Never and Always: 5. Circling

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5. Circling

Everything here moves in great, silent circles. The pattern of stars, though they seem frozen sharply in the distant winter-sky, and the golden leaves as they swirl from the height of ancient mallorn. Each tree stands like a wheel's axle, tall and straight, and between them Frodo wanders careless of direction. He can't see the sun, but he can feel it prick his brow. He leans into one of the broad trunks, pressing his head back and stretching his arms over his head until he feels nothing but smooth bark from heel to fingertip. It's as if he is waiting for some giant hand to tip the wheel, so that earth and sky, up and down will exchange their places. The thought alone should make him dizzy as he stares into the sway of gold and wind, but it doesn't. The city of the Galadhrim, too, has grown in a circle, sheltered at the heart of Lórien. Beneath the music that hovers in windless heights lies a deep silence, and what seems so entire is whole only because – It will be broken. Frodo follows that thought as if it were a thread of smoke from a far fire, moved by a force other than his own mind. In any other place, he knows, at any other time, it would unsettle him, but not here, where with every step not yet borders on no longer. The winter air flows down through a long passage of branches and foliage, warmed and scented by layers of forest canopy, and when it reaches him so near the ground, it is mild with spring. A small and breathless laugh escapes him. There have been other moments like this through the days of their sojourn, when Frodo feels that he is leaving himself behind and what emerges – Not the Ring, he thinks against the dull pressure at his temples. Even now he can feel it, ice-crystal sharp, high on his breast. But it is turned on itself, a wheel within a wheel. It will pound away according to its own designs and throw ripples like a millstone grinding deep under clear water. Yet those circles shiver and fall apart, again and again, and they've grown thin when they reach him. Frodo sits down by one of the countless streams where fallen leaves sail and spin with the current. As they touch the water, the mallorn leaves curl up, raising golden tips like small banners. Some of them play about his fingers, where a reflection of his face might lie. He's crouched over the water's edge, recalling other streams, recalling dams built from sticks and stones, boats made from nutshells or wood shavings, and eddies dancing wildly about. He's bathing his hands in scattered gold, and the chill that runs up his arms clears like fresh air in his chest. It deepens his breathing, potent and strange before slipping out past his lips, but then he knows it well. Here he can want. Perhaps that is what he saw on Aragorn's face before they left Cerin Amroth. Every wish is given the place to dream itself, and to know its limit, under the trees' shelter. Whatever may become of it in the lands outside, it will not be lost. For the Elves, Frodo supposes, it may be a double-faced gift, to live through ages in the presence of abandoned maybes. For him, who will not stay, it is a blessing. And yet more than that, for with it comes a curious knowing. He lays a finger to the Ring. What I give away, I do not give to you. His breath catches as the truth runs bone-deep. What is yet to come, and what is to be lost. He can't fool himself that it will be as simple or as swift as setting boat-leaves adrift on a brook, not even here. Frodo sits back and blinks at his own handprints in the mud that linger for a span of slow breathing. What I give away – Surely the Ring cannot anticipate that, when It is set to seize and wrench, to wind each desire tighter within Its own circle of hunger. Yet Frodo in his turn cannot anticipate what he will have to yield first and what will be left for last. He can't ready himself for anything. What is rent away will not leave scars; there won't be enough time to allow even such a small amount of healing. Every gash will be as raw as the loss of Gandalf still is. As he brushes the memory, he also feels the tearing that has gone on before and will continue for a length of time he cannot guess. Not long now, Frodo thinks more and more often, not long. There's a kernel of relief in the thought, small and hard with the resistance that he has accustomed himself to. But is he deluding himself with this belief? That so long as it is his choice to yield, the Ring has not gained any ground? What if he gives too much, too quickly? When he has nothing left, the burden will become its own bearer. He looks up into the trees. There will be no answer here where barely a breath fans the grasses, where winter resides at the heart of summer. The long quiet is passing over him, easing back from him who's not meant to stay. Frodo gets to his feet, still surprised at the lightness in his own movements. He has taken a few thoughtless steps down the path on which he came when understanding rushes to meet him, swift and cutting. His answer waits where he is now heading. What I would give – His hand closes over the Ring as if to blind It. He cannot trust himself to understand Its blindness any more than he can trust to know his own. He has placed that trust elsewhere, long before he understood. To take it back would mean to betray it, and both may yet be asked of him. But here he can want, he can wish that Sam will be last – The first, or the last, lost to him? Frodo can never be sure, he only knows that it must be either of the two. Everything else would be unbearable. Daylight slips through the forest from a steep height that might mean noon, but the hours have a way of billowing out like sails, in slow, graceful folds. Distances shrink by comparison. He hasn't wandered all that far from the glade where they spend the nights. If he listens closely, he may even hear the fountain, chattering among the stones. His fingers curl as if to trap the sound, or what draws him to it. Sam will not have gone on without him, on a walk of his own, though he's curious about every lichen and herb in these woodlands. He learns by touch and smell, by the raw of his skin, Frodo thinks sometimes. And perhaps that is why, when Sam tries to speak of what he's learned, Frodo can feel it linger on his own skin, clear as the touch of Sam's hand. Sam will have stayed close by, perhaps locked in a quarrel with his own habits. He has been assured that there is no cause for worry here, that he need not keep his eyes on Frodo's shadow among the trees, but not even the Elves can lay his worries to rest or command his eyes. When Frodo meets that watchful glance before it softens and lowers, he sees Sam's very own cast of resistance. But does Sam know this too? That Frodo cannot come to him now – unless he already has – that he should not – unless Sam already knows. Frodo leans back against a slighter tree, and for a moment the earth seems to sway gently under his feet. Left and right of him grow spindly shrubs with dark, arrowed leaves. Before him runs the narrow path that he longs to walk. If only I had known sooner. But this is what he tells himself almost every step of the journey, as if his mind walked in his own footsteps. Perhaps here that heavy order is reversed, and his wishing is a knowledge of things yet to occur. When Frodo lets his head fall back, the sun is white on his lids. Perhaps he sits in a grove somewhere with Sam, and their hands meet through the dappling of leaf and sunlight. It will be one of those ragged little clearings where a giant tree has fallen and the grass has grown long above its roots. Some of those roots may arch their shoulders through the ground; bleached by the sun, they'll look pale as rocks. Sam will run his fingers over the grain, wondering at the years of growth behind this buried strength, tracing furrows and whorls beneath his thumbs. As he watches, Frodo will kneel behind him and hold his breath, until Sam leans into him, closely balanced, as if he's still afraid to fall. Their hands will meet over Sam's chest, over the back of a root, where the air shimmers as it dallies with the grass. There'll be a wind then, ruffling Sam's curls, breathing with words they have already spoken. Words they will speak. Frodo links their fingers and feels his breath go out, every small part of it, and his chest warms. The strength in Sam's hands isn't new to him, but he has never felt them tremble before. What he gives will be taken into those hands, and all that he takes for himself – Will be taken away, too. How can he draw Sam into this? His heart pounds up against the Ring, heavier in his chest than the sun-warmed chain around his neck, and quickened with desire. Keep it safe. Keep it. Something has almost slipped into the blessings of Lórien. Where nothing is lost, he thinks now, nothing can be truly won, not in the ways of the Shire, within the measure of their own lives. Even though there may not be another place, another time... Even then? he asks himself. Is he trading a small part of always for a never? But it is simpler than that, and the choice isn't his alone. He hears himself laughing and feels the brush of Sam's breath against his cheek. So close, as if he could cup it in his hands. A wish, made of earth and skin, patiently waiting to take root. Perhaps it will drown in the river that will speed them away from Lórien, perhaps it will be crushed to slag in Mordor. Perhaps it will be buried in Shire soil. But he will not leave this wish here. Before his eyes turns a tight circle of never–almost–always. He can't let it close and become a memory. Perhaps what he knows now will be lost when they leave, but what he carries is alive. He will look into Sam's eyes, and before he finds himself there, he cannot know whether it is hope or fear. What I give to you – Frodo can feel it pound with his own blood, the run of time. He sets a foot on the path that will lead them out of Lothlórien. * * * (continued in: Cradle)

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.

Story Information

Author: Cara Loup

Status: Reviewed

Completion: Complete

Era: 3rd Age - Ring War

Genre: General

Rating: General

Last Updated: 10/03/11

Original Post: 05/30/05

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