I Will Not Say the Day is Done
Nor Bid the Stars Farewell
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 25, Part 122
Time, Chaos, and Opportunity
Frodo woke up nauseated, with his head and heart pounding. At first he fought to think at all, and then the very first thought that came to him was, "It's March, not May. Yesterday was March the tenth." He groaned and sat up, his eyes still closed. "That letter wasn't late--I got it only four days after Papa wrote it."
That made no sense. Not even elves could travel so fast. Eagles might, but why would an eagle bother to deliver a letter from his father? And Mattie spoke of another post-rider conveying it as far as Riverborne to the ship--but the river-voyage alone took five days. "That's...it's all just impossible," Frodo whispered, and broke into a sweat. He felt like he was splintering or something, vibrating into separate layers, barely holding together at all.
He opened his eyes, and clung to his blankets in fear, hoping he was dreaming. The tower-room flickered around him. Or, not the room exactly, but everything in it kept shifting, the furnishings, the decor, hangings crawling up and down the walls, rugs slithering in and out, chairs changing shape and position, the possessions of all former and future residents sputtering in and out of existence--and when he watched fast enough, he saw the residents, too, blurs that scurried backwards and forwards, men and orcs...and a hobbit that could only be himself.
He buried his face in his hands. "'S'wrong!" His head spun in a ringing pain. He tried to recall when he had seen something like this before. 'S'all wrong!"
"Is it?" asked a familiar, lordly voice. "What if there is no such thing as right or wrong?" But he heard it in his ears, not inside his head. "Can you begin to imagine the freedom, my little friend?"
Frodo raised his head and saw Sauron standing before him--a cloud, a giant cat, a rotting monster with a single burning eye, a maia of exquisite beauty maned in auburn hair, a shriveling wraith dwindling down to the size of a fly--and then bursting back into a form so mighty that the tower could scarce contain him. "Ohhh, Sauron," Frodo breathed, "What have you done?"
The thing before him smiled (enchantingly, hideously, with jags of fangs, with perfect, even teeth) "I have done only as I have been empowered to do."
"But...but what is happening?"
"Freedom! Freedom happens all around you, Frodo, freedom in the dissolution of all boundaries. The order of Eru crumbles into a chaos that we can wrest into whatever reality we choose!" More and more the creature took on the form of beauty that he once wore at the height of his power.
Frodo swallowed back nausea and asked, "How?"
"Your musical little friend. Ah, the powers that I have unlocked in that one! I tried an experiment. Rather than drain what I could from her, I let her have her way with some of the old potency that I sank into the white poppy long ago, just to see what she would do with it, and whether it would work to my advantage. I let her have the full force of the poppy, and I let her sing." He chuckled--a rich sound that filled the tower and dissolved it, so that Frodo floated over a Mordor that once was, seething with laboring slaves and the orcs who cracked whips over them. "I underestimated the Halfling folk once, Frodo, but I never make the same mistake twice. This time I gave your kind full respect and unleashed the power of your bard."
The tower spiraled back up around them, a rush of block cementing onto block by a frantic blur of hands, brand new for minutes, then decaying before his eyes, as Sauron frowned and paced on the floorboards the moment they returned. "I thought she would hurtle straight to her mother, and that I could ride her clear beyond the meddling interventions of Manwe into the larger realm beyond, where mortal folk go after death. I, Sauron, could go where not even Melkor could attain!" He raised his hands and lightning flashed from both his eyes.
Then the hands fell, and the chuckle now sounded rueful. "Alas--a poppy-addict's heart will skip from desire to desire; not even I can predict its course. She did not know what she had tapped into. She yearned, for that one moment, for something to give you, something you would want. In a flash she wished that she could have your next letter from home to deliver into your hands--and lo, it appeared!" Sauron shook his head, laughing. "At first I could have chewed nails, she disappointed me so. But it has worked to my favor anyway. She has unraveled time--and it continues to unravel!"
Frodo felt the blanket rot in his grasp and flung it away in horror. The tower crumbled all around him and half the floor caved in, his cot lurching to a sickening angle. The Dark Lord paced the termite-riddled rafters that remained, though they creaked ominously with his every step and wood-dust billowed from the splinters. "And now, I can choose whatever I please, from all that has been or shall be--I can let it all happen at once, if I so desire."
To Frodo's horror Sauron raised his hand, and a finger grew back even as they watched, and on that finger gleamed a ring of perfect gold, incised with fiery letters. "Ahhhh...so much better!" The Dark Lord chuckled, low at first, then building, then he threw his head back and howled with laughter echoing with power and doom.
But Frodo heard another chuckle in the room, quieter, earthier, redolent of wholesomeness and the far-off peace of home. "Ah, Sauron! Ever have you fallen for your own lies. Yet this is the first time, I think, that you have fallen for the pipe-dream of another."
The Dark Lord screamed of a sudden, clutching his bleeding hand to his breast and falling to his knees on the reformed floor. The other voice continued, "I'm afraid that you will relive that moment over and over, Sauron, unless you let go of this dream right now."
"You!" Sauron shrilled. "Why should I heed any advice from the one who has done me more harm than any other?"
"Have I done you harm?" Gandalf asked mildly, stepping forward. "I have thwarted the harm that you aspired to do, yourself; that is all. Some might consider that a positive good."
"Well, I do not!" Sauron snarled, and then gasped as his finger grew back and his ring returned to him.
"Just how many times can you stand to part with it again?" Gandalf asked in a kindly voice. "Because you cannot keep it, not in this state. The problem with chaos, you see, is that you cannot select some perfect moment to stabilize--you have banished stability."
The next time the ring vanished Sauron's agony wrenched a wail from him that would have broken the heart of Mandos himself. Sauron wept where he sprawled on the floor, shuddering in his blood. "You...the forces of good..." he sobbed, "...can be so...cruel...in your punishments!"
"Nay, never has it been so," Gandalf said, bending down and offering Sauron a hand. But the fallen maia refused it, and Gandalf straightened, sighing. "We keep trying to prevent people from punishing themselves. Can't you see how your every choice has led to all your torments?"
But Sauron paid him no heed, for his finger had returned, and with it his Precious, so that there where he lay on the floor he caressed it, tears bubbling and steaming from his single fiery eye. When he lost both finger and ring with a fresh gush of blood, the torture of his scream pealed out so horrible and long that it momentarily struck Frodo deaf and blind.
"End this," Gandalf said in a firmer voice. "Let Mattie wake up. Get out of her dream. She never did change Middle Earth; she simply snared you in her nightmare. You gave her that power, and you can take it back."
"Power!" Sauron hissed. "You and your pet rats have bereft me of all that I have ever owned."
"Not all. We have always left you the power to change your course, and we always shall. You just never exercise it."
Sauron gave him a look that crawled with loathing, but he raised himself up to his hands and knees, closed his eyes, and muttered a spell under his breath, head hanging in defeat. The room stabilized into March 11, 1452, by the Shire reckoning, and with that he vanished from sight.
Gandalf stared at the spot where Sauron had writhed upon the floor, and then shook his head, saying, "Well, it's a start, I suppose, and better than most would say I had any reason to expect. It has been a long time since Sauron ever stepped back from an error like that." He turned to Frodo and raised a bushy eyebrow. "I do believe you have been a good influence on him."
Frodo just sat there, mouth agape, shivering in his bed, waiting to see whether the room might change again. The wizard sat down on the edge of his cot and laid a kindly hand on his shoulder. "You have had the shocks these past few months, haven't you? I wouldn't have expected most hobbits to have held up near so well, but you are your father's son."
"Y-you're not real," Frodo stuttered, clutching his blankets close. "Y-You passed into the west long ago. You only c-come back in dreams."
The wizard's bushy eyebrows bristled at that. "If you think I am not real, then Sam has neglected too much of your education. I, and Sauron, and everything that has happened here is deadly real enough. We have brushed upon something, in fact, that has nearly destroyed what you call reality. Had it not proven more painful to Sauron to continue than to turn back, and had I not helped him to let go--and had not the hobbit-power that he'd tapped into inclined so naturally towards the good--he could indeed have not only used up Matthilda Greenbanks but all of hobbit-kind, stealing through her their considerable potency, to rupture the borders between dream and waking, past and future, world and world and world!"
"Mattie! Is she all right?"
Gandalf gazed far away for a long, anxious moment, towards the Backwards River, and Frodo saw every line that care had ever etched upon the face he wore to visit mortal dreams. At last the wizard closed his eyes, let out a breath and nodded. "Yes. Relatively speaking. That is to say, one of my brethren moved a member of the crew to look into her cabin for a missing silver snuff-box, and this man found her on the floor, whereupon he recognized her symptoms and remembered in a rush everything he had ever heard pursuant to saving her life. But it came close--her flirtation with sobriety has lessened her tolerance more than she realizes." At the look of horror on Frodo's face Gandalf turned to him and said, "Take comfort in this, Frodo. Few indeed are the hobbits enslaved to Sauron--few and precious to him, for the greater power that they yield. He will not expend them lightly, not so long as he has Men to use up to their deaths. He only endangers her when the stakes are high enough--like taking a shot at reversing the past."
"Or getting vengeance on my father through me," Frodo said with a shudder. "It seems that I must distance myself from her for her own safety, even more than mine."
"So it would seem," the wizard said, searching Frodo keenly with his eyes. He rose to his feet. "Well, it has been an adventurous night, as your kind would put it--and no one will ever know how close to the brink we came."
"I will," Frodo said.
"Ah, no. I am afraid not. You will have to pardon me, but I fear I must confiscate your memories of this dream the minute you wake up. We do that all the time, you know, whenever things like this slip through, though we have missed a few, every so often." Gandalf patted him on the head. "You won't miss your memories, my lad--indeed, I doubt you could bear the full weight of them for very long, anyway. Mortals should not witness such fluctuations of time."
Frodo pulled his blankets all around him, feeling chill. "Did I also dream the evening, when I read Papa's letter while Fishenchips whittled by the fire?"
"In a sense. Upon awakening, you will remember, quite clearly, Fishenchips whittling and Leech resting while you continued to write your letter home."
Frodo hugged his knees, not looking at the wizard. "Then it never happened? Ted Sandyman never devised a new way to make music, my sister has no elvish yarn, my parents never tasted hot pickled carrots, and Papa has no idea what Mattie has done to the mail?"
"Oh, it happened, all right, every word of it. Your father wrote all about it on March 6, just like he said. But that letter bounces in a mail-bag down the Greenway even as we speak. When you read it you might feel a nagging sense of having read it all before, but you won't know why. And I'm afraid you won't wake up to any kingsfoil in the morning, not for about a month yet. That much I wish you could have had right away, myself--but not enough to disrupt time."
Frodo lay back down, and the room dimmed all around him. In a sleepy voice he said, "I can hardly believe that this has all been just a dream."
"No, not just a dream, if by that you mean that a dream is nothing important. They all matter, and this one might still matter to the point of death! Dreams, Frodo, are like rings of gold. Some are mere treasures, worth only the jewels and metal of their making, though that in itself suffices. Some have greater powers, like the rings that pledge your parents to their bond. And some, the truly dangerous ones, have the power to rock the furthest corners of the world."
Frodo relaxed into his pillows and closed his eyes; he did not see the wizard hover over him, passing a hand across his brow. He opened his eyes again to morning, and the smell of tea upon the air. He stretched where he lay, scratched his head, and sat up. He had had the strangest dream, but couldn't remember what it dealt with, quite. Something about a tower changing shape? And Sauron reduced to tears?
"That can't be right," he thought, and slipped his feet into his slippers as he belted on his robe.