1. In Elrond's chambers
Rain spat against the windows of Elrond's study as the afternoon slowly faded. Gandalf carefully tended the fire, then added a new log. Satisfied, he returned to his chair, which nearly faced another in which Elrond sat, his eyes closed and an expression of concentration upon his face. There was a silence, interrupted only by the rain's patter and the fire's thrumming and popping.
Gandalf straightened himself and spoke. "Now we come to it. Who – beyond Sam, Estel, and myself – shall accompany the Ringbearer?" he asked.
Elrond pursed his lips, glanced at Gandalf, then replied, "It is a difficult question," he replied, "with many factors to weigh."
"Yes," said Gandalf. "Let us then consider them. As we have agreed, the Company must be small, the better to cohere, and to pass unseen –"
"– and unfelt," added Elrond.
"That is itself a question. I would have the Ringbearer protected by those possessing a variety of strengths. Thus, beyond Sam, Estel, and myself, I would include Glorfindel, Gimli, and possibly Boromir," said Gandalf.
"I understand why you would wish Glorfindel, but I think it unwise," said Elrond. "Not – of course – for any reason of character or of ability, but indeed because of quite the opposite: His – he is too easily perceived. He will draw the Eye, even from afar, and also the attentions of His servants. And especially he will attract the attention of the rather obscure (but all too potent) kind of servant that dwells somewhere beneath one of your possible paths."
"The rather obscure kind of servant that – " began Gandalf, faintly arching an eyebrow at Elrond, whose responding twitch was all the clue Gandalf needed. "Ah, that," he muttered, then said aloud:. "Greatly do I hope to avoid that path. But let us not get diverted. If Glorfindel is too visible, then I also might be so. Though, unlike Glorfindel, I can cloak myself, as when once I penetrated Dol Guldur. Still, Sauron has become far stronger since then, and doubtless more perceptive."
"Doubtless," added Elrond. "Thus, for example, ever he seeks a way into my mind, even at this remove. I fear even to consider certain thoughts for too long, or too explicitly, lest –", he paused.
"Yes," replied Gandalf. "It is well to respect His power thusly. We know far too little of its scope. Indeed it is strange." Warming to this digression, Gandalf continued. "His Master, great as He was, leaked power as blood from a wound, and ever the faster as his dominion lengthened. But Sauron – he grows! I do not understand it. I had thought him finished after Númenor. Perhaps it is the Ring?"
"It had better be," mused Elrond. "Or this venture is, ultimately, vain."
"Not so!" exclaimed Gandalf. "Even if Sauron returns in some age to come, we will have spared many generations His thralldom. But that argument is itself vain. We can do only what is before us."
"Yes," agreed Elrond. "Then eschewing further asides," he winked at Gandalf, "what do you plan to do? Surely you cannot think to cross the mountains into Mordor?"
"Most likely not," replied Gandalf. "But what I should do instead is still unclear to me. I do hope to marshal Gondor's defenses, that Sauron be well-occupied while Frodo performs his task. But I see little beyond that, so I beg you to forgo the question of what else I might do, and return to the composition of the Fellowship. I accept that Glorfindel should not go, so let us now consider Boromir."
"Denethor surely will intuit your angle," said Elrond. "And resent it. And Boromir probably will, as well."
"I can do nothing about that," replied Gandalf. "But Boromir (from all appearances) would rather fight than contemplate, which is likely to help rather than to hurt our cause. He might resent being deployed as a shield for purposes beyond the direct defense of Gondor, but I doubt that he will shy from the role. All that said, what of his task – if any – in the Fellowship?"
"I am uneasy with him," said Elrond flatly. "I do not quite trust him. I think that he does not completely accept what we know about the Ring. He still believes that It might successfully be wielded."
There was a silence. Gandalf half-filled his wine glass and rubbed his thumb thoughtfully about its bowl. A gust of wind rattled the windows and doors and a draft crept into the room, making the lamps flicker. Gandalf looked up and said, "That all seems true. But we have hardly told him all that we know or surmise about the Ring. Why should he believe us? Indeed, why should the others do so – excepting perhaps Frodo, who has personally felt the temptation and experienced the betrayal?"
"And Estel, who knows too well the history," added Elrond.
"In this matter, I wonder whether any belief – no matter how obtained – is protection enough," continued Gandalf. "But should we not inform Boromir more fully before deciding whether he ought to go?"
"I would have thought that the Council would be information enough," said Elrond, "but perhaps more is required for those unused to learning from the experiences of others?"
Gandalf chuckled, "I am glad that you have not put it that way within his hearing. Say rather that Boromir is a true son of Gondor, and that Gondor has long felt itself alone and unappreciated for its role in opposing Sauron. In that view, most of the experiences from which learning might come are those of Gondor itself, and the more recent the more pertinent. Forget not that for Men, history is not lived, but – as Denethor once told me – it is 'received from dusty pages of doubtful provenance, covered with prose that is by turns muddy as the springtime Anduin, turgid as the worst of gossip-literature, and arrogant as Castimir's lackeys, if not all three at once, and shot though both by missing information (usually unrecognized by the writer) and false convictions of correctness. If the truth were not so important, gladly would I abandon the entire maddening enterprise.'"
"I am unsurprised that Denethor views it thusly, but I take your point," replied Elrond. "Fine. I will tell Boromir of Isildur's secrets (and especially of that wholly regrettable incident upon Orodruin), and I ask you to tell him of Gollum's secrets, and we shall see what he makes of it, and then what we make of him. I would ask for Galadriel's insights, but – alas for the peril of obtaining them – we must make do with our own.
"Well enough," continued Elrond. "On to Gimli, then. He is stalwart, loyal, and strong, thrall neither to greed nor to resentment, of open mind but not easily lured."
"Just so," agreed Gandalf, "I think him the safest available companion for Frodo, perhaps safer than myself. It is well that Sauron considered Dwarves so little when He made the Ring. Is that not odd for a servant of Aulë? And we have also the evidence of the Seven. Gimli is a go, then?"
"I think so," said Elrond. "Though I would have him proven in the Wild. He should go with Estel to scout southwards, I think."
"A good choice," replied Gandalf.
"But what of Legolas?" said Elrond, switching topics. "Here I must also consider how Thranduil might view our selection."
"Please do not," pleaded Gandalf. "We cannot know, and even if we could, our first priority must be to choose such companions as are most likely to fulfill the task."
"Yet its fulfillment may depend in part on relations between Thranduil and myself," countered Elrond. "Indeed, Legolas has said that his role here is one of messenger only, so it might be beyond his authority to accompany Frodo. But putting all that aside, I know too little of him to decide. He is opaque to me."
"But not to me," replied Gandalf. "And Thranduil hardly would send his son as a mere messenger. Still, I suggest that I withhold my opinion until you have more information to form your own, and further that we obtain some of that information by asking him to accompany, say, the northern scouts, which I understand will be led by Glorfindel."
Elrond smiled. "An excellent suggestion. I knew there was a reason I liked your counsel."
"Now we're getting somewhere," said Gandalf, getting up and walking to the eastern window. He looked out intently for several moments, then sat once more at the table. "So, what of Merry and Pippin?"
"They should not go. They are too inexperienced. Others of greater strength should go in their stead"
Gandalf did not respond immediately. He took up his wine-glass, held it aloft, and looked through the deep-red liquid at the fire. Then he took a sip and tilted his glass toward Elrond. "Very like Old Winyards, is it not?"
"Just so, as I expect you knew. A superb vintage, courtesy of our friend Bilbo."
"Bilbo the Unexpectedly Brave?"
"Well yes, I did use that phrase. So you seek to trap me in my own words?"
"Not exactly, but Hobbits' diminutive stature and humble ways leave us always needing reminding that there's often more about them than meets the eye. Merry and Pippin are steadfast friends for Frodo – something he will need. And there is something about Pippin – I cannot say what, but he has a role to play beyond friendship."
"Can you flesh that out?"
"No. I do not know more than I have said."
"That does not seem to me enough. There are several we might send in his stead, and in Meriadoc's. Take even –" There was a commotion in the hallway. "Oh 'Dan, quit that!" said one voice. "Why should I?" replied another. "By Glaurung's glassy glare, you two are acting like perfect children," said a third. "And you like a perfect mother hen," replied the first and second voices in pitch-perfect synchrony. They moved off down the hallway, still taunting each other.
"I had intended to say 'Take even Elladan and Elrohir', but I am now reconsidering that counsel," said Elrond with a chuckle.
Gandalf grinned back. "Doubtless either or both would be a great asset, and not too visible to the Enemy, I think. But I still believe Merry and Pippin should go."
"Here we disagree. Though I see the friendship you've mentioned, and their faithful hearts, in both I see too little experience of the wide world, and in Pippin also I see too much impulsiveness and insufficient consideration of consequences. I fear some crucial mistake. There is so little room for error…."
"Yes. But consider Sam. I would hardly say that he knows more of the wide world than Meriadoc. Yet –"
"Well sure, but whatever we think, we could hardly tear him from Frodo –"
"No, and it would be folly to try. But much the same goes for Meriadoc and Peregrin."
"Still we disagree. Shall we, then, delay this decision pending more thought?"
"A good idea," said Gandalf, taking up the wine-bottle. "Would you like another glass of Old Winyards, master?"
"Yes indeed," said Elrond.
"I would talk more of the history of the Ring, and especially of Isildur's role in it," began Elrond.
"Say on, then," replied Boromir, glancing out the windows into the inky darkness, then returning his attention to Elrond.
"It was during the battle of the Last Alliance, upon the very slopes of Orodruin," said Elrond, "that we finally confronted Sauron in the flesh. With me were Elendil and Isildur themselves, Gil-Galad (then High King of the Noldor), Círdan of the Havens and his mate Laurefindë, and several others. It was a fierce battle. All were injured, and Gil-Galad, Elendil, and Laurefindë slain – the last most brutally, being gutted by Orcs. And all were bereaved. But we prevailed, and Isildur struck the Ring from Sauron's hand with the hilt-shard of Narsil, that Aragorn – his heir – now bears.
"Though It glowed still with Sauron's heat, Isildur took up the Ring in his hand, and would not drop It, though It scorched him, wringing scream after scream from his throat. But he held It until It cooled, and then he said, 'This I will have as weregild for my father, and my brother.'
"'You will be a fool if you do,' said Círdan, too sharply, though given the circumstances, he (and all the others, Isildur included) can be forgiven. 'Already It has branded not only your hand, but your mind. Though It seems fair and innocent, It is but Sauron's power and malice made material, and with them all the long ages of corruption that He has wrought, going back even to the reign of Melkor the Great Enemy. Thus It is beyond perilous to hold – and thus It will betray you (and all others in Middle-Earth) sooner rather than later. Throw It now, I beg you, into Orodruin where He made It, that Its peril be ended forever and Sauron be maimed beyond hope of healing.'
"'Fool?" responded Isildur hotly, as if he had not listened to aught that followed. 'Fool you say? What then of the Elves who taught Sauron how to make It? What then of the Valar who....'
"'Enough!' said Círdan. That others might have made mistakes – even foolish ones of terrible consequence – is no reason for us to do so now. Long and loudly Elrond, Galadriel, myself, and others entreated Celebrimbor to shun Sauron in His guise as Annatar, but he would not listen to our counsel. Repeat not his deadly mistake!'
"'Just so!' I added, unwisely, for it gave Isildur the impression that we were in unwholesome league against him. 'Celebrimbor would have his knowledge, whatever the consequences. Though none knew who Annatar was, we saw that he had knowledge far beyond that of Men and Elves, and we wondered greatly how he had obtained it – and feared the answer. But this Ring, we know whose It is, and what He is, and why He made It. We know that It is deadly. Again, do not remake Celebrimbor's mistake!'
"But the Ring was too strong, and the battle had cracked Isildur's defenses. He had loved his father dearly. 'If mistake it is,' he said, 'it is mine to make. By my hand alone was Sauron slain' – this was not strictly true – 'and so what was His is now mine. This Ring I will take, whether you say yea or nay, unless you slay me in turn. Is that what you intend?'
"I do admit to having considered that alternative, and would have done so – putting aside my nature in service to the greater good of ending Sauron's dominion – but that I feared that the Ring would then simply take me. So I said and did nothing.
"Círdan, though, persisted. 'Nay, I would not continue Sauron's orc-work, nor imperil myself by taking It by force. But think on this. It was made by an Ainur in His first power, indeed by the One who was deepest and longest in league with Morgoth, whose knowledge is far beyond our imagining. It will never perish of Itself, nor will It be destroyed but by being cast into the fires of Its own creation. So the will and power and malice of Sauron of which It is made – surely you do not think It but ordinary gold! – will live on, next your skin, then that of your sons – but which one, for only one may possess It? – and so to their heirs, each taking up in his turn That which would destroy him, until one falters enough, and is taken – to descend into darkness. Do not burden your heirs thusly, nor thereby imperil the peoples of Middle-Earth! Throw It at once into Orodruin!'
"But Isildur was unmoved. And so our fate was wrought. And It did betray him – quickly – as we discussed in the Council.'"
"Let me stop you there," said Boromir, "and ask a question: you say that the Ring betrayed Isildur. It has, then, some kind of will? That is most strange, and (I must confess) difficult for me to believe."
"The world is more strange than it appears. Is it not odd and disturbing to you that I, who sit upon this ordinary chair in this ordinary room, still walk under the sun, six thousand and more years after my birth beside my brother Elros, who passed from life into history, and from history into myth, long ere your father's father's father was conceived?
"Yes, the Ring appears but a common ring of gold. More pure, seemingly, than others; more perfectly-formed, doubtless. But It is not gold. It is, as Círdan said long ago, Sauron's power made material, so that He might control those who bore other Rings of Power. But It is not as those are. They are only rings, though specially imbued by their maker, a son's son of Fëanor, with various powers. It, on the other hand, is a material manifestation of something that exists in another realm entirely. Thus It is unaccountably heavy, and It shrinks or expands in odd ways, and It takes a curious hold upon the minds of those who possess It, and often even those who merely pass near It.
"And so, as Sauron's power, It has consciousness – and will. Just as Isildur struck It from Sauron's hand, It perceived that he was open to Its influence. And so It convinced him that It was fair, innocuous, and valuable, a suitable weregild for Elendil and Anárion."
"How did It do this supposed convincing," asked Boromir, cocking a skeptical eye at Elrond.
"I cannot precisely say, as I am not Isildur. But you were at the Council when Frodo presented It. Did you not feel Its lure? Do you not feel it, even now? I will admit this thing, as does Gandalf, as did Frodo and Bilbo, as did Gollum in his way, as would Aragorn were he here. Again: do you not feel it?"
Boromir flushed, and did not respond immediately, and when he did, it was to take another tack. "If It, then, is Sauron's power made material, did we not err in presenting It at the Council? Will not Sauron thus learn that we seek to destroy It?"
"If that is so," responded Elrond, "it cannot be helped, since Gandalf this very spring told Frodo – in Its presence – that It must be destroyed. It is an open question how much It can communicate with Sauron, or with the Ringwraiths, though clearly It lures them. But you are correct in this: the less was say about what we intend to do with It in Its presence, or indeed anywhere outside of our councils, the better. The Enemy is a formidable spymaster."
Boromir nodded. "That we have seen too often. There are even, at times, spies in the houses of Gondor's nobles. I personally was forced – though with nausea akin to the sea-sickness – to bring one such to justice only last year...."
"So? What would you discuss?" asked Boromir.
"I would say more of Gollum, and how he came to be what he now is," replied Gandalf.
Boromir looked at him curiously. "A blind toad could see that you and master Elrond are in league," he began, then continued with a wink, "How is it, I wonder, that I merit these private councils, but others of the Council not so?"
"Be not so proud," Gandalf winked back. "Many are the councils being assembled here, and none, probably, knows of them all, unless it be Ulmo, to whom Arda's waters speak the deepest of secrets."
"Or Erestor," laughed Boromir, "who seems as capable a retainer as one could want."
"Perhaps so. But on to Gollum. I could see that you wished to know more of him than I said in the Council, and there is indeed much more to know. Though all he said would take weeks to convey, you should at least hear his full story of how he came to murder Déagol, for it concerns most closely the nature and the power of the Ring.
"As I said earlier, I spent miserable weeks attempting to learn what Gollum knew. Losing patience, I resorted to force – may Manwë forgive me! – but it took me only so far. Reconsidering, I asked Gollum for forgiveness. And strangely, he seemed to grant it: his mind opened to me – though only a crack – and I began finally to understand. An image from his memory I saw through the crack: of another person, of similar kind to him. I brought it before his eyes, and he gasped, and all at once began to talk, saying:
"'He was so light, so fair and lissome in my arms, his face glowing in the afternoon sun, his hair, a bloom of chestnut curls, cascading down his back, tumbling and bouncing between his shoulder-blades, so slender and sweet. Oh, how I want to hold him, my love, my Déagol! How I want to shake off what I am, what I did, and feel him once more, close and warm. Just once.'
"I shifted in my chair. 'No, no! Don't hurt me! Don't take it away, no! Let me remember, my precious, just a little longer, just a little more, yesss.
"'It was early summer, and we were playing: boating and fishing and nosing about far down the River, in the big reed fields. Oh! How they rustled in the breeze, the nice cool breeze, and how their shadows danced upon the River, and wavered across my love's face and...in his eyes, so clear. So clear.
"'I can't, we can't say any more. It's too hard. You all hurt me, everyone hurts me. Leave me alone! I'm nothing! Nothing! No Precious, no Sméagol, nothing! I'm, we're, I'm all empty, all burned away, all eaten. The Precious took us all away,' he sobbed and moaned, a terrible sound to hear, let alone to make, I imagine. But then he went on:
"'My love, my Déagol, he sat in our little boat, in the shallows, and he fished. Nice fishes! Make eyes bright, handses tight! But I, we, I hurt him with those handses, yes we did. And we didn't want to; we never wanted to hurt anyone, Precious. But You made us.
"'Déagol fished, and I nosed about the banks, and swam under the reeds and the lilies, nice floating lilies. And I surfaced, and went out and lay on the bank and let the sun and the gentle wind dry me. Then I heard a splash! and Déagol was in the water, and under the water. But then he was up, and he swam to the bank, to me, like a fish: sleek and smooth and graceful, making hardly a ripple. He had, he had, there was something in his handses.
"'Sméagol, Sméagol, look! he said, washing the mud away. And there it was, a golden ring, fine and pure and perfectly round. And Déagol, my love, he put it to his eye, and looked through, and smiled. And I smiled too, and stroked his cheek, and whispered, It's beautiful, my love. And Déagol took it, and ran his finger round its edge, as if he would put it on. And then something happened.
"'Oh, please, please! We begs, don't make us tell! We didn't want to do it; we loved Déagol, yes we did. We loved his smile, and the nice things he said, and the gifts we gave each other, and all the adventures we had together. And we loved his soft, strong handses on us, on me, running up my sides, over my chest, teasing and caressing, exploring and soothing. Yes, yesss, I remember! His smooth slim toughness, his dreamy eyes and tender lips, my hands upon him, feeling those hard, strong shoulders, feeling the graceful curve of his back, and his warmth against me....
"'But Something took me, and talked through me, and I couldn't, we couldn't stop it. Give us that, Déagol, my love, It said through our mouth, it's my birthday, my love, and I wants it. But Déagol, he wouldn't give it to us, the thief, the cheater, yesss!
"'No, no, not a thief. He found it, it was his, but he was rude, not like the gentle Déagol I knew. No! I've given you a present already, more than I could afford. I found this, and I'm going to keep it, he said, and his eyes were cold and hard, and his hand held the ring so that his knuckles blanched.
"'Then It took our handses, gripped them hard, and pushed them up and forward and around, and I, we, I shouted no!, and struggled, but there was no sound, and our struggles were useless, yes quite. It was strong, stronger than anything we ever had imagined. And It squeezed our handses like the Orcses, like the big evil Orcses, like a troll, and through our mouth It said, Oh, are you indeed, my love.
"'And It squeezed harder, and we felt our bones bend and our joints crack, and my love, my Déagol, squirmed and thrashed like a landed fish, blood oozing from his mouth, his eyes wide in terror. And I squirmed with him, but It burned me, and fire filled all my sight, and a great rushing filled my ears.
"'After a long time – many minutes it seemed – Déagol went limp and the ring fell from his hand, hitting the ground with a deep thump, like a heavy door closing. Then It released us, and all was quiet: not even the wind's whisper could I hear. And I, we, I saw Déagol there, his eyes open and staring, his neck impossibly twisted, his mouth frozen, his beautiful handses spread wide, all cold, all dead. I, we, I don't know how long I stood there, looking at my Déagol, tears streaming down my face, down my neck, down, down, down into the silent earth.
"'But then It spoke again, saying, Come, Sméagol: the thief is dead. Now take Us, your birthday present. And I picked It up, my beautiful Ring, my love, my Precious, and put It on my finger.'"
Gandalf sat silent, puffing slowly on his pipe as Boromir contemplated the story. A slight breeze stirred the curtains, and patterns of light and shadow followed each other across the room as clouds passed by the sun.
Finally Boromir spoke, and his voice was softer and less assured than was his wont. "By the Valar! that is cruel. I had fancied that I knew the depths of His evil, but now I see that that is not so, if we may trust the words of Gollum in this."
"It is the same that I saw," said Gandalf, "when his memory opened to me. But his telling, that cuts to the heart."
"So?" asked Gandalf. "What do you make of Boromir? Shall he go?"
Elrond gazed into the deepening evening, admiring the clear sky's colors: faint orange at the horizon, greenish aqua above, then subtle but piercing violet. It was some moments before he turned to Gandalf, who looked at him intently.
"I would say no," replied Elrond. "He does not appreciate how the Ring is tempting him, nor how It works upon others. He thinks still that we or others might successfully wield It against Its Master. What say you?"
"I am not certain, but I think that he has felt Gollum's tale, and that it continues to work at him. He can feel pity as well as anger and pride. He would make a brave and stalwart companion. Also it would be well for Aragorn to learn more of him, and thereby more of Denethor's recent mood. Yet again I am not certain. Shall we not, as with others, send him scouting to better learn his measure, and decide then?"
Elrond considered the question, slowly sipping a glass of Old Winyards. "I see no harm in the scouting, though my inclination is to send another with Frodo. There are others of Aragorn's people who might be suitable, but that needs more thought."
"Very well, then," said Gandalf. "So Boromir shall scout in Aragorn's party?"
Elrond nodded. "I much wish to know what Estel will say of him when they return."
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.