1. Bronwe athan Harthad
The city stifled him, its stone foundations and crowded streets nigh choked him with their chill and stench. He could not bring himself to pass an afternoon on the walls of the seventh tier where their house stood, even at the insistent invitations from Gandalf or his fellow hobbits. The view from the courtyard was virtually panoramic, offering an almost unobstructed vista of rolling, and oft times battle-scarred landscape in every direction. He supposed that had he arrived here at some other point in his life – indeed had the past weary months of his life not happened at all – he would have felt differently; he would have been fascinated by the scenery splayed vast and unending before his wondering eyes. But as it was, he could not seem to keep his gaze from drifting East to the remnants of the smoldering mountain where he had nearly…
He pushed the thought away, walking determinedly away from the city and his friends. It wasn’t that he didn’t wish to be in their company necessarily…only that he no longer knew how. More and more he found himself at a loss as to how he should behave around those he loved most. And trying to guess at what they expected of him was more taxing than he could endure. He dearly wanted to show them what they needed to see; wanted to be that which they had lost and thought found again. If only he could remember.
They had changed so much – all of them. Merry, who was always too clever for his own good. The designer of the conspiracy now held a deeper knowledge of the world than his young eyes ever should have seen. Eyes that drifted again and again unwilling to the empty space between his cousin’s fingers.
Pippin, his youthful sparkle still evident, but tempered now and dulled by pain and a hardship Frodo had been unable to shield him from. Yet another betrayal he could never atone for.
Sam. Sam who had been his heart, his memory, his last touchstone for endless leagues. Even Sam had been changed; his youth and innocence put aside and offered as willing sacrifice for the sake of the master he loved.
All of them had been touched by the shadow, but only Frodo remained in its cold grasp. Only Frodo was unable to wrench himself free from the icy grip that cleaved to his heart and drew a gaping chasm between himself and his friends. He tried with every breath to reassure them, to make believe that he was still someone worthy of the love so manifest behind the urgent panic of their glances. He watched their faces, scanning frantically for clues as to what they wanted from him and giving them what he thought they needed when he could; a small smirk here, a wry remark there. Always glancing quickly away when their eyes tried to catch hold of his, lest they see what lay behind them and turn from him in shock and horror. Anything to help them to cling to the belief that he was still who they thought he was…or should be.
Yes, they had all changed, but still somehow needed to believe that Frodo was the same. Ironic really, since he seemed to be the only one unable to mould this new self into the comfortable embrace of the old. The only one of the four of them who simply could not remember who he had been and could therefore not achieve the equilibrium between old innocence and new knowledge. He searched desperately within himself for that which they needed to see from him, only to find emptiness and pain in his clutching fingers. The pain was what he clung to now, for it was the only familiar thing left to him. The only thing of himself he could remember with any clarity.
He walked unsteadily but purposefully through the last gate, ignoring the guards who eyed him openly and elbowed each other as he passed. He kept his gaze on his feet, willing them not to stumble or falter lest someone, thinking themselves kind, should send for the King to tend the poor halfling who could not seem to walk a few paces without staggering.
He made his way to a small stand of trees some distance from the outer guardhouse. They encircled what must once have been a handsome fountain flanked by stone benches. Carvings could still be made out on the face of the stonework and Frodo thought it must once have been considered a great work of craftsmanship when it had stood as a proud welcome to the White City. It was ugly now and broken, what little water it still held rancid and foul-smelling. He didn’t suppose much time or effort could be spared for comfort or beauty when under constant siege.
He wrinkled his nose at the stench of the water and moved back, finding a tree in a lush patch of grass that afforded an inviting splay of warm afternoon sunlight. He sank against the trunk, pulling his knees to his chest and tucking his cloak round his feet. A soft breeze, fragrant with phlox and hibiscus shivered through the trees, making them sway gently as they murmured their secrets to one another. The sunlight dappled across his face, shimmering warm gossamer through the leaves overhead. Frodo leaned his head back and closed his eyes, lulled by the whispering of the oak and elm that surrounded him.
Oh, I want…I NEED…
He squeezed his eyes tighter and pressed his head back hard against the rough bark of the tree. When would it end?
It would never end. It would always be with him. This emptiness, this…craving, this mind-gnawing need for the very thing that had stripped him of himself and left him a creature as wretched and pitiful as the one who had led him into endless darkness laced with malevolent, gurgling hisses. The creature that had taken everything from him with a fall of gnashing teeth and left him with nothing but a blank, empty space where his soul had once dwelt. The only thing left to him now was the endless, aching need that chewed at his bones and scraped his heart raw and bloody.
It is gone, gone…how can Its voice still sing in my blood, twist in my mind, pulse within my heart, rend my senses ‘til I’m nigh on raving? How can I still want – NEED – that which has destroyed me?
He clenched his fists and pulled his knees tighter to his chest, grinding his teeth and choking on his own rapid breaths. His chest tightened. If he were able to shed tears, he would have allowed them to flow, but he knew already they would not come.
Had he thought that he had borne It? Surely not. Had he been that naïve? Had he been that simpleminded to think that he was the one who had carried It and not the other way round? Had he ever truly believed that bearing It to Its birthplace had been his will and not Its? That he had been an instrument of the Council and not that of the Dark Lord?
Yes, he had. He had believed it with every thought in his head, every beat of his heart, every drop of blood in his veins. For a while anyway…before Cirith Ungol…before Orodruin. More the fool, he.
The breeze whispered through him, balmy with the heat of early summer, yet he shuddered against it. He couldn’t remember the last time he had felt warm.
Yes, he needed It. Needed It like he needed breath filling his lungs, a heart pumping his blood. More so, because he knew without doubt that he would willingly give up both breath and heart for one last caress of gold skating cold and smooth across his skin. Knew even as it had been rent from his clutching hand by the wretched creature that life without It was not life, but merely existence. Worse still, empty existence, for It had imprisoned all that there had ever been of him and dragged his very spirit into the fire with It. And Gollum had been Its instrument in the end.
He hated Gollum with a fire and passion that he did not recognize. He had not known until he awoke from the healing sleep in Ithilien that such hatred was possible. It is gone. Thief! The thought had hit him like a blast of winter frost before he had even opened his eyes to the mottled sunlight that fell across the cot upon which his ravaged body had lain. Stole the precious. Killed the precious. HATE him! He had awoken with the thought singing in his head, coursing like fire through his broken body. Horrified with himself yet unable to deny the truth of the loathing and loss that pounded through him with every beat of his heart. It was then he had realized that he could not weep.
He pressed his fists into his legs, tightening his grip around himself, pulling himself inward. The treacherous creature had taken It…bitten It from his hand and embraced It as he fell…Its name the last breath from his traitorous lips.
Treacherous? Traitorous? Perhaps.
But had it not been for such treachery, then all would now be in darkness, would it not? For surely he, beaten and broken as he was, could not have wielded the power that had coursed through him when he had placed It upon his finger. The Eye had seen him in his moment of weakness…had lanced him with its malice, pinned him writhing within his own heart. Surely the minions of the Dark Lord would have taken him and Middle earth along with him and cast them all into darkness had not Gollum wrested It from his hand.
He shuddered. Gollum had stolen the precious, yes. But he had also taken It into the fire…a deed which Frodo could not have brought himself to do – would not have brought himself to do. And he hated Gollum even more for that; for accomplishing the task that Frodo himself had refused in his last chaotic moments as the Ringbearer.
Empty. There is no hope. I fear the darkness, the light pierces my soul, burns my heart and the twilight in between will not have me. There is no place for me now. I am the treacherous one…I am the traitor.
What would they all think, he wondered, if they knew that his first and last waking thoughts were of the Ring and his hopeless longing to have it clutched once more in his ruined hand? What would they think if they ever discovered that their friend and kinsman no longer existed, but had been replaced by a creature whose desperation and wanton need for the evil thing rivaled – nay, exceeded even that of Gollum?
Merry knew – or at least suspected. You ceded to It what you had to cousin, and kept of yourself what you could, Merry had said. It is no fault of yours that It took you in the end. Frodo had stifled a shocked gasp, made a blithe comment about the hearts of Tooks and Ent-draughts and escaped from his cousin’s well-meaning, but heartbreaking company. If only he could believe…
A dry, wracking sob escaped his throat and he clenched his eyes tight. How could his friends bear his presence? How could Sam, who had been witness to his faithlessness, bear to look upon him? Upon the gaping chasm of his right hand, the undeniable evidence of his falsehood? Why had he not been left on the mountain to be consumed in body as he was consumed in spirit and heart?
Why did they not let him die? Why had they taken away the last of his hope?
It is gone, gone and oh! but I NEED…
His ears pricked at a steady rustle through grass and the low murmur of approaching voices. He didn’t need to open his eyes to know who had followed him. The soft whisper of woolen robes and the stutter of iron creaking against oiled leather told him what his eyes refused to open and acknowledge. Perhaps if he remained still, pretended to sleep…
“You should not wander alone outside the city gates, Frodo. It is not yet safe.”
Frodo sighed, opened his eyes, got to his feet.
He bowed low. “Good afternoon, my lord,” he said. He kept his gaze on the King’s boots, turning his head slightly to give a respectful nod to Gandalf. “I did not wander. I came to this place a'purpose.”
Aragorn studied him for a moment, glancing aside to Gandalf before seating himself cross-legged on the grass across from Frodo.
“I do not wish to be bowed to by one to whom I should myself show reverence,” said the King. “Please sit, Frodo.”
Frodo complied, seating himself where he stood and drawing his knees back up to his chest, keeping his eyes on the grass at his feet. Gandalf sat beside Aragorn, the joints in his knees popping as he lowered himself with a grimace and a groan.
“Now, Frodo, you say you came here for a purpose,” Aragorn said. “May I ask what that purpose was?”
Frodo shifted uncomfortably and shot a quick glance to the King before lowering his eyes once again. “I came seeking time to myself,” he said. “I wished to have a few moments alone.”
“Ah,” said Aragorn. “Time to oneself is indeed a treasure, but you seem to be seeking it more often than those who love you think wise. Something troubles you.”
“Many things trouble me, my lord,” Frodo said. “Those who love me might try to understand that if they wish for my comfort.”
“They do, Frodo,” said Gandalf, “we do. But you must understand that it is difficult for us to watch you suffer within yourself and not attempt to aid you in your struggle.”
Frodo let a scornful chuckle escape his throat, then quickly choked it down. I have suffered within myself for an age – what would you do to aid me now that you would not before? He remained silent, eyes cast to the ground.
Aragorn raised his eyebrows. “You doubt our intentions?” he asked.
Frodo felt himself flush. “No, my lord,” he said quietly.
Aragorn sighed and leaned back, stretching his legs out in the grass and leveling a steady gaze at Frodo. He shook his head, frustrated.
“Frodo,” he said, “shall I address you as Ringbearer?”
Frodo blanched and hissed in a sharp breath. His chin quivered and his knees drew further into his chest.
“No, my lord,” he said in a choked whisper. “I wish that you wouldn’t.”
“Then,” said Aragorn, “I suggest you cease addressing me as ‘my lord.’ I am your friend and wish to be addressed as such.”
Frodo was silent for a moment. “I apologize, Aragorn,” he said quietly. “I meant no offense.”
“I have no doubt,” said Aragorn. He narrowed his eyes, fixing Frodo with a piercing stare. “Frodo,” he said, “why will you not look at me?”
Frodo shifted uncomfortably. His shoulders hunched and trembled as he pulled in a hitching breath. He lifted his head slowly and raised his eyes to meet Aragorn’s.
Aragorn flinched at the gamut of emotions he saw swirling in those too-wise, almost ancient eyes. Pain, sorrow, rage…agony. His own eyes went round and his breath stopped. Frodo quickly drew his gaze away and cast his eyes down. Aragorn sat stunned for a moment, his heart beating hard in his chest.
Such pain and darkness. Help me to find you, Frodo. Let me take your hand and pull you from the blackness marked upon your soul. Help me to fill the emptiness devouring your heart.
Aragorn looked to Gandalf, but the wizard had also turned his eyes to the ground, his shoulders hunched in an echo of Frodo’s own posture. The King collected himself with a deep breath, letting it hiss out slowly between his teeth.
“We worry for you, Frodo,” he said. “Please, can you not speak of this with us, your friends?”
Frodo fidgeted, opening his mouth and closing it again several times before he finally spoke.
“I do not feel comfortable discussing this with the King of the free peoples of the world and my liege lord,” he said.
“But I am Strider first,” returned Aragorn, “as I was in Bree and the beginning of our journey together. I am Strider still, here at the end of it.” Aragorn paused, but Frodo remained silent and unmoving. “Frodo,” he said, “tell me, friend, what troubles you?”
Frodo clenched his fists harder, digging them painfully into his calves. Why would they not just leave him be? “My troubles are unworthy of the King,” he said through gritted teeth.
Aragorn sat up quickly, leaning in closer. “Unworthy!” he exclaimed. “My dear Frodo, I can think of many things to describe you and your deeds but unworthy is not one of them. You have saved all of Middle earth through pain and suffering that I cannot imagine in my darkest thoughts. I begin to fear that you have purchased my kingdom with your very soul.”
Frodo’s head snapped up and his eyes blazed at Aragorn. “I have purchased nothing!” he seethed. “For the currency with which I bargained was false and flawed.”
“Flawed?” returned Aragorn. “Perhaps, for so all mortals are. But false? Never.”
“What salvation was gained was made so by chance and circumstance,” said Frodo, his cheeks flushing crimson, his face distorted in a mask of fury that Aragorn found almost frightening in its intensity. “The deed was done, but not by my hand!” He lifted his right hand and waved it in front of them with a mocking sneer. “This is what became of my noble quest, my King. A mere symbol of my weakness and failure!”
“Frodo Baggins!” roared Gandalf.
“Do not call me by that name!” Frodo cried, getting to his feet and backing away. “There is no Frodo Baggins! Frodo Baggins was left behind piece by piece in Mordor. There is only Frodo of the Nine Fingers now and even he is an imposter. For he is a brave and noble hero and I am none of those things. I am but a void where once stood a hobbit who believed himself good and true.” Frodo turned and took a few shaky steps away, his knees unsteady and his gait wavering.
“Frodo!” Aragorn shouted. “You cannot keep leaving those who love you behind. Do not walk away!”
Frodo halted, did not turn. “Is that a demand from a friend or the command of a King?” he asked stiffly.
Aragorn sighed and shook his head wearily. “It is a request from a friend’s heart,” he replied. “But if the request should go unanswered, a command I shall make it.”
Frodo’s shoulders hunched further and his chin dropped to his chest, his hands moving to his temples to knead them slowly. He took several shaky breaths, then dropped his hands, straightened his back and turned. He walked back to his place before the King and sat down, raising his eyes defiantly to Aragorn’s.
Aragorn met his gaze steadily, his eyes boring into Frodo’s. What happened to you in the land of shadows? What horrors have your eyes seen?
A darkness you cannot fathom.
What darkness has imprisoned you and drained you of heart and spirit? How can I help you?
He felt captured in Frodo’s eyes, swirling in a blackness he did not want to bear but powerless to do aught but embrace it lest his friend be caught forever in its eddying depths. Ah! Can one hold so much sorrow and yet live? Can one soul alone bear such emptiness?
I must bear it. It is my fate.
“Frodo,” Gandalf said quietly and both Frodo and Aragorn were startled out of the strange, entrancing clash of eyes and wills. “Your friends fear for you. They say you have not been yourself.”
“And how would they know?” Frodo retorted acidly. “Even I do not know who I am anymore. I look for myself in the eyes of my friends and pretend I am that which they want – need me to be.” He lunged up suddenly, began pacing then faltered and leaned heavily against a tree. “I watch for reflections of Frodo Baggins in their eyes so that I might know what sort of behavior is expected of me. When I should laugh, when I should cry, when I should shriek with outrage and grief because it has all become so unbearable. I am not myself indeed! Perhaps I am, Gandalf. Perhaps this empty husk is now all that remains of who I was. Perhaps this is all there is left! What then?”
“Frodo,” Gandalf began sadly, “my dearest of hobbits, I cannot begin to imagine--”
“No!” shouted Frodo furiously. “You cannot, so please do not try!” His eyes narrowed and he took a step toward the wizard. “Or perhaps you can,” he said bitterly. “You forget, friend Gandalf, that I wore the One. Ask me what I saw when I placed it on my hand.”
“Frodo!” cried Aragorn. “Surely you cannot believe that Gandalf knew--”
“No?” said Frodo, turning his fiery gaze to Aragorn. “Have you so little faith in wizards, my King?” He turned back to Gandalf. “Tell him, Gandalf. Tell him what you did and did not know. Tell us both what hope you had in my quest. Tell me that you knew there was no hope. Tell me finally that I was doomed to cruel failure before I even set foot out of Rivendell!”
Gandalf was silent for a long moment, his sharp eyes glittering, his face weary and full of anguish. “I cannot tell you what I do not know,” he said quietly. “I cannot see all things but only those that are shown to me. And those only when they are shown.”
“But you knew!” cried Frodo. “You knew I would fail!”
“No, Frodo, I did not,” said Gandalf.
“I saw it,” Frodo persisted. “I saw your heart. You knew!”
“You saw only what you were shown.”
“You deny then that what I saw was the truth?”
“Frodo,” said the wizard, “try to understand. You saw part of the truth, yes--”
“Rather an important part, was it not? In all your warnings, in all our conversations, you never once told me it couldn’t be done. You let me believe that there was hope and all the while you knew I stood no chance!”
“I knew that throwing the One into the fire was an impossible task, yes,” said Gandalf. “But I also knew that you were the only one out of all the peoples in the world who might find a way to accomplish the impossible.”
“I accomplished nothing!”
“But you did,” said Aragorn. “The One was destroyed, was it not?”
“It matters not!” shouted Frodo. “It was not by my hand! I claimed It as the Wise knew I would!”
“Frodo,” said Gandalf, “I cannot claim to know the designs of Iluvatar, only that He does what He does out of love for His creations. All that has come to pass has been so by His design, not mine. I did not know what lay in wait for you when you reached the Cracks, I only knew that you were meant to bear the Ring there.”
“Meant?” Frodo cried. “What does that mean, ‘meant?’ That every event in my life has led up to that one moment of failure? That my parents were meant to die choking on foul river water so that I could be taken in and left a vile inheritance by another dupe in Iluvatar’s game? That I was meant to have my very life drained from me day by day until I could no longer cling to even the little bit of myself I yet held? Meant to claim the very source of my agony at the moment of truth? That I was meant to be hollowed out by a band of gold your precious Iluvatar permitted to be wrought and then left writhing in the empty shell of my soul when I failed the task I was meant for? Please, Gandalf, spare me your feeble defenses of this cruel deity who holds out His love with one hand while the other drips red with fresh blood. I simply haven’t the heart to hear them.”
He stared into the wizard’s eyes, breath coming in heavy pants, sweat standing on his brow. He brought his hands up and covered his face, moaning softly.
“You’ll forgive me Gandalf,” he said, dropping his hands, “if I’m not in a charitable mood toward this deity you’re so enamored with. The very deity, I might add who created Smeagol without enough will to resist, created Men who were doomed to fail His lofty expectations, created Morgoth himself whose spawn in turn, created that which nearly destroyed us all. If He was so intent upon directing my life in its winding paths to my destiny inside an inferno, do you not suppose His time might have been more well-spent keeping an eye on the foul creatures that started the evil mess to begin with? He could direct Bilbo to a shadowy cave, kill my parents, set me on a path that would scrape me out like a ripe squash, yet He could not find the time or inclination to aid me inside the mountain when I most needed it?”
There was stunned silence for a moment, the wizard and the King watching as the hobbit’s posture quivered and faltered. Frodo backed away, what certainty had possessed him now fleeing, scattered before the winds of his own harsh breaths.
It was Aragorn who finally broke the strained silence.
“You are right,” the King said quietly. Frodo turned to him, mild surprise etched on his countenance. “It was unfair,” Aragorn continued. “You should not have had to bear this, Frodo, but I cannot regret that it was you who was chosen.” Frodo’s face closed, cold fury marked on his features. Aragorn went on gently. “For I cannot imagine another accomplishing what you did. I fear that had it been anyone else but you at Orodruin, if indeed anyone else had made it that far, that we would be in shadow now. There was no one else – you were the only one.”
Frodo clenched his fists and let out an inarticulate, frustrated groan. “But I failed!” he cried. “Do you not see? I accomplished nothing, but nearly brought the shadow to Middle earth in my very hand.”
“Why do you insist upon assuming that you failed?” asked Aragorn.
“Have you not been listening?” Frodo asked incredulously. “I claimed the One! I stood at the Cracks of Doom with It balanced in my palm and could not throw It in!”
“Yes,” insisted Aragorn, “you say you claimed It and that is what you believe.” He reached out and grasped Frodo’s trembling hands in his own. “But Frodo,” he said gently, “might it not be that It claimed you?”
Frodo stared at the King, his jaw slack. It is no fault of yours that It took you in the end. Merry’s voice echoed in his mind, joining in counterpoint with that of the King. He wavered, his knees weakening. Might it be?
“No,” he said, barely a whisper. “I was meant to throw It into the Cracks. Gandalf said so. And I claimed it instead. If I was meant to carry it then I was meant to fail and what sort of merciful deity would do such a thing to one He loves? After all of my efforts and all of my sufferings – not to mention what I put poor Sam through – don’t you suppose a bit of redemption would have been in order in the end?”
“Are you so determined to believe that you are unloved by the creator of all things?” asked Aragorn softly. “Do you not believe that you are deserving of such love?” Frodo bowed his head, breath coming fast and hard. “Tell me, Frodo,” Aragorn went on, his voice soft, “how did the Ring go into the fire?”
Frodo looked at the King and attempted to pull his hands away but Aragorn held fast. “You know how It went in,” he whispered.
“I want you to tell me,” Aragorn said, immovable.
Frodo looked down. “I claimed It,” he said softly, voice quavering in remembrance. “I put It on my hand. Gollum arrived and we struggled. He fell into the fire and took It and my finger with him.” The tears that had lain locked behind his eyes now seared his cheeks in scorching rivers. “Had it not...” He uttered a broken sob. “Had it not been for Gollum, I could not…” He lifted his grief-stricken eyes to the King’s. “…I would not have parted with It.”
“And how did Gollum come to be there?” asked Gandalf.
Frodo closed his eyes and bowed his head, weeping openly, his hands still trapped in Aragorn’s.
“You know how,” he said. “Please…”
“Answer the question, Frodo,” said Aragorn softly. “How was it that Gollum came to the Sammath Naur and did not lie dead in the Emyn Muil?”
Frodo hitched in a shuddering breath and let out a mournful sob, unable to speak. Aragorn pulled him close, drew his head to his shoulder. Frodo allowed himself to be held for a moment, surrendering to the embrace and longing for the comfort it offered but he was unable to seize hold of. He twisted away with a strangled cry, wringing his hands and pacing unsteadily.
“Frodo,” said Gandalf, “was it not because you would not allow Samwise to cut Gollum down when the opportunity presented itself? Even though you knew he meant you harm, you still showed him kindness and pity. Is that not so?”
Frodo stilled and closed his eyes, wavering before them, making Aragorn reach out his hands only to grasp empty air. Frodo fell to his knees, his hands clenching, fingers digging painfully into the grass and earth. “What does it matter?” he cried, tears streaming to moisten the earth below. “What does it have to do with--”
“My dear hobbit,” said Gandalf. “Surely you can see that it has everything to do with it. Did I not once say that the pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many? Now I will say that the pity of Frodo has ruled the fate of all.” Gandalf reached out a hand and placed it gently on the hobbit’s back. “Do you not see?”
“No,” Frodo sobbed. “No, I do not see! Please! You confound me with words that hold no comfort and mean nothing! What does it matter that I showed pity for the wretched creature when I could not complete the task I was commanded by the Council to finish? I failed! No soothing words or past deeds can change that!” He bowed his head to the earth and sobbed, his frame shuddering with the force of his grief. “Please, Gandalf,” he whispered hoarsely, “I cannot hear anymore. Stay your words and leave me be.”
Gandalf pulled Frodo to him and held his wracking, shrunken form to his breast. “Frodo,” he said softly, “you asked if redemption might have been in order in the end. I tell you now that redemption came to you not in the end, but at the moment you stayed Samwise’s hand. Your redemption came to you in the Emyn Muil, not the Sammath Naur.”
Frodo’s breath stilled abruptly, his body tensing. Might it be?
Gandalf stroked his hair. “You assured the success of your quest long before you entered Mordor,” he said. Frodo slowly lifted his head and looked at the wizard, his eyes wet and pleading. “Had Frodo Baggins not stayed the hand of Samwise Gamgee, all would have been lost. You did not fail, Frodo. You succeeded in the only way you could have – in the only way possible. No other would have spared Gollum as you did, and no other could have stood at the Cracks of Doom, but would have succumbed long before. No other could have withstood the darkness as you did, nor remained true as long.”
“You forget, Frodo,” put in Aragorn softly, “you stood inside the shadow and faced it at its very crux of power. It took you, you did not claim it. You had no choice.”
Frodo swallowed, his mouth working, unable to force speech. He took a deep breath, croaked, “I chose--”
“No, Frodo,” said the wizard. “You did not. You could not. Your choices fled when you entered the Sammath Naur and faced Sauron in all his power. There was no choice then. You made your choice at the only time you could have when you let Gollum live.”
Frodo did not move, only stared at the wizard, his eyes wide in shocked hope. Had it been meant to play out as it had? Had it been meant that Gollum and not he be the one to see the One to Its doom? Had his part in the quest not been in vain…his losses not for nothing?
“You are Bronwe athan Harthad, my dear hobbit,” said Gandalf, “and I did not idly name you so.”
Frodo stared into the wizard’s eyes, the fleeting hope of release immediately swallowed by the ever-growing blackness.
“Oh, but Gandalf,” he whispered, “It matters not. I am lost anyway and all that is left to me is darkness. It is a name unjustly given, for I am hollowed and empty and truly beyond hope.” He dropped his head to Gandalf’s breast and wept.
Aragorn looked on, his heart rent and torn at the suffering that his friend not only had endured, but was still enduring. He wondered again that a being so small could carry a weight so vast and cursed himself that his healing hands could do naught to assuage the grief of a soul so noble.
Is this how the Ringbearer and savior of the people is to be rewarded then? To wander the dark places of his heart where no hand can reach to spread comfort and light? How I wish…
…wish…what? To comfort, to soothe, to heal.
He looked to his friend cradled in the arms of the wizard, lost in the depths of his soul, weary with grief and emptiness. How could he help? Was there no way to right this injustice perpetrated against one so gentle and righteous? Was there nothing to be offered to fill the void in this small one’s soul? To sate the emptiness where his spirit had been stripped from him by the foul arts of the One and carried into the fire with It?
He looked to his hands, stretching them in the grass then clenching them in fury. The hands of a healer, indeed! What good were his healing hands when they could not touch the emptiness in his friend’s heart and drive it back to the fires from whence it came? What value did his sovereignty have if it was gained at the cost of this hobbit’s very soul?
And what could he do to aid, to heal?
He closed his eyes, drawing his hands to his face and weeping silently into their small shelter.
He could do nothing but hope and…only hope. There was nothing else.
He would give what small comfort he could for now and take counsel with his beloved when she arrived. He would speak to Arwen. Perhaps she could find hope where there was none.
(Continued in 'Harthad Uluithiad.' Please contact author for more information.)
Bronwe athan Harthad is the name given to Frodo by Gandalf in HoME (vol. IX, Sauron Defeated: ‘Many Partings) and means Endurance Beyond Hope. ("... I name before you all Frodo of the Shire and Samwise his servant. And the bards and minstrels should give them new names: Bronwe athan Harthad and Harthad Uluithiad, Endurance beyond Hope and Hope Unquenchable.") I have, personally, always regretted the editing of that passage.
The concepts of claiming vs. failure in this fic. are taken from JRRT’s ‘Letters,’ (specifically, #181) where he states in no uncertain terms that the task of destroying the Ring was an impossible one and that Frodo’s success was in his pity for Gollum.
To my knowledge, Tolkien never addressed the issue of whether Gandalf knew that Frodo would fail, but the fact that he was a wizard and Maia and was fully aware of the difficulty any being had in parting with It, makes it very reasonable, in my opinion, to assume that he did.
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.