They were sure to hang back so as not to attract attention or be deemed a threat, but from their vantage point they could see the battle-plain and the Black Gate itself; and keep track of the opposing army’s numbers. In this way, they could evenly judge the best time for their own attack rather than taking a chance and riding in blind to the circumstances awaiting them.
There was no doubt that the army itself was visible to the watching orcs of Mordor. After seeing that all was ready; Aragorn rode forward with Gandalf and a representative of each army. Once they were in sight, but not within bow-range, of the gate, Aragorn called for Melkor to give himself up; or face the army that challenged him.
The only reply to his words was the brutal sound of a long orc-horn call.
Atop the wall the envoys could see orcs moving, but there was no verbal reply nor envoy sent out to them. As the initial orc-horn call was repeated behind the wall, the undamaged side of the Black Gate began to move. Slowly and laboriously, it swung open, revealing the host of orcs inside. Aragorn gave the orders to ride back to the centre of the field to await the charge command. From there they could watch the approaching army, and judge it for size, but not be in danger. As his gaze swept the oncoming mass, Aragorn felt his eye drawn to the front of Mordor’s army lines.
Before the rabble of orcs came a black horse. Its coat was so dark it was like a piece of moving night; starless and unfathomable. Astride it was a tall figure, straight and imposing, his armour dark and stylised in spikes. One of the metal gauntlets held the bridle gently – there was no need to exercise control over a creature so obviously bound to the will of its Master. A long straight sword was in one hand of the rider, its brutal blade naked and gleaming with a pale and eerie light. The helmet was elongated, spiked at the top and reminiscent of some kind of crown that had been twisted by darkness.
The horse came closer to Aragorn’s own, and bought with it a feeling of dread and unease. Next to him, Shadowfax reared his head, causing Gandalf to utter soft words of comfort to his equine friend. Aragorn’s own horse stamped nervously.
The armoured rider halted a fair distance from the envoys of the Free Peoples. In the silence that followed, the hand sitting on the bridle reached up and removed the helmet, revealing the face beneath.
White-blond hair framed a thin, pale face, the high cheekbones so prominent they seemed to cut the very air around them. Slightly sunken cheeks warped what might have once been a handsome face into something cruel and heartless. But it was the eyes that were the most chilling. Eyes that glowed, burned with contempt and a lust for the suffering of others. They bore into Aragorn with unrelenting malice, who felt himself recoil internally.
There was no doubting who it was before him. The eyes that stared at him were those he’d seen before; had threatened his kingdom and all he stood for a year ago. Yet some part of Aragorn was unafraid, regarding the figure before him with simple consideration. This, then, was Sauron. Sauron in the form of the Witch King, High General of the Armies of Mordor, the same Sauron who had been responsible for so many deaths and had almost returned to strength.
There was something odd, something final, about coming face to face with the man – the monster – who had been such an unseen part of Aragorn’s life. Here Sauron was, before him. Face to face with an ancient power, albeit one diminished, and Aragorn found himself feeling more and more unafraid. The shock of Sauron’s grandiose revealing of his face had faded, and Aragorn considered the man before him with both pity and contempt.
Beside the King of Gondor, Gandalf’s face had turned into a scowl. His eyes were burning too, with contempt for the Maiar who had betrayed his own and been lured into darkness. “You were defeated once. It will be so again.”
Sauron’s face sank into a sneer. “So sure, Olorin?” he called, his words soft but carrying the distance. “Your precious halflings are all but dead, and falling under the sway of my Master’s words. You only delay the inevitable.”
“I will not hear that,” Aragorn called back, his own voice strong and unwavering. “We have challenged you. There will be no more words.”
Sauron’s sneer grew. “So ready to wet your sword with blood, Aragorn son of Arathorn? Who would have thought, the Heir of Isildur such a ruthless tyrant of a king?”
Aragorn dearly wished to charge forward and take Sauron’s head off at the shoulders, but knew such actions were foolish. “I will kill him,” he said softly to Gandalf, whose stare did not abate. “For all he has done, and all he would do.”
“I know I cannot turn you from that decision. Be careful, Sire. He will not fight fairly,” Gandalf replied, his hand on his own sword hilt. He glanced at the armies of Mordor and at the army behind them. “We are with you, Aragorn.”
“Kill me? I would like to see you try…boy.” Sauron’s reply was low and harsh, the mocking tone gone. “Do not think me deaf to your petty words.”
The King of Gondor did not reply. Sauron laughed, the sound harsh in the early-afternoon light. “You have no honour.” He spat on the ground, in Aragorn’s direction. “Just like the halflings. You should have heard them scream.”
“Enough!” Spurring his horse forward, Aragorn charged, his blade unsheathed. Anduril gleamed in the pale sunlight as Sauron laughed callously and drove his own horse forward, meeting Aragorn in the centre of the field with a clash of steel as their swords collided.
As Aragorn stared momentarily into the eyes of his opponent, he was dimly aware of the sound of horns behind him – the order to charge was being sounded and the united army becoming a flurry of action, pushing forward to engage the enemy. Soon enough the melee closed in around them, the foot-soldiers of Gondor and Rohan engaging the orcs, but neither Aragorn or Sauron took heed as they traded blows on horse-back.
Theirs was a battle for them alone.
Chapter 22: Ruthless
The end is coming close...
Bloodied blades flashed in the sunlight as their wielders fought against the enemy. From the higher ground of the slag-hills, the elven archers relentlessly shot arrow after arrow into the throng of Mordor, bringing down numerous orcs before they had reached the front lines. The Rohirric charge had been sounded not long ago, as the army of Mordor found itself caught between two waves of horsemen on either side – and the battle-ready dwarves who followed in their wake.
It was clear that Aragorn’s tactics had made up for their lower numbers. Such was the thoughts of the small band who watched from their vantage point, waiting for the right moment to strike. It felt odd, Pippin considered, to stay out of the fighting for now and just watch it take place – like it was some kind of performance, or sport. They were watching men, elves and dwarves die in battle, and what was going on – those were being with friends, homes, families – wasn’t sinking in. Not like being in amongst it all, where one’s own survival drew awareness away from the fates of others.
Pippin looked away from the carnage going on below them, diverting his gaze to the damaged Black Gate. Orcs were still coming though it, but in fewer numbers now. The main part of the army had to already be on the battlefield if not already engaging the combined forces, so their opportune moment was approaching. Behind him, Faramir was watching the gate closely too. He motioned to one of the Riders; his gesture alerting those around him to prepare themselves for their charge.
Erkenbrand, Marshall of the West-Mark, rode forward and looked between the Prince of Ithilien and the Gate. “My Lord?”
“Their numbers decrease, my friend. Our chance will be soon – are you still prepared to take the lead?”
Erkenbrand nodded. He had been one of the first Riders to volunteer to this special duty, understanding its great importance without having to be told every detail. The Riders with him were loyal and steadfast; even though they knew their duty was more dangerous than the battlefield – heading into the heart of darkness itself – they were prepared to undertake the venture. They knew they were setting out to rescue captives, and that the captives were the same Cormacolindor that had been praised on the Field of Cormallen many months before – but Aragorn had felt Frodo and Sam’s role in what was going on was of a sensitive nature; and none of the Riders had openly questioned why the halflings had been captured.
Erkenbrand was to lead the group. They would be close, in a single group, as they entered so as to give the rescuers the most protection possible. As it was, it would be Erkenbrand himself who was to make the final choice on when to ride; a duty which both Eowyn and Faramir knew he would perform faultlessly. He was a warrior or great renown and a mighty leader of the Rohirrim; and battle was not new to him.
The horses were led into formation, where all the riders waited for the signal. Their horses stamped nervously on the uneven ground. Merry, sitting in front of Eowyn, breathed deeply and reached beneath his armour to tap the crystal vial he had with him. His removal of it from Sam’s pack was by no means a secret, but privately Merry was glad to have it so close by him. It gave him courage in this dark time.
May it be a light to you in dark places, when all other lights go out.
He wasn’t entirely sure why he had taken the Phial of Galadriel with him. It would have been safer for such a delicate item to be left back at the camp; but it felt right to have it with them. It had saved Frodo and Sam before in Mordor, it could do it again. Pippin had agreed with Merry when his elder cousin had told him he had it in his possession, and had held it gently for a time in silence before handing it back.
“We’ll need some light in the darkness,” Pippin had said softly. “Sun and stars both.”
Merry was brought from his memories by Eowyn breathing deeply behind him. Erkenbrand was gesturing to the Riders; the time was close. Merry glanced over at Pippin and caught his eye; they nodded to one another. It was now or never. Merry’s grip tightened on his sword-hilt.
Erkenbrand’s horse sprung forward and down the slope.
The orcs who were still manning the gate were taken by surprise. Many didn’t have time to drawn their weapons before they fell to the blade or bow, as the close group of riders crashed through the severely weak back lines and into Mordor. Some orcs were prepared enough to fight back, and some riders fell to black barbed arrows or roughly edged blades. For the most part the speed and sudden appearance of the Riders was to their advantage, as was their refusal to stay and become caught in a fight – their business was to pass through; not engage the enemy here. What fighting they did was to secure their passage.
Many orcs fell to the hooves of the horses, and more to blades. Shouts were around them or fear and surprise, but few orcs pursued them the further they rode into the darkened land. Coming out of the thickest part of the fighting, Merry chanced a glance at the group as a whole – from what he could guess, just under half of their group had been unhorsed or cut down. A few Riders were wounded but carrying on strongly, but most were unharmed. The plan had worked.
They raced across the black plain. The Dark Tower came closer. Every moment each Rider expected to feel the sudden pain of an arrow, or hear the call of a guard, but nothing came. Even the sound of battle was becoming distant now, lost in the thunder of hooves and the oppressive sense of dread the Tower exuded. Could Melkor have been so arrogant as to empty his fortress to boost his army to its maximum? It was possible.
There was only a skeleton guard get up at the causeway, who were quickly dealt with without great ceremony. Here Erkenbrand and his remaining men hid as best they could; taking the horses and keeping themselves out of sight. Their orders were to wait as long as possible, until the rescuers reappeared with the captives, or their danger became too great. Then they were to leave, quickly and by the same route if possible. Aragorn had previously stated that a retreat by Mordor’s forces would not be allowed to happen; those who turned to run would be pursued.
Pippin glanced up at the Tower before them as they ran stealthily across the causeway. It was so high the very top was lost to their sight; the once-dominating position of the Great Eye invisible in the darkness. Black twisted metal adorned most of the black stone; the parapets and balconies appearing like the jagged scales of some great beast. Tiny spots of golden torch-light covered the walls and jutting towers. They gave off no great amount of light in the dominating gloom of Mordor, their illumination lost within the shadows.
Two orc sentries, both unaware of anything amiss, were killed silently before they could raise any kind of an alarm. When no others could be seen, the small group crept out from the shadows of the causeway’s angular archway and towards the darkened entrance before them.
They were surprised to find no doors before them, but a grand archway at the top of a small staircase of rough-hewn stone. Instead, there were two statues, seated upon great thrones of stone. Each was comprised of three joined bodies, and three heads that watched: across the archway, along the battlements, and out towards the causeway. Cruel claws were laid on their knees, and sharp vulture beaks were on their faces. Faramir edged towards them closely, watching their unmoving stone eyes, sure he could see some kind of glitter within – a sign that malice was upon them here.
As soon as he came between them, he felt a jolt – something barred his way; invisible and malevolent. Dread fell upon him and he stepped away, feeling the fear vanish.
“We cannot pass them. Some evil gives them strength to barricade our way,” he whispered to his companions.
“Is there another way in to the fortress?” Eowyn replied, stepping back to survey what little of the Tower they could perceive. In the dim light it was difficult, she considered, but it was possible to climb.
“Wait,” Merry said softly. “I know these creatures of stone.”
Faramir and Eowyn looked at him in surprise as Merry looked to his younger cousin. “You know them, too. When Frodo and Sam talked about Mordor, and Frodo was captured by the orcs and taken to a tower.”
Pippin felt realisation wash over him. “The Watchers.”
Faramir was looking at both of them expectantly. While Pippin explained what Sam had told them of the Watchers at the Tower of Cirith Ungol, Merry carefully drew out the Phial of Galadriel. It glowed softly in his hand as he held it close, not wanting the light to alert anyone to their presence.
“This could reveal us,” Faramir said, looking at the object in Merry’s hand. “The light alone will spread far.”
“A risk we must take for the sake of others,” Eowyn replied, walking over to stand by Merry. Faramir nodded, casting a cautious look about him nonetheless.
“Have you ever used it before?” Pippin quietly asked Merry, who shook his head in reply. He stepped forward silently, holding the Phial aloft.
The white light glowed softly and strongly in his hand. It began to grow, brightening as Merry focused his desire of finding his friend and his cousin upon it. the Watchers seemed to shift somehow but their will remained, still barring the way. Merry felt a presence behind him, and didn’t need to know his three companions had moved in around him, focused on the light he bore. The combined effort caused the light to grow even brighter, as the Watchers began to waver.
The shadows beneath the archway fled in the bright light, revealing every crack and pocket in the dark stone. The Watchers, revealed in every gruesome detail, began to crack. The will of one they could dominate; the will of four was beyond their strength. The glitter in their eyes turned to fear before the unwavering light, and with a mighty snap, the vulture face of the head towards the causeway cracked asunder.
In that moment, the barrier between them vanished, the light of Galadriel’s Phial died, and the four companions felt oppression lifted from their shoulders. The Watchers would cause trouble no more, and they went forward freely; Merry hiding the Phial back under his armour.
Once through the archway and into the fortress proper, they agreed the best way forward was to follow what appeared to be a central hallway – it was wider than most, more elaborate in what passed for decoration in Mordor. It was, they decided, most likely to lead to a throne room or audience chamber of some kind – and that was a place to start.
Their elven cloaks helped them as they snuck silently through the bare halls of Barad-Dur. There were only occasional patrolling orcs – few in number, and evidently not the strongest of fighters. Each one was taken down without any cause for alarm or great skirmish, and soon Pippin’s sharp ears picked up the distant sounds of a voice, coming from the direction they travelled in.
Frodo held the knife loosely in his right hand. It was ornately carved of some dark metal, keen-edged and dangerously sharp. Elven runes spiralled down the blade, in the Black Speech Frodo guessed, because he couldn’t read it. Melkor had given it to him, refusing to back down until Frodo had hesitantly taken the blade from the outstretched pale hand.
“Yield, halfling. Just one drop is all I want. Is that so hard?”
Frodo didn’t look at the Dark Lord standing before him on the dais. He looked at Sam, dear Sam, who was only semi-conscious. Partially dried blood coated one temple from a heavy blow to his head. Sam was in a bad way; Frodo could see the burns from the ropes as they cut into the wrists of his best friend. His brother. Sam’s breathing was haggard and hesitant – each breath evidently causing him great pain. What beatings had he been subjected to as Frodo sat in despair in his cell? It was more than likely, Frodo knew as tears came to his eyes, that Sam was dying.
Melkor stepped from the dais and towards his bound prisoner. He placed a hand gently – unnaturally gently – against Sam’s shoulder, and looked back towards Frodo. “Yield.”
Frodo didn’t answer. Melkor sighed dramatically and pulled a thin dagger from his belt, placing the edge against Sam’s shoulder. He slowly begain to press the knife into Sam’s flesh; causing him to cry out loudly in pain. Frodo visibly flinched at the sound, as Melkor’s smile grew. “You could save him.”
Yes, I could.
He could save him. Give Melkor all he wanted, and let Sam’s nightmare end. Save his dearest friend from the torture and pain that was now being inflicted upon him, inflicted because he, Frodo, didn’t care enough to make it all stop…conflicting thoughts raced through Frodo’s mind as he watched the blood, bright red in the dim light, flow from the newly created wound.
But still Frodo did not move.
Melkor scowled. He removed the dagger from the deep and bleeding cut it had created and discarded the weapon. He replaced it with one of his armored hands, laid with the same unnerving gentleness as before. From where he was, Frodo could see fresh blood seep out between the spiked plates of metal.
The Dark Lord's hand began to tighten, putting intense pressure on the wound and letting the metal of his armour dig in more. Sam whimpered, delirious with pain, as Melkor crushed the wound further. When Frodo gave no visible reaction, Melkor gripped Sam’s injured shoulder hard in a sudden movement.
Sam cried out again, the sound bouncing around the stone walls. It cut through Frodo like a knife, chilling his very soul. Knowing his brother-in-all-but-blood was suffering, all because of him, threatened to crumble his resolve. It took all of Frodo’s strength to wrench his gaze from Sam’s injured form and close his eyes against the sight.
Melkor arched an eyebrow, walking over to him. His hand dripped stray drops of Sam’s blood onto the floor. “You’re willing to let him die? Perhaps you’re more ruthless than I considered.”
Frodo felt ill. He was ruthless, letting Sam endure so much. But it had to be this way. Sam would do the same, he was sure – saving one hobbit was not enough to doom the world. He would never forgive himself, would never let anyone else forgive him for these actions. This would be his burden; greater than the Ring or any other injury he had sustained.
That he had let his best friend die.
Be tortured to death in agony.
Because of his own stubbornness.
Tears almost choked Frodo as he opened his eyes and raised them to Melkor’s. He tried to block out Sam’s soft whimpers of pain as he stared at the monster before him, and felt the contempt for all Melkor had caused, combined with the hatred he felt for himself for the words he was about to say.
“I’ll not yield.”
With a growl of anger, Melkor’s gauntleted backhand caught him hard against the cheekbone, and Frodo fell to the ground, his head swimming. As he fell he saw – thought he saw – movement around him, but surely he must be dreaming; his companions were not here but leagues away. The thought was still with him as everything faded into darkness.
Things are getting really serious now.
Chapter 23: A Time To Fight Back
I apologise for the slight delay in getting this chapter out – but I’ll be honest, I wanted it to be right so there was a bit of reworking involved. It’s a slightly shorter chapter, but I decided not to let another part of the story interfere.
A cry of pain echoed down the stone corridor. The four rescuers hastened their pace. Whoever it was that had cried out was certainly in agony, and the sound made their hearts leap in fear. The corridor they were in was empty, and ended at an elaborate stone arch leading into a deeper chamber. Instinctively, they knew this was their destination, and moved back to the shadows as they approached the room’s opening.
Merry and Faramir were on one side, Eowyn and Pippin on the other. They carefully peered inwards, keeping mostly out of sight. Within the room they saw the throne and the dais, and standing before it was…
Frodo. Merry and Pippin exchanged a brief, smiling glance. He was alive! Their beloved cousin was alive and, it appeared, uninjured - or at least, not seriously. He was standing straight with a dagger in one hand, watching something to one side of the room. Merry and Pippin’s smiles vanished as they followed his gaze.
Sam was tied to the wall, badly hurt. He was freely bleeding from one shoulder, and he looked bruised and bloodied about the face. So Gandalf’s suspicions, as unnerving as they had been, had been correct – Sam had been captured for leverage, and was surely suffering for that role. Seeing him like was horrifying – neither watching hobbit wanted to guess at how it must be affecting Frodo.
“You could save him.”
The voice was soft, and full of malice. Merry’s eyes tore from Sam’s battered body to the shadowed figure standing beside it, and he felt deep fear stir within him. So this was Melkor. Tall, cruel, with black eyes that were bottomless. This was a fallen Valar; a once supernatural being laid low to mortality through resurrection. And eager to regain that power. Melkor’s hand tightened on Sam’s bloodied shoulder, and his victim cried out again as blood seeped from the wound.
Pippin flinched slightly at the sound. Sam’s agony was clear. Beside him, Eowyn nudged him and nodded towards the throne. Pippin looked towards it. There was a table there, with some items on it – familiar items. Frodo’s cloak and weapons were laid there, as was a tiny glint of white within the dim torch-light of the chamber. Pippin stared at it for a moment before he realised it was the Evenstar, the white jewel Queen Arwen had gifted Frodo at the end of his last ordeal.
Faramir, for his part, was looking closely at Melkor. He appeared to be unarmed – strange, Faramir thought he would have been wearing a sword at the least, especially in his mortal state. He cast his eye back to the dais and caught sight of a dark, elaborately decorated sword scabbard, leaning against one side of the throne. Ah. So Melkor was indeed not wearing weaponry, but it was within his reach.
“No.” Frodo’s voice was strong as the word echoed slightly.
As Melkor moved towards where Frodo stood, Faramir pointed surreptitiously to Pippin’s bow and quiver. The hobbit nodded, understanding the gesture.
“You’re willing to let him die?” The question was patronizing, cruel. Pippin’s lip curled in contempt for the enjoyment this monster was having tormenting two of his greatest friends.
As quietly as he could, Pippin drew an arrow from his quiver and set it to the bowstring. He stilled himself for a moment; breathing deeply and willing his quickly beating heart to calm its rapid pace. When he was confident his arm wouldn’t shake, but would hold as true as his purpose, he gently drew back the bowstring until it was almost taunt. One shot and this would be over – the monster before them was mortal, hadn’t they been told?
Within the chamber, he heard the Dark Lord’s voice again. “Perhaps you’re more ruthless than I considered.”
Pippin could not see his elder cousin’s face, but knew that Melkor’s words would hurt Frodo – especially with Sam in the position he was. The hand gripping the ornate knife tightened slightly as Pippin watched, knowing the pain and sadness must be lying heavy on Frodo’s heart at that moment. To have to make such a choice was unbearable to consider; though Frodo’s next words were not a surprise to Pippin, as heartbreaking as they must be to voice aloud.
“I’ll not yield.”
Melkor growled, the noise barely audible in the stone corridor outside the audience chamber. His hand swung up, and Pippin’s heart leapt in fear and then anger as he realised his beloved elder cousin was about to be struck. In one fluid motion he stood, drew back the bowstring to firing position, and aimed at Melkor. He was now more visible, no longer hidden by the archway, but that did not matter.
Melkor’s armoured hand caught Frodo across the face and he fell, dazed from the blow. As Melkor paused, looking down at his captive in contempt, Pippin let his arrow fly, and it sprang from his bow into the dimly lit room towards Melkor.
Just before it struck him, Melkor turned swiftly, sweeping his velvet cloak behind him. The arrow continued on its path and harmlessly struck the wall. Melkor turned his empty gaze onto the archway and Pippin, who was the easiest seen.
“Come now,” Melkor said in an unimpressed tone. “Did you really think it would be so easy?”
With a cry Faramir and Eowyn drew their swords and rushed at him. Melkor spun out of their range as they reached him, one hand expertly drawing his sword as he did so. He turned to face the two fighters slowly, drawing himself up to his full height. Eowyn was immediately reminded of her confrontation with the Witch King on the Pelennor Fields; where she had faced her terror and struck down – with Merry’s help – the greatly feared General of Mordor’s army. Now, she stood with Faramir, and they faced something akin to a demon in a man-form.
Behind them, Merry made his way quickly to Sam, and set about unbinding him from the wall. He tried to be as gentle as possible, but nearly every small movement caused Sam to groan in pain. Whatever he had been put through must have been horrible, Merry considered as he continued trying to untie the rough ropes. Sam was barely conscious as Merry guided him down to the cool stone floor, the pressure on his wrists relieved. It was as good as Merry could do for him for now; to give him some small measure of comfort.
Pippin had crossed to Frodo. His cousin was unconscious, a bloodied cut on his now bruised cheekbone. Pippin shook him gently, but there was no response from the fallen figure. There was no time to stay with him now though, as the fighting before him required his attendance.
Eowyn blocked another heavy blow, feeling the strength of it jolt up her arm. Melkor’s blows were solid and intense – each one was akin to the blow of a mighty mace wielded by a troll; or so it felt. He was also remarkably agile for the strength behind the blows, more so than a normal mortal man. The fight, even with two as experienced as Eowyn and Faramir, was not easy.
The next slash Eowyn caught on her blade was hard enough to make her stumble a step back – enough for Melkor to engage Faramir and strike him across the face. The blow was heavy enough to cause Faramir to fall, slipping off the edge of the dais. In the next moment Eowyn felt her sword twisted expertly from her hand, and the flat of Melkor’s own cruel blade slap against the side of her leg, tripping her to let her fall beside her beloved.
Merry and Pippin fared no better. Their size was unfamiliar to Melkor in a fighting situation, but it did not take long before he indifferently disarmed the both of them and forced them to their knees beside their fallen comrades. His sword out before them, he looked between the four as his face broke into a twisted smile.
“This is what they send to defeat me?” He pointed the tip of his sword at them as he named them. “A pathetic boy, an impertinent girl, and two halfling rats? This is the threat I am perceived as?” Melkor’s face grew hard and the abnormal smile vanished, replaced with cruelty and contempt. “How insulting.”
The figures before him were unmoving and unspeaking as he stalked up and down the dais before them. The sword, not far above them, gleamed keenly in the dim light, its threat ever present. Melkor would only have to move forward slightly and it could easily kill whoever he chose to target. After a moment of silence, Melkor looked down at his new captives once more.
“This doesn’t seem to have gone at all as you planned. What did you envision happening? Was I meant to beg for mercy when you first stood before me? Was I meant to quail in fear that you had infiltrated my fortress, or throw myself on my knees and repent for all my wicked crimes, lest justice be done upon me?” The sword swung until it pointed at Faramir, still where he had fallen. “Answer me.”
“We know you’re mortal.”
“And?” Melkor replied, shrugging indifferently.
“We were sent to rescue our friends. Ending you was not a priority but an opportunity.”
Melkor spread his arms patronisingly. “My, you succeeded so gracefully.”
Frodo could hear the sound of someone speaking but couldn’t make out the words. Easing his eyes open, he was first aware of the burning pain from where Melkor had struck him earlier. He was still on the ground, and content to lie where he was. His fall had strained the whip-gashes on his back, and, he feared, opened some of them again. His armour was pressing his back uncomfortably, and for now the position he was currently in provided him some measure of relief from the pain. He was still reeling from the blow Melkor had dealt him, and though the room was coming back into full focus Frodo’s head still swam. He glanced around the room as much as he could, to try and piece together what was happening.
The scene before him was like one from his nightmares. Melkor was standing triumphantly above Frodo’s overcome friends; a cruel, twisted smile on his face and a naked sword held in one hand. The blade shone slightly in the dim light. On the ground before the dais Faramir was bleeding from a blow to the head, Eowyn beside him from being thrown aside. Pippin and Merry – my cousins, how far from home we are – seemed unhurt, but they were unarmed, their weapons having been swept from their grip. Frodo’s eyes flicked towards the wall – Sam, at least, had been released from his bonds.
Melkor was talking, laughing. The dread, the weight, of the situation was beginning to fill Frodo. Faramir, Eowyn, Merry and Pippin had come for him and Sam. Fought through Mordor to get here, to this horrible place no one should choose to come to, only to be defeated.
The next words of Melkor reached him clearly. “I will enjoy leeching the life out of each and every one of you. Slowly, of course, there’s no fun in letting you die quickly. Since my mortality seems to be of such importance to you, I will let each one of you feel every inch of your own.”
They would all die here – and more than that, the last moments on this earth of the brave rescuers would be of torture and agony. Frodo’s heart twisted at the thought. The four were at Melkor’s mercy now. There was no one that could save them, help them…those brave few loyal enough to willingly come to death for the barest hope of rescuing those who had been captured. Was this the way such love and loyalty should be rewarded?
No, they should be fought for.
But what can I do? It is hopeless. We are all at his mercy. He cannot be fought.
Frodo frowned to himself slightly. That wasn’t right. Something stirred in his memory. Something Melkor had said. Since my mortality seems to be of such importance to you…
Melkor was mortal. No wonder the battle went on without him. No wonder he was in such desperate need of a Ring.
Frodo lifted his head slightly as he observed the scene once again. Melkor was paying no attention to him, or Sam. Sam wasn’t in a condition to be helping or fighting for anyone, of course. But Melkor also wasn’t looking at him.
What can I do? He asked himself again. I’m not skilled enough to defeat Melkor, even with his mortality. All I had was my refusal to yield to him. But now they will die, and I cannot save them. I’m not strong enough. I’m no hero.
Defeat settled heavily onto him for a moment, before he mentally shook it off. No, I refused to yield to Melkor’s demands. I will not yield to this situation either. I cannot implicitly save them, but I can try. In my own way; in my own strengths. It is time to fight back. Even if my life must be forfeit.
The cruel knife Melkor had forced him to accept earlier was a hand-span away on the stone floor – it had fallen as he had. As he saw it, Frodo knew what to do.
It is time I repaid them. They risked their lives for me, and for Sam. I will save them; I will save Sam; I will try whatever I can to achieve this, regardless of my own life.
Frodo stood carefully, slowly, ignoring the pain the movement bought. The knife was in his hand. So many years ago had he done this – was it at Brandy Hall, growing up? Being taught for fun, as a parlour trick, by one of the older boys. He turned the knife over and gently held the blade point between his thumb and finger, feeling the weight. Melkor’s attention was not on him.
He drew back his arm.
“For Sam,” he whispered.
And with all the strength he could muster, he threw the knife.
I hope I did that justice. If not, apologies.
Chapter 24: Ousting the Shadows
So there’s not much I can do but apologise for the delay on this chapter...
Aragorn dived to the side to avoid Sauron’s next swing, taking the opportunity to swing himself from horseback to the ground. Although Aragorn dearly loved his horse, it was easier for him to fight with all his skill while on solid ground – and it also meant Brego would no longer be a target on the battlefield. Sure enough, now relieved of his rider, Brego galloped away to the relative safety of where the combined army of the Free Peoples had been previously gathered.
The King of Gondor watched as Sauron reigned in his own horse, turning it for another attack. He charged down his now dismounted adversary, but Aragorn easily dodged the sword’s swing. With a soft noise of annoyance that was all but lost within the clamour of the surrounding battle, Sauron slowly dismounted. His horse turned away and was quickly gone from sight, blending into the ever-shifting melee.
Aragorn’s grip on his sword-hilt tightened as Sauron drew himself to his full, imposing height and slowly began to cross the distance between them. There was a fire alight in Sauron’s eyes, a cold burning malice that stared at Aragorn as the armoured figure moved closer. Sauron was evidently in no hurry to end this battle one way or another; his pace was measured and his movements deliberate.
Moving his sword up to a defensive stance, Aragorn watched as Sauron’s own blade rose from where the point had been angled at the ground. Sauron looked between it and his opponent. There was a brief pause, before Sauron sprang forward in an instant.
The two swords clashed together, ringing out. Aragorn blocked strike after strike, but the vicious onslaught was keen and precise. A few times Sauron’s blade was able to graze against him, opening shallow cuts beneath the level of the chain-mail shirt Aragorn was clad in. These Aragorn paid no heed to; but they were constant reminders of the very real and terrifying danger he faced. One of them was not going to leave this field alive.
Sauron twisted away from Aragon’s next slash, changing his direction with a clever step or two. Before he could fully comprehend what was happening, Aragorn was falling.
He landed heavily on his back, Anduril thrown from his grasp. Sauron swooped forward, crouching with one metal-clad knee heavily pressing on Aragorn’s armoured torso. His sword he placed lengthways against Aragorn’s neck; and ever so slowly began to apply pressure. The blade bit into the base of Aragorn’s throat little by little, causing immense agony to wash over him. There was an insane, delighted glint in Sauron’s eyes as he slowly killed his opponent.
“So now I have you where you should be. Dying like an animal, unable to do anything to prevent it. Oh, I will enjoy bleeding you slowly, Heir of Isildur.”
Aragorn tried in vain to push off the monster, but Sauron’s raw strength was too much for him. His chest was being crushed by the weight upon it, and he could hardly draw breath. One hand tried in vain to push the sword away, as the other groped for the Elven knife on his belt. If he could just reach it, maybe he could catch Sauron unaware and escape from this grapple.
The sword pressed harder, biting deeper into his neck. Aragorn gritted his teeth against the pain as his searching fingertips reached the hilt of the knife. As he scrabbled for more purchase on the smoothed wood while he fought against Sauron, his mind turned from the battle before him, travelling far over the fields before coming to rest in Lothlorien. Hope grew in his heart, and in one movement he drew the shining blade from its sheath and plunged it into the side of Sauron’s torso.
Sauron howled in pain and anger, and the pressure on the sword blade was suddenly gone. Aragorn rolled to the side and rose as Sauron staggered back, staring in disbelief at the blade in his side. He grasped the handle and pulled sharply at it, wrenching it out. With hatred burning in his eyes he threw it down; his glowing eyes moving from where the knife fell to the King standing before him. The brief interlude had given Aragorn a chance to get his breath back and ready himself once more; now the fight was back on even footing.
“You are a challenge, Isildur’s Heir, as I hoped you would be. It will make my victory all the sweeter when I deliver your head to the city gates.”
Without a pause the Witch King was upon Aragorn again, engaging him in the deadly dance once more. Their crossing blades shone in the sun like something from tales of long ago; two figures from myth battling for eternity to decide the fate of the world.
As Sauron turned, following his strike through, Aragorn noticed a patch on his robes shiny with blood in the afternoon light. The keen Elven knife had done its work, and bit into its enemy deeply. The sight gave him new hope – Sauron was wounded; he was not. He was the stronger now, perhaps, and could end this once and for all. The thought bought new strength to his wearying muscles, and Aragon’s strikes became heavier and more exact.
Sauron did not flinch nor quail in response to Aragorn’s renewed fervour; but something in his eyes flickered – the malicious cloud of fire slowly becoming clouded with the barest hint of fear and panic. As if he were suddenly aware of his own fragile form; and the sudden premonition of his own end was coming towards him, he began to falter.
Aragorn pressed his advantage, gaining ground with the ferocity of his blows. With a well-placed kick, he sent Sauron off balance, and bought his sword down one final time. The blow struck Sauron on the side of the neck, and the Anduril cut deeply into his chest at a downward angle. The force of the blow caused Aragorn to stop suddenly, drawn in close to Sauron, as the blade’s path came to an end. For a moment, there was no movement; just the two combatants locked together. Then Sauron’s sword fell from limp fingers as the eyes of the Witch King flicked for a moment, before dimming and becoming lifeless.
Aragorn stood over the body for a moment as it seemed to turn to dust; blowing away into nothing on the air: soon all that was left was Sauron’s blade and remnants of his armour. Aragorn was breathing heavily; lost in the moment – there was only him; he couldn’t hear or see the battle that continued around him. Sauron had been ended by Anduril; ended finally and he, Aragorn, had wielded it. A weight felt lifted form him as the shadow on his heart faded. He had faced the same shadow that had been such a threat to his bloodline, and he had cast the villain down into nothingness.
Breathing heavily, Aragorn raised his eyes from what remained of Sauron’s body, meeting the gaze of an orc nearby. Anduril shone slightly in the light of the afternoon, the blood on it seeming to glow as Aragorn stared at this orc, feeling his contempt towards Sauron fade slowly from his blood, replaced with the triumph and relief of his victory. Clad in the unadorned black that was typical of Melkor’s forces, the orc only met Aragorn’s gaze for a short time before turning and dashing fearfully into the melee; eager to escape from the intimidating warrior as quickly as possible.
The dull thud echoed around the audience chamber as Melkor’s body fell.
It fell without grace or elegance, the same as any mortal man. His open unseeing eyes stared into nothing; one pierced deeply by an elven knife. Thick scarlet blood welled up from the wound and ran down the pale skin of his face, and began to pool on the ground below him. The wicked sword he had been holding fell away from its threatening position, no longer an instrument of malice.
The four figures, who moments before had been captives underneath Melkor’s gaze, glanced at one another, before rising and turning around. There was only one person who could have thrown the knife and stuck the killing blow, but each of them knew they would not believe it if they didn’t see it.
Sure enough, Frodo was standing in the centre of the room, one arm outstretched as if the knife had only just left it. There was a bruise on his cheekbone from where Melkor had struck him, and a gash. He looked as if he were a million leagues away; both seeing and not seeing the scene before him. Merry stepped gently towards his elder cousin, noticing the paleness in Frodo’s face – more than usual – and the slight shake beginning in the hand of the outstretched arm.
“Frodo? You did it. It’s over now.”
Frodo’s arm slowly lowered, as he turned his slightly glazed eyes on Merry. “Yes, I suppose it is.” He blinked, and the numbness in his gaze faded.
Pippin was smiling widely as he approached the two of them. “You’re alive.” Saying it aloud made it more than just true.
Frodo nodded, a small smile crossing his face. “Yes, I am alive.”
Both of his cousins threw their arms around Frodo joyously, only to leap back when the object of their joy gasped sharply and loudly in pain. He dismissed their apologies and anxieties with a wave. “It’s nothing. Just a…souvenir from being the guest of Melkor.”
“What did he do to you?” asked Pippin in concern.
Frodo’s gaze dimmed. “Not now, Pip. There are more pressing concerns, and Sam – Sam!” With a gasp, Frodo made his way to his friend’s side as quickly as he could. Almost immediately he grimaced to see the bruised and beaten body of his dearest friend, and felt guilt descend upon him. He placed a gentle hand against Sam's face. “Sam?”
There was a half-murmur and Sam’s eyelids flickered. He was not conscious, but nor was he unresponsive. Frodo sighed. “I’m so sorry, Sam.”
“Frodo?” Faramir laid a gentle hand on his shoulder. “We must get out of here. I will take Sam.”
“Of course, Captain.” Frodo stood back as Faramir removed his own elven cloak and began to gently wrap Sam up within its folds. Frodo felt movement beside him and looked up onto Eowyn’s smiling face.
“You came for me,” he said simply.
“Of course,” Eowyn replied, watching her beloved’s gentle but precise movements. “You are dear to us, Frodo. As is Sam.”
Faramir gently lifted Sam’s injured form into him arms as Frodo sighed. “Thank you,” he said quietly.
As Faramir made his way to the archway, Pippin stooped to the ground and lifted something from a shadow. The dim torch-light caught the gently worked elven designs of Sam’s breastplate, and beside it, Pippin also found Sam’s elven cloak and gilded chain-mail, along side his weapons that had been carelessly cast down. He gathered the precious possessions into a bundle to carry back – there was no way such beautiful things should be left in such a dark place.
Merry had returned to the dais and the table that held Frodo’s other belongs. Carefully he collected up what was there – weapons, the Lady’s necklace and Frodo’s elven cloak – and made his way back to the group, pausing to place the cloak around his elder cousin’s shoulders.
For Frodo, the escape from the Tower was all but a haze. The pain from his injuries increased the further they went, and soon he simply kept his focus on moving forward and taking another step, willing himself to keep going. The pain in his back was intense, but he was free. After this was over, he could rest, and sleep, and heal. But for that to happen, he had to get to safety. And he knew to get there he would have to endure this pain once more willingly. But that was a small price to pay, Frodo considered, as he leaned on Merry when he needed to while they passed through stone halls. He was so close to escaping with those he cared about; and all of them might yet live to see the end of another shadow’s threat.
Soon he would feel the daylight once more, and stand injured and changed but alive once again. But now was not the time to consider such things, so he just thought of the sunlight that was awaiting him.
Aragorn sighed deeply and surveyed the battle field. For the most part, the battle was done. They had lost many, but not as many as they could have – and more yet (mostly dwarves, Aragorn suspected) were eagerly chasing down the orcs that had attempted to retreat back towards the Black Gate. This victory had not been easy by any means, but it was sound.
Beside him, Gandalf leaned on his staff. His robes were battle worn and torn in places, and there were numerous splatters of orc blood – it was clear the White Wizard had personally waged his own brutal and successful campaign against the army of Mordor. He was looking over the battle-plain towards the Black Gate, and was the first to catch sight of movement.
There was a small band of horses riding towards them. Banners of Rohan were caught high in the wind; the White Horse galloping proudly alongside its physical counterparts. As they drew closer, Aragorn caught sight of familiar figures amidst the Rohirrim, and his heart leapt in anticipation. Had they been successful? Or worse, had any of them fallen in the attempt?
He could see a small figure riding on the lead horse with a man – Erkenbrand, stalwart as ever, was guiding the way, and accompanying him was Merry. Even from this distance Aragorn could see Merry was smiling. Was it possible they bought good tidings? Could he allow himself to hope? He shared a glance with Gandalf, who leaned beside the King on his staff. The White Wizard’s eyes were guarded but sparkling.
The company of riders slowed, and Aragorn perceived those before him. Merry was indeed smiling, and appeared uninjured. Beside him, accompanying a rider Aragorn could not place, was Pippin. Like his cousin, he appeared battle-worn and weary, but unhurt. He smiled upon meeting Aragorn’s eyes, pleased to see the King standing before him.
A horse rode forward. Faramir, a dark bruise surrounding a small gash on his face, was the rider. He tenderly carried a small figure wrapped in his cloak. Aragorn’s face fell as he hurriedly stepped forward to investigate, with Gandalf beside him.
Sam was still breathing. But aside from that, Aragorn considered, there was not much good news awaiting him. Sam had been tortured, that much was clear. The welts around his wrists were deep and ragged – his gauntlets had done little to protect them. The dried blood upon him was unnervingly crimson, and some still flowed from a deep wound in his shoulder. Aragorn knew Sam was in desperate need of medical attention and the King’s healing hands. The hurts he had suffered ran deep, and needed to be cleaned, bound and allowed to heal without delay or strain.
Aragorn met Faramir’s worried eyes. “He slipped into unconsciousness as we began to ride, Sire. I do not know what they did to him.”
“I will tend to him myself,” Aragorn replied, smoothing Sam’s hair gently. “And without delay.”
“Faramir…” Gandalf stepped forward, his full of apprehension. “Did you find…?”
To this, Faramir did smile.
Another horse emerged from the group. Upon it was Eowyn, looking tired and grazed but content. And accompanying her…
Aragorn felt his heart leap in joy as the familiar bright blue eyes met his. Frodo carefully dismounted Eowyn’s horse – the grimace of pain and sharp breath were not lost on either watcher. Frodo was injured; but alive and here before them – something neither had dared to hope for. What he had undergone in the Tower could wait for a more opportune time; for now, Aragorn and Gandalf both were overtaken by the intermingled feelings of relief and happiness. Here was this brave halfling, who twice had gone into the Land of Shadow and twice had come out alive. Their dear friend, drawn into matters he had never dreamed of being a part of, and who had met them without hesitation. Who had stood before Melkor and endured him.
He stepped towards them, as Aragorn knelt to greet him. “My friend…”
Frodo smiled softly at them both, and his eyes closed as he sighed in relief, feeling the dim sunlight once more. He swayed, but Aragorn was there to catch him as he fell into a peaceful sleep; the feeling of safety, comfort, and love surrounding him.
Chapter 25: Waking Anew
After this, there's only an epilogue.
He was coming back to himself. There was warmth here, not cold stone. Softness rather than the roughness he had been forced to become accustomed to. Sweet and clean air replacing the stale atmosphere of the Tower. And light, it was lighter here. Eyes closed, he paused to take a moment and consider himself. He was lying on his side in a bed, it felt like. No longer in armour, he was clothed in something soft and comfortable – a nightshirt of some kind. There was a gentle pressure around his torso – bandages. He realised his back was no longer a source of intense pain, but had reduced to a dull ache. He must have been placed on his side to reduce the pressure upon the wounds.
He tried to open his eyes, but found they stayed firmly closed. Upon further investigation he discovered there was a length of soft cloth wound around his head, shielding his eyes. He lifted a hand to remove it when a voice stopped him.
Instinctively, Frodo turned his head towards the voice. He recognised the soft tone and intonations, and smiled. Aragorn, if he was to be any judge. What light he could sense around him dimmed, and Frodo’s sharp ears caught the slight sound of movement as Aragorn came closer to him.
“Frodo, you’ve been captive in darkness," said the King gently. "Two days ago, when you stood before me on the field of battle, the sky was partly shrouded – what light shone through was not strong. This morning, the sky is clear and the sun is bright. The shadows are no more – but your eyes will be sensitive to the light.”
Frodo nodded, and lifted a hand to his bandaged eyes once more. “When can I remove the binding, Sire?”
“When you are ready,” Aragorn’s voice replied. “I have made it dim enough for you to remove it now, should you wish.”
Gently, Frodo grasped the edge of the cloth and pulled it down his face. The pressure on his eyes was lifted, and he began to ease them open.
He was indeed lying in a soft bed, the pale blankets drawn up around him. Standing beside him was Aragorn, who smiled and knelt to his height. Frodo considered him in the gentle light. Weary from battle and duty was the King, but his eyes were filled with happiness and relief. He wore no crown or sword, and was dressed in soft vestments, the proud Tree of Gondor upon them.
The pavilion was bathed in soft light, bright daylight sneaking in only around the edge of the entrance. The light was enough to see by, and within the tent Frodo could make out various pieces of furniture: a few chairs, and some small tables covered in objects. Beside Frodo’s bed there was another small but ornately carved table, separating his bed from another that was sharing the pavilion. Within it, deeply asleep and untroubled in dreams, lay Sam. Frodo could just make out the bandage on his shoulder, and the dressing about the head-wound he bore.
“How is he?” Frodo asked quietly.
The King sighed, looking across to the other bed. “His shoulder will take some time to heal. The injury is deep, but the blade wasn’t poisoned or cursed.” Aragorn turned his gaze onto Frodo, who was staring at his friend, brows knit in concern. “He won’t have full use of his arm for a few weeks, until it returns to its normal strength.”
“I’ll help him.”
Aragorn couldn’t help but smile. “I know you will, my friend. But you must also be aware of your own healing. Your back…” he sighed. “Such wounds of brutality will take time to mend.”
“I know,” Frodo replied quietly, before glancing at Aragorn as if a sudden thought had struck him. “Sire, how do you fare? I know Sauron was leading Mordor’s army.”
Aragorn shifted his weight slightly. “I encountered him on the field. Never did I think that would eventuate. Our swords crossed, and I ended his threat.” The King’s eyes were distant, re-living the battle. He had thought much since Sauron had fallen – there was something poetic there, in that Isildur’s blood had once again faced the shadow of old, and once again had cast it down. Only this time, he had stood tall after the fight’s end, and not been torn down by weakness like he had once feared.
But enough of that. For now there were more pressing matters to attend to – injuries of body and soul required attention. His own thoughts had been considered and put aside, and at present that was enough. There would be time for deeper contemplation on the subject and its possible consequences when he stood once more in the White City, with his Queen at his side. Arwen would be only too happy to speak with him about all private thoughts he may have. Aragorn glanced at the thoughtful hobbit – after all, the King was not the only one who must have an odd internal dialogue at present.
“Frodo…” Aragorn hesitated. It was strange to see the usually eloquent King of Gondor seemingly lost for words. “If you find you need someone to speak your mind to, concerning what happened in the tower-”
“I know I can come to you, Sire,” Frodo gently interrupted, sparing Aragorn finishing his sentiment. This time it was the halfling’s turn to hesitate. “I take it you have spoken with Captain Faramir and the White Lady?”
Aragorn nodded slowly, looking at Frodo closely. He and Mithrandir had been understandably surprised when Faramir had reported on what had happened in the Tower, as it was most unlike Frodo to have taken a life, but then again it had been exceptional circumstances. Looking at the halfling now, Aragorn didn’t know if he expected to perceive some great change within his friend. The level hobbit-stare that met his gaze was one of great familiarity, but Aragorn supposed there was something different. A confidence? No, not quite – more like a serenity, a calmness of one who had gone through something great, and discovered something about themselves along the way.
So Frodo still does not see the heroism in his actions, Aragorn realized. He takes no pride in what he did, yet does not dismiss it either. He simply accepts his actions as what happened. An extraordinary hobbit.
“I will let you rest,” Aragorn said aloud. Frodo smiled, but it did not quite reach his eyes. Aragorn stood, knowing his dear friend’s mind must be restless – Frodo was usually a thoughtful and perceptive hobbit, more so than others of his land; and most other beings in Middle Earth, Aragorn would wager. His ordeal within the Tower and his actions must be the subject of much contemplation. Best to leave him to his thoughts.
Aragorn paused at the entrance of the pavilion to look back. Frodo had already closed his eyes, though whether in sleep or thought Aragorn could not tell.
Sam’s eyes flickered open slowly. For a moment he couldn’t recall why on earth he was still in bed when he could see a hint of bright sun – and then recalled where he was. Or, he supposed, where he must be: safe. His shoulder was aching bitterly, and his head throbbed from Melkor’s blow, but they were dressed in clean linen – Aragorn’s handwork, Sam guessed.
Sighing, Sam glanced around the tent. In the dim light he could make out another bed. It was empty, its soft sheets pushed back and the pale pillows supporting no one. The resident of the bed was, in fact, beside him.
Frodo was asleep, his head resting on his folded arms. He had been sitting, Sam could see, in a chair drawn right up beside his own bed, and even though Frodo’s lower half was still in the chair, his torso rested upon the coverlet. His face was smooth in the peace of sleep, and looked surprisingly healthy for what he had undergone: not like last time. Though his skin was still pale (though, Sam considered, Frodo was typically fairer skinned than most) the only obvious indications of any past experiences was a bruise upon his cheekbone from where Melkor had struck him, and the missing finger, which was resting on the bed openly. For a moment, he looked like the hobbit who had started on this whole ordeal, rather than one who had finished it.
Sam smiled at his friend’s obvious concern for his well-being. He felt, he decided after a moment of deliberation, fairly under the weather. His shoulder ached badly, as did his head, and he felt exhausted and irritatingly weakened. Sam cast his mind back. He could remember being taken by the Nazgul and bought before Melkor – even the thought made shudders run down his spine – but then most things blended together, and time became immaterial. He had been restrained, and beaten. Frodo had been there at some points, begging Melkor to stop, hadn’t he? His shoulder had been cut, Melkor had tortured him…
…and then movement. The flurry of other people in the room, and gentle hands cutting him down. There had been a fight. And…
Sam’s brow furrowed. Was he recalling everything correctly? Had he really seen…but the more he thought about it, the more he knew it was true. He had seen Frodo rise from where he had collapsed, and take the knife from beside him.
And he had killed Melkor.
Sam looked down at his dearest friend once more. Frodo Baggins, the Ringbearer who had been thrown into dealings far bigger than himself and his land, gone through turmoil greater men would have quailed from, and shown compassion and mercy even when tormented; had never killed on the Quest. Sam had seen him defend himself many a time, but could not recall a time when Sting had passed through the flesh of another living thing to end it. Even in the Shire, with Sharkey’s men and Sharkey himself, Frodo had shown mercy rather than steel.
But this time, he had killed – and killed Melkor, no less. With great calmness and simplicity, to save them all. This time, the strength that had granted him such mercy in the past had given him the fortitude to make the final move against all odds, and save them. When placed in a situation where he had the chance to defend those he loved, was it any wonder Frodo had stood before the shadow and fought for them?
No, Sam thought. Not really.
After all, wasn’t that what he had done last time? Become the Ringbearer to save his homeland and all those in it? Given up his home, his mind, and very nearly his soul, to stand against a great shadow and fight how he felt he could? Forced to face a shadow again, he didn’t have the Ring to work against him, and was free to stand as the hero, the defender, Sam (and others) had always seen in him – willing to fight for others, refusing to give in.
Frodo murmured something in his sleep and shifted slightly. The movement caused him to wake with a soft curse as he gingerly raised himself up on his arms, and glanced up to find Sam’s eyes upon him.
“Sam!” Frodo smiled warmly at his dear friend. “I’m sorry, I did not mean to wake you.”
“Oh, I was already awake.”
Frodo reached out to take one of Sam’s hands in his own. “How are you feeling?”
“Not as well as I’d like,” Sam frowned. “But I suppose that’s to be expected when we keep getting involved in grand adventures. Why is it so dim in here?”
“My fault, I’m afraid. My eyes are a bit sensitive to light, from having been in the dungeons,” Frodo explained, before he pressed Sam’s hand. “I am so happy to see you awake.” Then the smile faded and his grasp slipped. Something sad came over him and he bowed his head. “Sam, I owe you such an apology. And I know I can’t be forgiven for it.”
Sam’s brow furrowed in confusion. “What do you mean?”
Frodo shook his head in silence. Sam, sensing he was trying to say something, didn’t press the point. Frodo looked back at his friend, and Sam was surprised to see the beginnings of tears in Frodo’s blue eyes.
“Sam; I was willing to let you die. I was actually going to let you be killed instead of save you when it was within my power to. I know you can’t forgive me for that, and I don’t expect to be forgiven. I don’t deserve it. I let you suffer instead of stopping it. It broke my heart to see you bound and beaten, but I couldn’t…I’m so sorry.” Frodo bowed his head again as he began to weep. “So sorry.”
Sam was speechless. Surely Frodo didn’t really think that his choice – which had not actually been a choice at all, really – would cause Sam to hold it against him? How could he? Yes, he had been in immense pain, and yes, he had desperately wanted it to stop – but he had never expected Frodo to put one hobbit before all of Middle Earth. Sam reached out and laid a hand atop Frodo’s bowed head. Frodo flinched slightly, but did not move away. Sam sighed.
“Frodo Baggins. I’ve known you almost my whole life. There are times when you display wisdom and perception that rivals the elves. And there are times when you are affected by nightmares. Times when you laugh like nothing bad ever happened. And then there are times that I can’t believe you would think the way you do and display thick-headedness typical of a Boffin. I could never hold this against you.”
Frodo raised his head, tears still fresh upon his face. “But I was going to let you die, Sam. Just because I was stubborn.”
“No, you were going to do the right thing to save us all, even though the price you would pay was heartbreaking for you. That, my dear Frodo, is strength. You were willing to take that price upon yourself rather than shy away from it and take the easy way out.” Sam smiled. “I have never known you to take an easy way out.”
Frodo half-smiled despite his tears. “It’s the Baggins stubbornness.”
Sam reached out and gave his dear friend a tight, if somewhat awkward, embrace. “There’s nothing to forgive, Frodo.”
There was a sound of footsteps outside, and then Aragorn’s voice. “My friends, may I disturb you?”
“Of course, Sire,” Sam called. Frodo closed his eyes as the bright sun spilled inside for an instant. Aragorn quickly stepped into the pavilion and pulled the material back across the entrance, letting the comforting dimness return.
“I’m sorry, my friends. Am I interrupting?” Aragorn asked gently as he came forward.
“Not at all, Sire,” Said Sam as Frodo turned back to sit on the edge of his own bed, taking the chance to remove evidence of his tears as he did.
Aragorn set down the small box he carried and leaned over Sam, gently taking his shoulder in one hand and manipulating it with an expert eye. After a moment, and a few soft gasps of discomfort from Sam, the King of Gondor nodded. “The stitches are holding, and the bleeding has stopped. You won’t be able to use the arm for some time, but it should heal without complication.” He turned his attention to Sam’s head-wound next. “But this dressing needs to be changed.”
Frodo watched as Aragorn deftly removed the current linen and cast it aside. Underneath, gash was still bloody and deep with ragged edges, and surrounded by deep purple bruising, and Frodo felt his heart twist in guilt. Aragorn produced a poultice from the box he had with him and gently spread some on the wound, before binding Sam’s head with a length of clean white linen. “You will have a scar, I think, Master Samwise.”
A brief thought about what Rosie might think about Sam having a scar faded from Frodo’s mind as Aragorn approached him purposefully, and with some apprehension Frodo carefully removed his nightshirt and lay on his stomach upon the bed. A few moments later he felt Aragorn carefully begin to remove the bandages, and once that was done, felt another layer of linen peeled from his back. Gritting his teeth against the pain of it, Frodo heard Sam gasp as his back was revealed.
Frodo’s back was a pattern of bloodied and deep cuts. Scars from the Tower of Cirith Ungol were all but lost amongst the new wounds, their silvered skin disappearing next to the angry red that surrounded the cuts. Deep layers of bruising covered every inch of skin that hadn’t been ripped open. Some injuries were evidently newer than others, and others had crossed over one another so many times Sam shuddered to think what the increased pain would have been like. Many gashes were still open and bleeding slightly, the blood bright against the pale skin of the one who had endured it.
Aragorn gently covered Frodo’s whole back with the poultice he carried. The process took many minutes and great care, and when he was finally finished Aragorn placed a new square of linen across the entire area, before helping Frodo to stand and replacing the bandage around him. Frodo slipped his nightshirt back on, and the bandage was lost from view. Under Aragorn’s authoritative gaze he slipped back into the bed, once more resting on his side as he waited for the pain to fade.
“I cannot begin to consider what long-term effects these ordeals may have on you, Frodo,” Said Aragorn, who was watching him closely. “You have suffered greatly in mind and body during both the War of the Ring and this latest trial – and that is sure to effect you. How, I cannot guess.”
“I am sure I will know soon enough, Sire,” Frodo replied, not looking at Sam.
Aragorn nodded, still troubled. “You must rest, my brave friends. Merry and Pippin will be glad to hear you are awake, and I will be sure to send them to you.” He bowed to them. “It is ever my pleasure to serve you, My Lords.”
And with that, he was gone, leaving two slightly embarrassed hobbits behind him.
The next morning, Frodo rose and carefully dressed early. It was still partly dark outside, the grey light of pre-dawn not having yet given way to the rise of the sun. He passed the sleeping Sam and stole quietly out of the pavilion, moving through the still slumbering camp with no more sound than a light rustle of the grass.
It wasn’t long before he came upon a small hillock, still within sight of the camp. It was exactly what he had been looking for, and in such a place as Ithilien it had not taken long to find. Being careful of his injuries, Frodo settled himself upon a boulder and looked to the east. This gave him a clear view of the Mountains of Shadow, and he raised his gaze to the sky above them, and the tell-tale patch of lightening cloud.
Frodo sat unmoving in the cool dawn air as he waited, comfortable in the silence and the stillness of Ithilien. It did not take long for the first rays of golden light to pass over the mountains, and reach the small figure that awaited it. Frodo closed his eyes in quiet joy as the light washed over him, bringing the new day. Mere days ago he had been in the Tower, in the dim shadows and thought this had been lost to him.
For long moments he did nothing more than just sit in the sunlight, feeling the warmth of it on his skin and the relaxation it bought. And so it was that Sam, Merry and Pippin found him; sitting with his eyes closed, completely still, taking comfort in the light of the sun.
“You’re awake early, cousin,” said Merry, leaning on the boulder next to Frodo.
“As are all of you,” Frodo replied without opening his eyes. “I merely came to greet the dawn.”
“So we see,” Pippin muttered, as Frodo opened his eyes and smiled at the three of them.
“Sam, you shouldn’t be exerting yourself,” said Frodo, as his friend gingerly sat down beside him. Sam’s arm was in a sling, and his head was still bandaged.
Sam fixed him with a level stare. “Neither should you. I’ve seen your back.”
Frodo half-shrugged. That was very true; and his back did ache something terrible after his walk to the hillock. He supposed Aragorn would have rebuked him for doing it, and he might regret it later, but for now he was happy he had come to see the sun rise, and feel its warmth upon him. The companionable silence stretched and Frodo breathed deeply, tasting the sweet air of Ithilien.
“Frodo, what happened in the Tower?” Merry asked gently.
Frodo’s face grew thoughtful, but he didn’t shy away from the question. “I suppose it doesn’t feel so bad to speak of, here in the bright sun.” He sighed quietly, as if to himself. “What I underwent is no uplifting subject: I was tortured and tormented. In some ways, I do not wish to discuss it, as I do not want any of you to treat me differently for my imprisonment or my actions. I know I was seen differently after the War; Aragorn made the mistake of terming it ‘fragile’ from my ordeal during it. I scolded him for it – I rebuked the King of Gondor like he was rude hobbit-lad!” Frodo laughed aloud. When he spoke again, the smile was still on his lips, warming his eyes. “As changed as some may perceive me, I am still myself.”
“Was it like bearing the Ring?” Pippin asked.
Frodo considered this for a moment. His three closest friends were among the few Frodo had spoken to about bearing the accursed object, and as such understood what had happened as much as Frodo had been able to explain it. Sam, of course, had been in a position to understand far more easily having witnessed it.
“In some ways. This pain was far more physical, but the mental manipulation was not lacking. However, this time, I kept my mind. In the dungeons I came to terms with my actions and failings during the War of the Ring. In no way have I accepted what I did, but somehow I feel my actions as of late have gone some way to rectifying my past failings. I looked into the shadows again, and this time…I resisted,” he said softly, his eyes distant. “I did not fall.”
Frodo became silent. For a while, there was only the sound of birdsong in the air and the distant sounds of the encampment. Frodo turned his face back to the sun, closing his eyes as he began to speak softly, appreciating that his closest friends were simply letting him speak rather than pushing for information. “In that cell, in the darkness, I thought my life was all I had left, all that could be taken from me. When I realized that it wasn’t, and that though I could die they could never take from me my love for you all, and my honour and integrity – I found within myself a strength I did not know existed. Strength I had believed myself incapable of having; to defend what I fought for, and willingly die defending it. I would not condemn Middle Earth and all in it to darkness. I had nothing left to lose, nothing left to fear, and everything to fight for.” Frodo paused, and sighed deeply as he opened his eyes. He looked up over the mountains, staring at the bright sky but not seeing it, lost within his thoughts. “I don’t know how it happened, but my fear left me and I refused to yield.”
The three listeners knew their dear friend well enough to know that this was evidently something he had been thinking about a lot – and keeping to himself. Frodo had always been very thoughtful, but it also meant that he kept many things hidden away. Now given the chance to voice his thoughts aloud, it was helping him to sort everything out as much as it was explaining to them what had happened.
“I didn’t know you could throw that well,” Pippin said quietly to his elder cousin, who nodded once.
“I realized I had the chance to do something…” Frodo trailed off, looking for the right word.
“Heroic?” Merry provided.
Frodo grimaced at the grandiose term. “Not as such. Something right. Even though what I have done will be classified by many as heroic, I don’t feel like a hero. Last time that was because of failing on my part, failing that has haunted me since. But now…it is because I did what I could for those I loved. I did what anyone would have done. Not for glory, or even for Middle Earth. I did it because I refused to stand idle while you were all in such danger. Should I be praised for that? For doing what was right? I do not think so.”
“You realize how many you saved?” Sam asked gently.
Frodo half-shrugged, once again careful of his wounds. “I didn’t act for them. I acted for you. It may not be a big difference to some, but it is to me: there was no Middle Earth, no Shire, in that chamber. There was only us. I didn’t think about consequences, or even who Melkor was, not really. To not do anything was to give in to the situation. I simply refused to do that.”
Frodo could not see it, but his three friends shared an incredulous glance. The very person – the very hobbit – who had killed one of the greatest threats to Middle Earth, could not see the greatness in his own actions. Frodo never had recognised his own heroic nature; never seen the greatness or wisdom others perceived in him. Even though now he admitted to finding strength within the darkness, and fighting back in a display of willpower that would have been unheard of for most, he still viewed it with sensible and modest hobbit-nature. Frodo Baggins was one-of-a-kind, even if he couldn’t see it.
After a moment Frodo sighed, as if coming to a decision. “What happened has happened; and it cannot be changed now. I will speak of this further to you all, as my most trusted friends and brothers; but I feel that is enough for now. I came to greet the sun and she has bathed me in light – I thought never to see her again.” Frodo stood with careful movements. “We should return. Aragorn may forget his kingly nature if he realises two of his patients have escaped.”
Laughing, the four hobbits turned their backs on Mordor, and walked back towards the camp.
Chapter 26: Epilogue: The First Step Towards Healing
19/11/2017: It's taken a few days, but I've managed to get all of this story up here where it belongs. To any new readers who found this story through AO3, welcome, and thank you for reading. It's been nice to put it up again somewhere.
Warm sunlight spilled in the open window, easily illuminating the room built into the side of the hill. The light breeze ruffled parchment pages and the edges of feather quills as it wound its way through the room, around the edge of the desk and past the figure pouring over a leather-bound book.
Frodo had been deeply immersed in his work for the past few hours, pausing only when he needed to put his thoughts in order before committing them to paper. Within the last half of the hour, his pausing had become more frequent as the words he wrote became harder to organise. A dark night’s work had allowed him to write all he was willing to on the subject of his own ordeal, but now his hand hesitated over the final scene that had unfolded within the audience chamber.
Frodo frowned to himself, quill tip motionless above the page. For a moment, perhaps I had been a hero worthy of remembrance – a figure from some mythical tale, killing a supernatural being? Alas, no – Frodo of the Nine Fingers – subconsciously he traced the fingers of his left hand over the stump on his right – is a story hero, immortalised in song, a character. He is not me; the songs did not tell of the wounds that never healed and the plague of nightmares. No, the character who will be remembered will not be the hobbit who endured – but is that not how it has always been? Those remembered are shadows of who they truly were.
He sighed, placing the quill gently back beside the book. This was a difficult story to write; and this part especially. How could he so boldly state what he had done without seeming to take unearned glory on himself? Perhaps it was time for a break.
Gently he stood, and stole quietly out of Bag End. The familiar path to the top of The Hill was well worn in the grass, and it did not take long before he was standing in the soft sunlight and sweet-smelling air, a grand view of the Shire before him. Here in the sun, it was occasionally almost possible to believe everything had been a dream. But alas, it had not been so, and now more than ever was Frodo Baggins, the former Ringbearer, discovering how real his experiences had been.
The differences felt small, to Frodo’s mind. Whether the changes, such as they were, were for good or ill it was perhaps too early to tell: he didn’t feel like a different hobbit or like a stranger in his own body. Frodo knew he was still very much himself, but as time wore on he began to realise how much his experiences had altered his view of the world. He had grown through his ordeals; but he was so weary now. Finding the simple joys in the simple life was difficult, as it never had been before.
The nightmares had returned. Although they no longer woke him with a sudden jolt like they once had, they were still so very draining. Waking quietly from the tormenting visions, Frodo would find himself silently staring into the darkness for hours, unable to return to sleep, teased by visions half-seen in the shadows of the night.
The strength of will that had come to him in the Tower had waned. Frodo knew he still possessed it – it wasn’t exactly something that could be lost, so to speak – but as there was no longer an immediate need for it, he was left exhausted. It came to him in a time of need – now that time was passed, and it too was no longer so close to the surface.
If he was honest with himself, Frodo could feel himself fading. He had risen above the shadows, yes, but the effort had now left him sapped of strength – and now it was becoming apparent. The realisation came to Frodo one moonlight night as he stared out one of Bag End’s windows, nightmares of Melkor fading from the forefront of his mind. To stay in the Shire, as much as his heart was here, would only drain him further.
The thought of leaving had been consuming his idle thoughts. It had been offered to him – Queen Arwen had offered him the chance to seek healing, in a private conversation before they has left Gondor – but it was such a difficult decision to make. It would mean leaving everyone, and everything, behind to travel into the unknown, without the certainty that whatever healing he found would help him.
But the Shire was safe, he kept reminding himself. Twice now it had been saved, and this time more hobbits seemed to be taking interest in what went on outside their borders. The Nazgul’s attack has not gone unnoticed – and as a result the Shire’s Bounders wanted further training with a greater array of weapons, to better protect their own country. Ever so gently, the Shire was taking its first step in becoming a more active part of the larger world.
And it would be left in such capable hands. Three heroes, praised in distant lands, would be there to guide it. Frodo could ask nothing better for the land he loved, or for those he left behind.
Frodo’s hands were clasped behind his back. Sam, standing at the top of the path, watched as the hobbit before him released his grip, and swung his arms in front of him, reaching out as far as he could, his palms facing the idyllic view. After a few moments he relaxed, his arms falling back to his sides. The movements had all been carefully executed with precise motions, as if nothing out of the ordinary.
Sam stepped towards him, careful not to startle his friend. “Frodo?”
“There’s a tightness in my back now, Sam,” Frodo replied without turning around, as Sam came to stand next to him. “Aragorn assures me that it will fade in time, as the healed skin stretches, but it does mean my back feels oddly stiff, and some of my movements are restricted.” He sighed, his eyes fixed on some distant point. “Gentle stretches were advised to assist in my recovery.”
Assist in my recovery. The words tasted stage in his mouth. It had been one not so remarkable evening that Frodo, as he changed into his nightshirt, had caught sight of his healing back in the looking glass of his bedroom. The red and purple scaring that cross-hatched his skin was so brutal, so out of place, within the Shire. Here it was peaceful, life was simple and good food and good company were the things that mattered – ugly scars, the evidence of torture and agony that they were, did not belong here.
Out of place: just like him. Frodo’s ordeals, his nightmares, his injuries – these were not things associated with the Shire. His loss of love for the simple life made him restless and with each day the passed he felt like he was growing apart from the land and lifestyle he had once relished. “I am not who I once was,” he said quietly to Sam, as they stood together above Bag End in the afternoon sunlight. “I am still myself, of that I have no doubt, but I am certainly not the same hobbit who left bearing a simple golden ring.”
Sam knew as much, but sensed there was more to come. He remained silent, letting Frodo gather his thoughts as they both gazed out at the expanse of green hills before them. Somewhere, a bird chittered in song, and upon hearing the joyous noise, Frodo sighed quietly to himself.
“I need to rest, Sam. My actions have earned me pain and enlightenment, they have earned me nightmares and strength I did not know I had. They have been good and bad; but after all is said and done, I am left wearied and in need of rest and healing.” He paused, unsure of himself. “I cannot rest here. This is not my life, I do not belong here.”
Sam was taken aback. “Of course you do,” he replied warmly. “Your place is here.”
Frodo shook his head sadly. “No longer. I am tainted with evil and torment; they have no place in the Shire. You do not need me here.”
Sam began to rebuke his dear friend gently, but something in Frodo’s voice, a quiet edge, made him rethink his words. It was evident Frodo had been thinking of this for some time, and attempting to change his mind would not be wise at this point. Instead, Sam sighed, and glanced at the hobbit beside him. “What about Rivendell? You could go there, like Bilbo did.”
Frodo considered this for a moment. “I could,” he answered softly. “But I think my path lies far beyond that – to the west.” He turned to face Sam, his blue eyes grave – once they had been so bright and full of life and now they were wearied. “The elves have offered me a chance to find rest. It was made long ago; and I have thought long about it. And I do not make this choice lightly, my friend. But I no longer belong here: the thought does not concern me, or cause me anguish. It simply is a truth I have come to accept.”
Frodo smiled at Sam, sadly but warmly. In truth, the thought of leaving had at first scared him and broken his heart – but the longer he considered it, and what it would mean, the more the idea had settled with him, until now it was simply the course of action he was determined to take.
Sam cast his eyes down as the weight of Frodo’s words fell upon him. “I can tell there’s nothing I can say to change your mind. You’re leaving, and that’s that?”
Frodo nodded slowly. “I think it’s best.”
“But you can’t,” Sam replied softly.
“I must. This is no longer my home as it once was. Do not let your heart grow heavy, my dear Sam. We set out to save the Shire, the first time. Now we have done so twice.”
Frodo gave him a withering glance. “We have. We all played out roles. Regardless, the Shire has been saved but I am no longer a part of it. Do not look at me in that way, Sam. The Shire was not saved for me, but for you and Rosie, and Merry and Pippin and whomever they give their hearts to. It is not for me, and hasn’t been since we returned that last time. And that, my dear Sam, is simply the way it is.”
He smiled sadly, a sad but genuine smile. His face was thoughtful – peaceful, Sam realised. Frodo really believed that this path was the best for him – what more could Sam do but support him upon it, as he always had?
“And that’s all right, Sam. It’s all right.”
The Grey Havens shone with an ethereal light in the late afternoon sun. Golden light fell among carven archways and paths, and lit the elven port with a rich warmth. Here Frodo would leave them, but there was nothing harsh or painful about this setting – at was almost like being in a dream.
Awaiting them at the dock was a most regal group – Elrond, clad in elegant fabrics as always; Galadriel in a pale glittering gown; and Gandalf, leaning upon his staff, the now familiar white cloak and robe about his shoulders. The three bearers of the Elven Rings wore them openly, proudly, and the gems set upon the bands glittered like stars of white, blue and red atop their hands.
Gandalf considered the small group of hobbits that approached him. These five had been through some extraordinary things – things their own countrymen would never believe, and things that not even the most battle-hardened warrior of old could have been prepared for. Bilbo, the old hobbit who found a pretty golden ring without ever knowing how it would alter his life; who always loved tea by the fire and a pipe of pipe weed.
And how his actions had pulled in the four who were now renowned in distant lands! Four small hobbits who had done what armies could not, turned the tables within battles and been so instrumental in a war they did not start and did not want any part of. And above it all, the one who had been cut through to his soul twice.
Gandalf looked closely at Frodo as he came forward with the others. The light that had once been so obvious was still there, in its own way. The light shone through, but the glass was opaque with wear and weariness; dulled with injury, Gandalf realised. Frodo will shine again, he was sure, as a star does in the night sky, but only when the hurt was removed from him. Middle Earth would not see him shine again, but he would see himself shine before he passed further onward.
Leaving broke Frodo’s heart – to stand before his best friends and bid them farewell, to look in their weeping eyes and know he was causing them grief, almost made him change his mind. Bidding Sam farewell was the worst of it – knowing how much it was hurting Sam and would continue to do so, even as he passed on the Red Book and everything he owned to this one hobbit. Knowing that these last actions would help Sam in the long run, but for now would do nothing to ease the grief of his leaving.
Yet as the ship left Middle Earth behind, Frodo turned to the sun and smiled. The sea air blew gently, smoothing his hair from his face. This was the right thing to do, he was sure of it now. Standing here upon the water in the sun, yes, this was where he was meant to be. The sea was calling him West, to healing.
And the ship went out into the High Sea and passed on into the West, until at last on a night of rain Frodo smelled a sweet fragrance on the air and heard the sound of singing that came over the water. And it seemed to him that as in his dream in the house of Bombadil, the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise.
(Final paragraph is straight from The Return of the King (book II, chapter IX The Grey Havens). Much love and respect to JRR Tolkien – without his amazing work and world, I wouldn’t be who I am today.)
19/11/2017: And thus, my story comes to an end.