For Into Darkness Fell His Star
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 5, Part 146
In Poppy Fields
April 15, 1452
"You! Meddler!" Sauron cried out against the old man in his poppy-field. "Have you not done me enough harm? How dare you invade my final sanctuary!"
"Ah, Sauron, old adversary," the elder said gently, though in a voice too rough for so delicate a land--yet refreshing somehow, like a rubdown with a coarse-wove towel. "Sauron, Sauron, you know that I may visit any dream, regardless of the cause--it is my right. My portion of the greater song." The man in white turned to Frodo. "You have heard Sauron's pitch--it is only fair that I have equal time."
"No, it is hardly fair at all!" Sauron insisted. "This is my realm! And Frodo is my...my...the only...it has been so long, Olorin...surely you more than any would have pity on me!"
The sage turned back to Sauron, with an expression that might have been sad, and might have been speculative. "Is it true, then? Have you honestly regained the capacity to endure love once again? Let us see..." And he parted the breast of his robe, releasing a white fire of light, so brilliant that Frodo felt its purification shoot through him, altogether different from the radiance of Sauron--a strange and powerful medicine, completely incinerating and then restoring him again, so that no outcry could capture the intensity of the shock and joy! He hardly heard the wail that dwindled beside him.
Once more Frodo opened his eyes. He found that now he could tolerate the brilliance of the robe. He saw that he stood alone with the gnarled old man in the poppy-mead.
The wizard looked griefstricken indeed as he tucked his robe back into place. "Alas!" he cried. "Sauron failed the test after all. I would gladly have stayed imprisoned for the rest of all eternity in my old body, with all of its weariness and pain--nay, given up that body's right hand and both feet!--if in exchange he could have endured the light for three seconds longer. It might have been enough." He turned his face away and added, "The hardest part is that he actually believed that what he felt was love."
Frodo goggled at the old one. "Gandalf...is it you?"
"I should say so." Bushy eyebrows bristled down at him. "Are you that befuddled, that you cannot tell?"
"And, and Sauron--is he slain?"
The old man snorted. "Him? Nothing can slay him, not while one claw of his remains snagged in the world. No, he has merely suffered yet another setback. He will return again, battened on whatever his slaves can feed him."
Frodo's glance wandered past the maia--and then he gazed around himself in astonishment. For while his immediate vicinity remained the same, he saw that he stood in a glade of delicate beauty imprisoned within a burnt and evil landscape. Gandalf watched the hobbit stumble in a circle, staring outward with stunned eyes, and so he said to him, "Alas, indeed--I fear that almost none of it could pass the test."
But then the wizard swept up his arms as though to embrace the poppy-field, its pale and nodding flowers, crying, "Behold, the last vestige of the beauty that was Sauron's! For he was beautiful once, as you have seen, with that singular grace granted to each of the Maiar in their beginning."
He lowered his arms and shook his head. "Once Sauron had the soul of a poet. But it became inconvenient for him, as all good things eventually did." Gandalf began to stroll, and Frodo drifted by his side, and together they took in the loveliness all around them within its horrid setting. "The last time Sauron ever remembered beauty--true beauty, beyond himself--was when he gazed upon a poppy-field. Something moved in him to cultivate these wildflowers, to breed the loveliest poppies that he could imagine--one final act that had no selfish goal (though he found selfish use enough later, when he changed beyond recall.) He imagined them white, because that part of him that still loved flowers had sickened upon darkness, though he would not admit it."
"Is that why his dream banishes night with such brilliant lanterns?"
"There is nothing wrong with night, Frodo-Lad, not the way it was before Morgoth despoiled it. Nothing wrong with the blackness of good soil, or the restfulness of shade. Sauron hated his own form of darkness--his refusal of light, his inability to come up with anything to replace it."
"He came up with these, didn't he?" Frodo gestured around them.
"He found them and he changed them, at least, and treasured them after his fashion. Sauron built hothouses to shelter his poppies throughout the cold, white winters, and would often walk among them, infusing them with his magic. He did not even realize, until later, the implications of investing a little bit of himself into them--he had, in those days, so much power to spare. Even so, in the last minutes of his downfall the realization flashed through him and he grasped at his forgotten flowers for his very survival! But at first he valued these blossoms for themselves; in cultivating them he poured everything good of himself remaining to him into their growth."
Gandalf stopped; his toes brushed the margins of the blasted land. "And when he had done pouring out the best part from himself, cut off as he was from the Source of all goodness, Sauron had nothing left; he no longer remembered any purpose, except to obtain more power for he knew not what. Only in his dreams does he remember, and forgets again as soon as he awakens."
Gandalf shook his head. "Yet even that remnant of good invested in the flowers held Morgoth's poison running through and through, so that the poppies themselves became poisonous, and disclosed their visions only through toxicity, slowly murdering whoever sought them. An especial mockery, considering the poppy's favored status in Valinor, and its intended purpose." He turned and smiled at Frodo. "Which is why our formidable Lady Eowyn can still find honest use of the herb for her patients, if she exercises care."
They turned around and walked the long way through the meads, ruin to their right and left, but a fragile beauty blowing in the breeze before them. Frodo relished the dreamy, wafting feeling of every move. Soon they reached a place between hills where Frodo didn't have to look at the wasteland anymore. "I feel that goodness, Gandalf--very much so!" He found tears pouring effortlessly down his face, in astonishment at how wonderful he could feel--and in horror at the prospect of waking up. "I don't ever want it to end!"
"Mm? Do you not?"
"No, when it comes right down to it, I don't. And why should I? Why can't we make Sauron's dream come true?"
"I see. Would you like to do that?" Gandalf stopped. "And how would you go about it?"
"How...? By...well, by the inspiration. He spoke the truth--here we have a blueprint for endless bliss...why Gandalf, look around you! Everything inspires! More than I can hold. What poems I could write, what songs, oh, the colors I could paint!"
"Could you indeed? Sing a song for me, right now, if you are so full of inspiration."
Frodo opened his mouth, and poured out the most glorious song that he had ever dreamed of, a melody that seemed to slay him with its beauty, so intensely did it shear through him. And it seemed to go on and on forever, ages, without him ever tiring.
"Well?" said the wizard. "I'm waiting."
"Waiting? Didn't you just hear..."
Gandalf shook his head. "No, Frodo. I heard nothing. You only imagined that you sang." They resumed walking. "That is the trap, here. This realm does provide you with inspiration--abundantly. Nothing can take away what it once was, no more than poison can destroy the nutrients in food. But you cannot act upon it. Even as it inspires, it leeches away the ability to do. One feels as though one has acted already, and enjoys the satisfaction of labors well-done--yet nothing ever actually comes of it."
Frodo protested, "But Mattie sings."
"I am not surprised, hobbit that she is, that she can sometimes squeeze a song out anyway. You are not altogether a fool, you know, for loving Mattie, for she had an extraordinary soul."
"Yes. She held out long against evil, longer in the slow decline than even most hobbits might have done."
"Had?" Now it was Frodo who stopped, rather insistently, and the wizard turned to him.
"That wonderful gift of elvish sight that you enjoyed--did it not give living things a kind of glow? Like trees, for instance."
"Yes, trees give off a ruddy or a greenish glow, welling up from deep within them. I first began to wonder about Hazel because hers shone brighter..."
"And how about wood itself?" Gandalf interrupted. "Hewn wood, dead wood, nailed into some form other than a tree? Does that glow, too."
"Well, no, it doesn't."
Gandalf turned away and led them walking once again. "And that is why you can no longer see Mattie's face clearly in the dark. The light has almost entirely gone out of her identity by now. Even I can barely see it, and I have keener eyes than yours."
A feeling stirred in Frodo, then, some deep troubling, perhaps that this should have troubled him still more, a vague sense of having been robbed of something important.
"But it is not just hobbits," the wizard continued, plucking and toying with a flower as he walked. "There have been and will always be some few among men--some who might have otherwise been creative giants for their kind--who, enslaved by the poppy, can nevertheless force up from themselves one or two songs, one or two poems, one or two works of great art, before the poison destroys their talents entirely. The world, of course, will rail against the doom that they could not have managed more, but some fools will always attribute their gifts to the poppy itself, and think that they, too, can become the exception rather than the rule, trying the gum themselves." He laughed, mirthlessly. "Oh, it is a most cunning trap! One that Sauron didn't even know he'd made, one that he seems trapped within, himself. Ah, but his master worked cleverly upon him, leaving behind this secret corruption to poison his work, should Sauron ever turn traitor and repent!"
"You mean that Sauron could never really have repented?"
"I meant no such thing!" Gandalf's hand clenched on the stem. "Had Sauron submitted himself to the Valar as they had bidden him to do, they would have searched him for all such traps and set him free. But in his pride he refused, trying to return to good all by himself."
"So all of this..." Frodo could hardly bear to say it, "all of this beauty..."
"Yes. The visions are beautiful, but they are dead. They are the very corpses of what had once been Sauron's highest nature, before he fell." He stroked the petals sadly. "The spirit that once animated that beauty has long since fled, leaving behind a fair shell containing naught but corruption and disease. It can seem animate for awhile--vividly so--but only by feeding off of the flesh and spirit of the viewer, devouring him by degrees."
Frodo heard a distant rumbling, over the blasted hills, that disturbed him despite his sense of peace, in a way that made the back of his neck prickle.
"And yet some virtue remains," Gandalf continued, raising the flower up before his eyes, "for the easing of pain. Sauron did not invent poppies, merely corrupted them. Once Yavanna brought them forth, and Manwe blessed them, and Este made use of them in her healing gardens. Sauron cannot wholly rob them of the purpose shaped into them. But he can make them dangerous and deceitful."
And now they came to the other end of the meadows, but Gandalf did not stop this time. With the same measured tread he stepped out onto the blasted earth, and Frodo followed. Mud squelched in between the hobbit's toes, churned up in no natural way, smelling like decaying blood. Frodo saw craters now, more and more as they traveled, and the rumblings grew louder. Now sometimes he thought he saw flashes of light, just on the other side of the hills. At the sight of a rotting corpse, half-sunken in the mud, he shrieked and shrank to the wizard's side. "What is this place?"
"The inevitable other side of Sauron's dream. The nightmare. We have entered a region called The Somme." Resolutely, Gandalf climbed up over a hill, the flower dropping from his hand, and Frodo could only follow, terrified to be alone, with the meadow nowhere near in sight. Explosions now crashed ahead of them, Frodo could hear them unmistakably, and whizzing like a thousand firecrackers, and bangs and bursts, but all in the same colorless light that flared just on the other side, celebrating nothing. Frodo now remembered what he had already forgotten--that he could feel fear here every bit as intensely as the pleasure. He shivered so violently that he felt like he could vibrate apart, lose himself forever in his poisoned state, but he followed the wizard over the brink, his heart hammering...