1. Chap. 1
Even before he’d lost her, the memories had begun to press in on him, sharper and more overwhelming now than they had been as the events happened. There was something to be said for starvation and fear and exhaustion; they narrowed a fellow’s focus till there was no time or energy left to dwell on anything else. Back then, it had taken his full concentration just to keep the two of them alive and moving. Now the memories were so bad that he could see he was beginning to frighten Frodo and Violet, to say nothing of his grandchildren.
Any little thing could set him off. This morning, it had been the teakettle. He’d been sitting at the kitchen table in front of an array of tiny glass bottles, trying to decide which of the cabbage seeds were worth saving for one more year. Then the water reached a boil and steam hissed from the spout. Suddenly he wasn’t hearing the kettle anymore, but the vents at the foot of Mount Doom.
This close to Sammath Naur, the ground was riddled with them, singly or in lines, their edges crusted glittering white or daffodil yellow with the poisons they spewed. Even in the gloom of Mordor, the deadly colors shone. He’d been trying desperately to smother his coughing for a mile or more now, for fear it would give their presence away. They’d seen nothing living or dead all day, but his heart still told him something was just behind them or around the next corner ready to pounce if he made a sound. But the fumes hissing out of the vents took his breath away and tickled the back of his throat at the same time, and nothing he tried would suppress the cough. He doubted even water would help, not that they had any to spare for such a purpose.
He was beginning to wheeze by the time they stopped to rest in the shelter of a huge boulder. Frodo dropped as if someone had kicked the back of his knees and lay gasping beside him. Sam wondered how he was going to get his master on his feet again. Getting Frodo up after the last stop had nearly done for both of them. Well, he’d worry about that when the time came to move on.
Without the misery of the climb, all the other miseries had risen to the surface and claimed his attention. He was too thirsty to care any longer that he was starving. There was nothing left of the water from the orc trough but a bit of stinking mud in the bottom of the bottle. He shook it, but the sediment was too thick to splash. His eyes measured the road as it climbed upward, then the distance back down to the nearest cistern. He let the bottle fall from his hand.
Even thirst was hardly worth noticing when the Ring kept harping at him, like fingernails scratching at a tender place somewhere deep in his mind. Take it, take it. You could end this now, save him and yourself, if only you would take it. It never stopped, but he had no attention to spare for it now. Everything he had in him had to go to getting Mr. Frodo to the Cracks of Doom. Anything else would just have to wait until later, and for the two of them, there wouldn’t be any “later”.
Frodo lay with his eyes closed, worn away to skin, bones and will. Sam hoped he wouldn’t open his eyes because the look in them now was beyond bearing. But after a moment, he did open them, and Sam had to force himself not to look away too quickly. The thought came into Sam’s head that if he’d been able to look with Galadriel’s eyes, he might have seen bits of Mr. Frodo’s soul being left behind ever since Weathertop. There was pitifully little left of the old Frodo now. Only the resolve remained; everything else had been cast aside along the way.
When he nerved himself to look again, Mr. Frodo was still watching, his eyes blank with exhaustion. He bit his lip. The blankness was much more than simple exhaustion, but it was no use thinking about that now. It was time to go on. Sam heaved himself up, overbalanced and tried to catch himself as he pitched forward onto the jagged cinders.
And then he was back in Bag End again, leaning on a kitchen table littered with broken glass. Tiny black seeds still rolled between drops of his blood. He bit back a sob and hobbled to the window to make sure there was no glass still in his hand.
It had been bad at the time, but this was worse. At Mount Doom, all his energy had gone into keeping the two of them going. He’d seen the vents with their insane colors, watched Frodo waste away, felt all the miseries he now remembered, but he had been putting all his heart and mind into getting them to their goal and there hadn’t been enough left over to waste on comprehension. He had seen at the time that there was too much missing from Frodo to be healed in this world, but the knowledge had been remote and it had hardly seemed to matter. Everything was swallowed up by the need to get to the Cracks of Doom. How much could it matter when he’d been sure they would never leave Mordor? But they had, and now he had the leisure to feel the anguish fully.
At the time, he had been too intent on doing what had to be done to suffer the way Frodo had, but now.... He could feel bits of his own soul and sanity being ripped away as memories he’d tried not to look at too closely for sixty years rose to the top of his mind. It had begun long ago really, but Rosie had always been able to call him back from the edge. Now there was nothing between him and the drop, and no telling what he’d find when he reached bottom.
He went to the basin to pour water over the cuts, hoping the blood and water would rinse out any remaining shards of glass. Looking into the pink water, he shuddered. Things couldn’t go on like this. Even apart from the unpleasantness of losing his mind, what if one of the grandchildren had happened on him just now? Little May was as shy and gentle a child as any in the Shire. She had idolized him ever since she‘d been able to tell one person from another, but in the last few weeks she’d begun to watch his every move and edge out of reach if he came too near. What if this had happened in front of her?
He sighed. It was time he sent word to Círdan.
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.