Steward and the King, The
20. Mount Doom
Once the forces were ordered a small door opened on the gate and a small party rode out carrying a white flag of truce. Aragorn and Eomer rode to meet the parley half way, and Gandalf was their herald. Four other men rode behind as guards. Boromir stayed on the right hill with the men of Minas Tirith, and Imrahil stayed on the left, with the men of south Gondor and Rohan.
The party was met by the Mouth of Sauron and his guards. All dismounted, and the Mouth showed his tokens as he gave Sauron's terms of surrender.
The first token he showed was Faramir's horn: it was split nearly in two, and marked with blood. The second token was Gimli's ax, notched but whole, and that was the last token. As the Mouth said these were the proof that their spies were held prisoner Aragorn was sore pressed to hold grief on his face: Frodo and Sam had entered unseen.
Gandalf showed his power and took the horn and axe as the Mouth cowered, refusing Sauron's false promises. Aragorn took Faramir's horn from Gandalf as he quickly mounted, and Eomer hung Gimli's ax on his saddle.
They rode back to their battle places as the Mouth returned to the gate. Eomer went to the left hill and Aragorn and Gandalf to the right.
He did not fail me, I will not fail him, Aragorn vowed. There was a regret behind, he pushed it back down, that Boromir was here. Whatever happened next, Boromir could not have been dissuaded to come, and Faramir's horn was reason enough -- he prayed Boromir's life would be spared. It is over, Sauron will fall. Frodo would in no wise fail him -- as sure as he had been of Faramir, Aragorn was likewise assured of Frodo.
"Are you ready to die, brother?" Aragorn called to Boromir, his voice an exultation. He rode his horse up to meet him, then gave him Faramir's horn. "The Enemy has killed our two spies," he said to him. "Their deaths have won our thieves entrance unnoticed. Now it is our turn to hold Sauron's eyes outward."
Boromir pulled off the thong that held back his hair. He tied the split securely together, then tied the horn so it hung above his own. Aragorn rode on to his place with the Dunedain.
It had been days of hard crawling across the parched plain of stone and sharp caked mud to reach the mountain, ever wary of the guard, but the plain was emptied. Frodo and Sam stumbled up the path that circled the mountain hardly able to think, and Sam could not remember entering the tunnel. In the red light of the Cracks of Doom slowly he became aware again.
Frodo took the chain off his neck and clutched the ring in his hand, staring at the flames. He could not feel the heat, he could not feel anything. There seemed to be a wall of ... something between the chasm and his intention. Precious, Gollum called it. His Precious. Not his. Mine.
The flames leapt up, welcoming the presence of that which ruled them. The ring had brought itself home; it had its own dim awareness, and a presence much closer and dearer than words out of the past, out of a life Frodo could no longer remember.
I said I would unmake it. But it is precious...
"Master?" Sam asked, standing behind, weary and puzzled.
"I do not choose now to do what I came to do," Frodo answered. Gandalf would not want him to do this. Gandalf was lost; he did not remember Gandalf's name. As Elrond had pleaded with Isildur, he would plead now. Elrond was far away.
Frodo spoke in a voice that was not his own. "I will not do this deed. The Ring is mine!" My Precious.
Frodo vanished from Sam's sight. "Master? Frodo!" Sam remembered Gandalf falling into the Abyss, and the orc laughter that was the deaths of Faramir and Gimli. No! Don't do this! It cannot be all for nothing! "Frodo!" Elbereth, help me! he called. I don't know what to do. He saw Rosie burning in her home, the Gaffer with an orc-arrow in his throat, Eowyn cut down in Edoras, and Bilbo and Arwen trapped in Rivendell. The despair faded and his heart hardened. If Frodo will not destroy the ring, then I will have to do it, he shuddered at the thought, even if that means killing him. No one will know. We are going to die anyway. When it was done, Elrond would say "Frodo died destroying the ring," and he would be well remembered and that was as Sam would have it. He let down his cape and his pack, and pulled his sword, still sheathed, from his belt.
The gates opened; there were slow movements. Signals seemed to be garbled. With many shrieks, the Nazgul were up into the air, flying toward Mt. Doom. No, it's a lie! Aragorn called after them, seeing the direction that they flew. I have it. I have the Ring!
Gandalf saw also. His face was unreadable. He turned at the call of the eagles, and lifted his staff. Gwaihir landed and Gandalf jumped onto the great eagle's back with no word. Aragorn stared after and his blood ran cold as the three flying forms disappeared over the massive, open gate.
Sam found Frodo by his voice, and pulled him away from the ledge. He held Frodo down and tried to talk to him, but rational talk about throwing the ring away just sent him into a fury. Sam lost his advantage and Frodo threw him off. Sam swung hard with his sword and it was stopped, as he knew it would be, by the mithril coat. The blow split the sheath, and its pieces fell to the floor. Frodo was stunned for a moment and Sam got him pinned against the wall a dozen feet from the tunnel's edge, holding him down with his left arm across his chest, and he kept him from struggling with the feel of the naked blade next to his throat. The glow from the mountain fire painted the blade blood red.
"Take if off, my preciouss, he sseess uss," Sam said in earnest Gollum talk. "Take it off, the mountain, it sshakes; he'ss coming--he knowss we're here. Protect the presciouss. Hide it. He wantss it back, he wantss to eat the whole world, eat uss. It is powerful, yess; but not yet, we musst be sstrong..." The words had a calming effect on Frodo, and Sam let his sword fall to the ground, and he held Frodo by both arms. "Protect the preciousss, protect..."
The fires of the mountain cast a flickering red light onto the bare wall he talked to. The mountain shook. Suddenly, Frodo was visible, the ring off, but still in his hand. Sam snatched the ring out of the loose fingers, turned and threw the ring with infinite hate into the fires.
Frodo's wounded scream was as terrible as the mountain's. He threw Sam down onto the floor, unsheathing Sting. Sam didn't resist, but the blow went wide. "Sam?" Frodo asked, the ring's madness fading. "Sam!" He put Sting back into its sheath and tried to lift Sam up, but only succeeded in pulling himself down. He saw Sam's hand was burned and bloody. The ring, not wanting to die, had burned bright, trying to make Sam drop it on the floor rather than throw it in the fire. Sauron was dead, and he had killed Sam. "Sam!"
"Master?" he answered weakly.
Frodo struggled and got his shoulders up and then Sam was sitting. "I'm sorry! What have I done to you?"
"Hurts," Sam said, pressing his hand against his chest.
Frodo tore off the bottom of his tattered sleeve to make a crude bandage. "I couldn't throw it in. I failed. How did you take it from me?"
"I asked the Lady. She helped."
"I tried to kill you."
"No. Sauron had you. He didn't want to be destroyed. The Lady could protect me, even if she couldn't reach you. I only had it a moment. I thought about Rosie and Arwen, and he never touched my mind. But you had to take it off. You did that."
It's gone. It was much like Sam, Frodo thought, trying to push away the emptiness. Sam would not let him say he was wrong even when he was. That was why Elrond sent him: no one could be strong enough to carry it as long as he had and not be possessed by it. But Sam was true and Sam was innocent and Sam was not tempted by the power it offered. Sam got it right, Frodo thought, filled with shame and gratitude, and he wept.
The floor shook, harder this time. "I think the mountain's dying," Frodo said. "We'd better get out of here." With an effort he stood, but Sam stayed where he was. "Sam, please, I can't lift you."
"Yes, master," he said as he stood.
They stumbled out of the tunnel and down the path. Frodo's pack was still on his back; Sam's pack, sword and cape were forgotten. There was nowhere to run. All the plateau was boiling and tearing itself apart. "Lady, could you help me now?" Frodo asked.
"There," Sam pointed. Frodo could dimly see a dark shape through the clouds of smoke, a rock more solid than the rest. He took them there, but it was all the strength he had. He huddled over Sam and waited for the end.
There Gwaihir found them.
Bilbo was sitting in the cool spring sunlight, feet swinging because the bench was too tall for him, keeping Arwen company as she tended to the garden. His table in the library -- it and the chair with legs shortened to a hobbit's height -- was scattered with papers. A proper mess he should be tending to, but he was not in the mood.
His red book, all its blank pages at the back, was as complete as it could be. Until ... Until. He had taken notes and notes talking to Frodo and the others about their travel from the Shire to here, to Rivendell. He had his own memories of the Council, which had been a long and difficult chapter to write. He had written of the preparations, Elrond's final words to the Company, and his own: 'And don't be too long! Farewell!'
There had been brief but worrying news from Lothlorien. They had left from there without Gandalf, and a small group of the Dunadain who had been trained for war went south to find it, accompanied by Elrond's sons ... but that was only a single sheet of writing and would have to wait. After a few days dithering he had gone back to translating elvish poetry. He went from book to book finding fear as much as comfort in the beautiful words. So he put down his pen early today and had walked to the garden, found Arwen, gave her a hug as she knelt at her work, then watched. The day was clear and cool, seeming more like early spring than late winter. There was little that could or needed to be done, but perhaps Arwen also needed distraction.
The breeze stilled. The golden sunlight somehow whitened. Time both stopped and stretched. Suddenly he was cold, as if it were the deepest night of deepest winter, and he too long without a fire. He must have gasped or made some other sound, for Arwen was there, taking his arms, speaking words he couldn't understand, and laying him flat on the bench.
Arwen called out for help, and lifted her head to see Elrond striding toward her. His pace was quick but his step unsteady. He knelt, taking Bilbo's hand with one of his. He placed his other hand on the hobbit's forehead, and frowned at what he found. "It is done," he said.
"Father?" she asked. She now could see the ring he wore. It was gold with a blue stone.
"The One Ring is unmade. I cannot say the cost."
On the battlefield, the silence was eerie. Aragorn was unsure of the meaning. He looked to the defense, sending the message, "Hold, don't charge."
Then there was a distant explosion, and distant screams coming closer. In the midst of it, Aragorn turned to see Elrohir and Elladan looking back at him. It was a wordless pause, relief and pain. And in that moment he felt himself cut off, isolated, as if he watched from a high place. It was a Seeing, as if on Ammon Hen, yet clear and broad, and everywhere it was thus: Sauron's armies had lost the Will that drove them, and they cried in terror and confusion. It was as if he was a ghost, unmoved and untouched. Why? Was it not that he would die here? But he lived. Arwen! he called to her. It will be! Ah, that we will be reunited on this earth, and not beyond. And joy and sorrow it was in him, as he beheld the battlefield. Sauron was broken. He could hear the call of the land of Mordor dying: rocks were cracking and boiling and the mindless screams of the leaderless army, fleeing the shaking ground, and he ordered the charge, for the western army was still sore out-numbered. It had been nine that were sent in secret from Rivendell, he grieved. Dead, all dead.
In the midst of the slaughter, Boromir's horn sounded once again. Aragorn turned toward the sound then looked where Boromir pointed and heard his voice faint but clear in the sudden pause. "Thorongil! Thorongil! The Eagles!"
Out of the dust and steam clouds they flew. And all the armies of the West cheered but Aragorn wept as he took Frodo's battered form from out of the eagle's claws.
Aragorn tended immediately to Frodo, but Gandalf went to Sam. He found the bloody hand. "Aragorn!"
"What happened?" Aragorn asked as he cleaned the wound, seeing that Gandalf knew something.
Gandalf shook his head. "Will they live?"
"By the Lady's grace."
"Frodo claimed it," he looked back at Sam. "In the end, Frodo could not resist the temptation."
"Yet it was done."
"And not by force. No force could that Force overturn."
"Sam, somehow. Clever Sam."
The casualties for Aragorn's forces were less than they at first feared, and the dead were few enough that they could be taken to Ithilien for burial. The few Southrons and Easterlings that surrendered were set to dragging and dumping enemy dead, stripped of weapons, into the noxious acid pits before the gate.
In this chaos of after battle searching Mablung found a group of Ithilien Rangers talking together in whispers.
"Boromir has Faramir's horn! The King gave it to him."
"The Parley said he was taken prisoner. He died when the Tower fell."
"Don't listen to lies. The Captain didn't surrender. It was false promises to torment us, cat and mouse."
"No, Mablung! The wizard rescued him! Two went in, the Captain and the Dwarf! The wizard went in and back with two eagles. He blasted the tower's top and rescued them from the dungeons."
"There were more gone in than we saw at Henneth Annun. Don't you listen? It was halflings the eagles carried. I saw as they flew down."
"You saw the Dwarf."
"He's dead. Why would the Heir carry both horns if the Captain still lived?"
"No. I won't believe it. He promised!"
"If Faramir returns, it's to the Silent Street, Rath Dinen."
"No -- "
"Hush. You're only hurting yourself."
=== end chapter===
Author's notes: Bilbo's quote from the "Red Book" is taken from FotR, "The Ring Goes South"; The words Frodo says as he claims the ring are taken from RotK, "Mt. Doom."
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.