The Adventures
of
Frodo Gardner

Volume VII
Now Lost, Lost to Those From the East, Is Valimar!
By Dolores J. Nurss

Chapter 3, Part 213
The Palantirs
July 17, 1452

When they reached the Prince’s room, Eldarion knelt and dug into his pack, saying, “I have no authority to pass judgment on matters of blood guilt.” And though the summer heat pooled in the upstairs room, Frodo shuddered to hear it stated out loud, the name for what he had done. The Prince rose and turned to Frodo holding a large bag of blackest velvet, shaped round by what it held. Wide eyes never leaving Frodo, Eldarion stepped away until he backed into a chair, and then sat down in it. “My father alone must rule on this. Come closer, Frodo Gardner.” Slowly Eldarion drew back the velvet, to reveal a large globe of dark-hearted glass; the bag slid to the ground, forgotten. Bracing his elbows on his knees, he held the globe forward and said, “Place your hands upon the crystal, Frodo, your fingers between my fingers” Leaning forward brought him eye to eye with the hobbit. “I will guide the palantir.”
 
Frodo shivered at the memory of Uncle Pippin’s stories. “Must I?”
 
“Yes. I command you. Place your fingers between mine, and stare into the Palantir.”
 
Frodo did as he was told. The glassy surface felt cold, ice-cold, at first, but in time it warmed to their touch. At first nothing else happened. The heat of the room stunned Frodo, for he stood right in a beam of sunlight, golden flecks of dust twinkling around him in a sleepy way. The globe looked inert, nothing more than an overlarge paper-weight, such as glaziers in Bywater cast a-plenty, for businesshobbits who liked to work with the windows thrown wide to the sweet breezes of that land. Homesickness began to creep over Frodo’s heart. Oh, if only he had never set foot beyond the Shire–nay, if only he had never left Bag End and its gardens! Surely he would not have gotten into nearly so much trouble, he would still be an innocent young tweenager, securely entrusted to the authority of his parents, with no greater responsibility than a few dependent chickens and some rather fussy roses.
 
Stupid paperweight, blown up out of all proportion–like everything else in his life, lately. Why, it even had bubbles and flaws in the glass, now that he noticed–how disappointing! Couldn’t the Elves of Valinor, trained by the Valar themselves, have managed better? But now Frodo saw (or thought he saw) that what he took for flaws appeared to shift, just a little–or perhaps mere fatigue at staring so long created that illusion. No, they really did move, at first drifting about lazily like the flecks of dust all around him, so that he began to lose any distinction between within and without the dark crystal bounds of the palantir, as the sunlight dimmed towards twilight and the shadows grew more obscure around him, in the corners of his eyes. And the more he stared, the more he realized that no mere bubbles swam before him, but rather tiny worlds of light, with hints of color and motion in their depths, offering to come clearer if only he would look closer. He hardly even noticed how the motes themselves wandered increasingly towards the center.
 
He gazed deeper and deeper into layer upon layer of darker and darker glass, following the motes, trying to discern the details there, until his eyes filled with utter blackness at the core. A queer sort of vertigo overtook him, so that he would have drawn away, except that now some sort of tingle seemed to glue his hands to the crystal. He thought at first that he toppled forward–then he realized that his spirit had moved, leaving the body standing behind him as he fell into the gloom.
 
Globes of imagery tumbled before him–towers, countryside, ocean, sky, near places and far, ancient places and places yet to be. At first they skipped past too fast to discern anything clearly. Then he popped into one of the bubbles, and everything changed to clear skies and the scent of grain ripening in the sun. He seemed to fly, lazily, like a bird riding updrafts on a warm summer breeze. Below him stretched a pretty patchwork of farmland rippling over hills. He wafted down lower. He saw round doors and windows in the slopes.
 
“That’s the Shire!” he cried, sinking towards Bag End. “That’s Papa! Hi, Papa! Look up! Look up!” The older hobbit, hay-fork on his shoulder as he headed home, stopped for a moment and peered up at the sky, but did not seem to see anything unusual up there. After awhile Sam shrugged and went on to the toolshed and out of sight. “Papa,” Frodo almost sobbed, before some force snatched him away from the Shire, into blackness...and then into redness! Bright, glowing redness, churning and uneven in its light, as he tumbled down, down, down the throat of a volcano with a searing jewel clutched to his chest, feeling his skin blister and smelling the singing of his hair...
 
”Nooooo!” He did not know whether he or the Prince had cried out. Blackness closed around them once again, and Frodo retreated into its coolness, so relieved that he did not even notice at first the barely discernable rows of doors slipping past to either side of him, barely limned in a faint, blue glow.
 
“Wrong turn!” Eldarion cried, and snatched Frodo away just as an outraged Lady burst out from a place of blinding light, and reached for him with many arms as her red hair swirled around her.
 
Again the blackness, this time hurling through bubbles full of places and lives and past and future and near and far and colors, emotions, events momentous and trivial, crowding them, bumping into them, more and more until they frothed about the pair like a suds of worlds, so that Frodo’s mind whirled while Eldarion dragged him through the chaos. “This way–I am sure this time.”
 
But then something jolted and Frodo heard the prince gasp, even as moments tumbled through him–in one second of screaming fury Frodo drove a moonlit sword into a lame man laughing bitterly before him. Then he strangled his best friend under clear, sunny skies, writhing with him on a muddy riverbank for the sake of an all-consuming glint of gold. Then, snickering, he flung a knife at an absurdly ornate collar on a peakish little sniveler, only to gape in horror at the gout of blood. Tragedy after tragedy ripped through him in which, each time, he played the worst of roles.
 
Then one image drew him closer and closer, though his dread would gladly have shrunk away–old hands withering in flames. This much he expected, and feared enough, but it did not stop there. The heat grew and grew until it became painful–then agony! He screamed–but the scream became one of rage, rage that consumed him, burning and shriveling his miserable existence until nothing but cinder remained.
 
A familiar voice said, “You brought that on yourself, you know.” And immediately he became Frodo Gardner again, intact if shaken. “Like draws to like in the un-world of the Palantir. Thus did Sauron of old entrap those with the pride to assay the power of the stone, being a slave to pride, himself.”
 
“S-Strider?”
 
“Silence! Here you must call me Tar Elessar, and address me not unless I give you leave. You stand before my doom, Frodo son of Samwise.”
 
Frodo surrendered, without reservation, finding a bitter kind of peace in that. He felt that probing mind, to which he opened himself up unflinchingly, holding nothing back. He relived every nuance of his encounter with the Web of Life, all of his fear for Mattie, all of his defiance and desperation, his recklessness and wilfulness–and afterwards, the slow dawning of remorse. His shame grew in him, and grew again, till it almost broke his will to live. Yet he endured it as his due, a pain that flooded him and seemed to melt away everything else about him. Right before he ceased to exist altogether, a regal voice said, “Enough!” Slowly Frodo returned to his own sense of self, in all of its evil and its good.
 
He saw the King now, a curving distortion of an image before him, with books on shelves warped all around, and the most enormous hands cupping the seeming-air around him. Yet the face did not look angry as he expected, but rather as one worn sick with weariness and care. Tar Elessar sighed, and said, “Here I read honesty and a sincerely repentant heart–that still counts for something, even in such great offense. I...may the Valar have mercy on you! And they shall, in some things, though not entirely, not...Oh, poor Sam! And poor Frodo–the penalty upon you surpasses anything that I have the authority to mete out, and I would have spared you, if I could.”
 
More kindly now the voice spoke to him, though still heavy with authority. “Yet penalty I must add of my own, Frodo Gardner, if law shall mean anything in my kingdom. Alas! For we have all asked too much of you, I fear–too much for one so young, so sheltered from the darkness of the world, and then suddenly so burdened by an ancient evil not of your own making. In your bared heart I see how I have sinned, as has your father, and your elders, nay, even the Valar themselves have erred, here in the sin of Frodo Gardner. Yet the doom lies on me that I must pass judgment upon you, nonetheless.”
 
Tar Elessar drew himself up straight, then, and pronounced, “Your murder falls into the second degree, and mildly at that, almost on the verge of manslaughter–almost. Yet choice you made, in the haste of the moment. Therefore, though you may live, you must do so in exile.”
 
“Exile?” Frodo gasped before he remembered that he had no right to speak. But the King did not seem inclined, this time, to rebuke him for it.
 
“Yes. You may not cross the Anduin until I give you leave. And that might not take place for years.”
 
A claustrophobic panic closed over his heart, and a desire flamed up in him for his homeland, and especially his kin, more than any he had yet felt in all these months. “But my family–my mother and my father, my brothers...”
 
“It is ever thus, Frodo. No one ever pays the penalty for their sins alone. I lament more than I can tell you the grief that your family shall feel–on top of all their other griefs–when they learn that you cannot come home at will. It does not seem fair–and of course fairness has nothing to do with crime; perfect justice always lies just beyond our mortal reach. But it would be a cold world indeed if one could suffer and yet no loved ones shared the pain.”
 
The realization of what he had done, not just to whoever belonged to the thread that he had snapped, and not just to himself, ached inside Frodo. But his image bowed his head within the Palantir and said, “I accept your judgement, your Highness. I...I suppose that I belong here, anyway–Mordor needs me. It is just..just that exile sounds so solid, if you understand me, so...I don’t know the right word. Vast? Total? It is one thing to defer going home for a duty which one embraces, another thing entirely to have no choice.”
 
“I know,” The King said gently. “If it had a sweet sound, it would not be punishment.”
 
The image swirled before him and seemed to fold in on itself. Dizziness blurred through the hobbit, until he closed his eyes and felt his body around him, stable, feet upon a floor. Then Frodo opened his eyes and saw that he stood before a sweating, pale-faced prince who held a shadow-hearted globe between them in a moonlit room.
 
“I lost control,” Eldarion gasped. “I saw...felt...if not for Ada...” a sob escaped the young prince.
 
“I am so sorry,” Frodo said, picking up and handing him the bag. Eldarion just stared at him. And Frodo hung his head, wondering how he could possibly use the same word for murder as he did for leaving a mess in the kitchen, and how could he find some fitter word, unless he could somehow rip it from his chest?
 
“Frodo?” a sleepy voice called out from the room next door. “Is that you? Are you all right, lad?”
 
“Don’t get up, Uncle Nibs! Please, stay in bed and let your back heal.”
 
“That does not sound like a yes to me–either you come in here right now and tell me what’s going on or I’m coming out after you.” So Frodo went in and found that he had to confess the whole thing to family much sooner than he expected.
 
Bathed in yellow lamplight, Nibs looked so small in the oversized cot, too high up off the ground, so hurt and helpless. Frodo thought he couldn’t bear to speak, but neither could he bear to leave his uncle waiting and wondering the worst, so speak he did. Nibs lay there and took it calmly, but only because the valerian potion, which loosened his clenched-up muscles to help them heal, also forced a languor on him that he could not shake. When Frodo finished, kneeling by his bed, Nibs took his hand and patted it, saying in a faint voice, “Well, well, good or bad, right or wrong, the family will stand by you. You’re not the first hobbit to get hisself in trouble, one way or another.”
 
“Trouble!” Frodo heard a harsh laugh escape his throat, and immediately felt like an orc for laughing at all. “That’s putting it far too lightly. Hobbits aren’t supposed to stain their families in blood-guilt. I don’t feel like a hobbit, anymore, Uncle–I don’t know what I am. Whatever it is, I don’t like it.”
 
“What you are,” Nibs said slowly, shaking a finger at Frodo without raising his head from the pillow, “Is my dear sister’s son. Now that’s hobbit enough for me, no matter what happens.” His hand fell weakly back onto his chest, while Frodo held the other one. “We needn’t tell the rest of the Shire why you’re away from home so long. We’ll just get through this, eh? We will just all find a way through, somehow.”
 
“Thank you,” Frodo whispered, kissed the calloused hand, and took his leave. But when Frodo closed the door behind him, he heard his Uncle weep, great sobbing rails such as he hadn’t unleashed since Maybelle’s wake.
 

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