Through Shadows to the Edge of Night
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 27, Part 57
The View Through The Lens
(December 30, 1451)
The magnifying lens trembled in Frodo’s hand as he held it up before him, so that at first he could make out nothing at all. He clapped it in both hands, then, to hold it steady as tremor counteracted tremor, though all the world should seem to reel. He shook sweat from his eyes and stared at first into indecipherable blurs that bent around the curvature of the lens in a way that made him dizzier than ever. Almost he gave up, wondering why on earth he ever imagined anything could come of this. But gradually images began to resolve into meaningful if ghostly shapes, by magic perhaps, or else the delusions of a fevered brain.
The lens showed him chaos. Pale and smoky forms pursued each other over an ever-changing landscape, images warping from one thing to the next, or superimposing themselves on each other in a jumble of transparencies. At first all he could manage was to focus on the background, but even that did not hold still. The bones of the mountain-pass crumbled dry before his gaze, then in an instant jungle swarmed over it, the phantom vines and tendrils writhing over boulder, bluff, and scree, then blight withered all life to a wet decay, but then new trees sprang up like an army of green haze, brandishing their branches in a thousand nightmare spikes, but then it seemed the mountains burst with burning chunks of rock that set the woods afire as the lava gushed (still pale, all of it, flames in pink and peach, the lava snaking down in a blushing glow, yet all still violent, a whisper of menace more terrible than a shout) then shrieking geysers arced up in the air and scalded down upon the cooling stone, then freezing winds bore down to harden the land all over again as the cycle began anew...
Frodo dropped his hand and blinked at a sere but otherwise ordinary mountain-pass. He swayed despite his best effort to steady himself, wondering just how far he stood from Mattie’s--and Sauron’s--world. “Not far enough, by a mile,” he muttered, aching in every bone. “Curse this fever!”
“Or bless it,” said a deep voice.
“Who said that!” Frodo whirled around, though he nearly lost his balance. But he saw no one near him except for the ranger shuddering at his feet, in no condition to speak. “Bergil!” Frodo bent down and touched his friend’s inflamed face, hotter even than his own.
“Look, Frodo, look!” This time he thought he heard May’s high voice. Shaking in earnest now, he straightened and raised the lens once more. Gazing more intently this time, he could now make out, interwoven with the ephemeral landscape, a tumult of fighting spirits--past, present and future--all tangled and overlapping in his gaze, some ravening in the fray, some huddled weeping underfoot, some doing both at once in flickering layers of time, all of them insane. He saw no hope; the suffering just went on and on, age after age, as tears ran stinging down his face.
Yet now and again a ribbon of cool silver would cleave through the chaos and he would catch a glimpse of once and future peace--sometimes as a river, sometimes as a channel. Healing would come to them--if only healing could reach them!
“I solemnly swear,” he rasped from a fever-parched throat, “by the lost finger of my namesake, that I will do whatever is in my power to make the Sea of Nurnen a place that men will want to reach.” His voice grew stronger. “As Samwise Gamgee Gardner is my father, I will serve my mission as faithfully as he did his--the channel will get built, and the waters of the Nurnen will reach the Seas of Ulmo once again!” A sudden faintness overtook him as he dropped down to his knees. He barely managed to utter, “And you will have your peace.”
Something opened in his heart, like a desert flower unfurling in the rain, replenished with a sudden perception that the peace would know no favorites--all, on either side, would enjoy amnesty and healing, if only they’d grown weary enough of war to take it. For a measureless instant he soared on joy and hope--no pleasure of Mattie’s could have equaled it!
But that didn’t help Frodo here and now. He soon found himself returned to a body so sick that it seemed to seethe, like he had no boundary between him and the eddies of the air. He pressed his sore face down between his knees, trying to get his blood back to his brain. He longed to lie down the whole way, oh how he longed to curl up beside the ranger and just let go, never bother to rise again. Yet already his vow compelled him--his father had faced just such a temptation and had not let go. So, trembling, Frodo, Son of Samwise, forced himself back to his feet. He gazed a third time into the Lens of May.
And now, peering more deeply still, he saw a hint of vein or flaw through the chaos--fitful, wandering, but there, a silver thread that he’d glimpsed before, not recognizing it. A path through all the violence, where Mattie had blazed a trail, not always following the road, but always knowing where to go. The thread grew stronger as Frodo watched; he knew that his vow had strengthened it, somehow, so that he could find it once again. But Mattie had also done his part--Frodo could make out glimpses of haggard yet benevolent powers, momentarily returned to mindfulness enough to recall their original purpose and to hold the pathway open for a little while. In some entranced fashion Mattie knew that Frodo would find a way to follow. The thread led off to one side, to another place of steam...through the magnifying glass Frodo could see a greenness there that his naked eyes could not discern, though he had no idea what that meant.
Yet still he had to get from here to there--and he had to do it with a nearly unconscious companion twice his size. He tottered over and shook the ranger’s shoulder. “Wake up, Bergil. Can you hear me? Can you climb to your feet?”
“That’s right. That’s the idea. Come on, my friend.” But the man still lay there. “Get up! I order you! I’m the master here, right? You said so, yourself. So get to your cursed feet!”
“I...mus’” Bergil raised his front half on his arms, locked at the elbows, but they shook furiously and soon collapsed beneath him.
“Please, Bergil--try again!” He tugged at the man’s belt, but he might as well have tugged at the stones of Minas Tirith. “Come on, you can do it--strong man of Ithilien, Captain of Rangers--have you no pride?” He pulled at clothes, he pulled at hair, but the man moved no more. Frodo sat down on the ground and wept.
And then the thought came to him, Abandon him. Bergil has nothing, really, to do with the mission. It all hinges on you, and you at least, halfling that you are, have the strength to go on to safety. You cannot waste your strength upon the weak and expect to accomplish anything. Be practical. Do the realistic thing. Consider the larger picture...
“Shut up, Sauron.” Frodo couldn’t tell whether he said it, or the deep voiced one who probably wasn’t even there, but suddenly images flooded into him of Bergil holding the outlaws at bay, Bergil carrying Frodo on his back, Bergil cracking jokes that cheered him on, Bergil ordering a cairn to honor Billie-Lass...
Frodo stroked the horsehair cord that held his magic lens, woven from the strands that Bergil cut for him. Its touch seemed to steady him somehow; at least his head did not quite swim so much. A tiny strand of water-weed came off on his finger, and he remembered why Bergil had fallen ill in the first place. Frodo labored to his feet once more, and tugged at Bergil’s arm.
“Come on, please, my dear, dear friend! You have twice saved my life now, please let me save yours!” Bergil responded no more than a dead man. Fear raced in Frodo’s pulse. “Oh PLEASE!” he shouted out to no one in particular. “If there is one maia present--just one!--glad of my father’s deeds in this land, please help his son now!”
“Frodo?” He barely heard Bergil’s croak, but tears of relief burst from him as he dropped down to the man, ear to his lips.
“Yes, yes, it’s me, Frodo. Bergil, can you hear me?”
“I’m right here, Life-Ward. You just follow my voice and come back to me, hear?”
“Frodo...did you know...I can fly!”
“You land right now, do you hear me?” He shook the man’s shoulders and somehow managed to shove him all the way up onto his knees. “You just leave the flying to Mattie’s mother, now--it’s no skill for the living.” He shook Bergil again. “Open your eyes, Bergil--look at me. I need you.”
“Need me?” The man opened his eyes.
“I need your companionship--a dark road lies ahead of us that no one should face alone. I need you to live, my Life-Ward, my friend, I need you to rise up on both feet and...no, don’t close your eyes again! Stay with me, Bergil! Elenaril needs you--as long as you can climb to your feet you’ve got hope, she’s got hope, we’ve all got hope--that’s it. Oh, bless you, you’re doing it! Oh thank you, thank you, thank all the friends of heaven...easy, don’t falter...there, lean on me. That’s right...just like that...come on, you can walk...all right, we’re doin’ it...we’re doin’ it...we’re...oh good heavens...” he felt the man’s weight crush him nearly to his knees again. “This is no good!” he thought. “I am not an ant, to carry double my size like this for long!”
“Mind the goats,” said the deep voice.
“I don’t care about the...the goats...of course! The goats!” He whistled the herd over from nibbling listlessly at a bush that could hardly appeal to any creature. Wobbling but upright, Frodo managed to maneuver Bergil between the two pack-goats, close to the size of a Shire pony each, and strong enough to bear more than the packs assigned to them. “Here we go...that’s it...one on either side. Rest your arms on the packs, Bergil...that’s it. You’re doing fine. Let them help you keep your feet. Okay, then. This way. I know where to go. Follow me.” He staggered forward, leading the goats and the man, the lens held up before his eyes.
Hovering above, the Maia of Fire and of Dreams chuckled silently (having, for the moment, no throat with which to chuckle out loud) grateful for the fever that gave him access to the hobbit this one time in the waking world. (“Oft evil will shall evil mar,” he used to say to those who would listen, back when he walked among men.) Soon he must return to Valinor with flash-fire speed, his findings to report. Yet those who sent him could spare him a little time to revel in the moment. On this day the legions of Manwe would rejoice, for new hope had come to the Ones Entrapped--but that it would come from this quarter made his personal joy all the richer.
“Oh yes, my little hobbit, heir of Míryave--I love your father well!”