From the Ashes a Fire Shall be Woken
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 13, Part 258
“Oh Harding! Oh my Harding!” Frodo embraced his son, his son, his son, grown near to the same age as himself, in arms shuddering with so much life, too much life to bear.
“Close your eyes, Father! Quickly! Please!”
Yet how could Frodo comply? He saw his own features in the sculpt of that face, his eyes, yet Mattie’s mouth, Mattie’s hair, so beautiful, so perfectly beautiful, unstained by earthly suffering or sin, no doubt, no care, a life entirely fresh–and his! The son that he himself had brought into existence, one stormy night in a lonely cave high in the Ephel Duath.
Yet he could not help but glimpse past the face as well, out the window (Oh, the carved and polished jet of sill and arch!) onto a black sea faintly shimmering beneath a pure black sky, so lovely in its own strange way, an absence rejoicing in the hope of presence, pregnant with a light unborn.
“Father!” Then hands went over his eyes, but not before he caught sight of the faintest glimmer on the horizon of that sea, promising a dawn, ages in the making yet well worth the longest wait. That one glimmer fell into his arid soul like a spark, caught fire, raged through him with majesty unbearable! Everything that he had mistaken for himself incinerated in one agony of bliss–he couldn’t stand it yet he wanted more and more! He wanted it forever!
A different, icy hand clapped down upon his shoulder, and a familiar, powerful voice cried out, “I did not send for you–do not come before I send for you!” Pleading mingled with the sternness, pity with the fury. That hand hurled him back, away...
...and Frodo floated, stunned, in some no-space between the realms, where he played over and over the memory of that light greater even than the light of Valinor, and the embrace of his spirit-grown son, somehow part and parcel with that splendor, as full of love as a torch full of fire, pulsing with it, radiating it. He found that clinging to that glimpse could slow his hurtling, gentler, gentler, till he came to a complete halt in the middle of nothing, with no force to propel him again. It didn’t feel like nothing to him, however. He had his memories, and he could not bear to let go of them.
”Frodo...come back to us, Frodo... He tuned the voice out. He wanted nothing more than what he had right here.
He owed something to the voice. Yet how could he? How could anyone ask a father to turn away from a son? How could any father bear it?
Frodo...Frodo, you belong here.
“No, I don’t. I belong to that light out there.” Somehow he both knew the truth of this and the wrongness of his application, some fallacy...yet it didn’t matter. Nothing mattered, save to bask in that vision, forever and ever and ever. He could eat and drink and breathe it, rest in it, drown in it. It gave him everything. He had no need except to stay right here, waiting with the gift of infinite patience for the dawning of that coming light. For time meant nothing when...
FRODO, COME HOME NOW!
He felt the command tug him, relentless. “No! Please! NO! NOOOOOO!” Yet Love as well as authority pulled him, a stern kind of love, the jewel-heart of duty and more than duty, radiating as a beacon and a marshaling force at once , from one who had himself sacrificed everything for love. And still more blazed out from others beside this central source, all reflections of that primary radiance beyond the Sea of Death, and the man wove them all together into a summons that Frodo found it harder and harder to resist.
His grip began to slip when he felt his wife’s devotion shining with all the rest, uniquely patterned to match his own–she who had traveled so far across such a frightful chasm to become the woman that he cherished. She who had stood by him in his own darkest hour, who had pulled him from the pit before, and had the strength to pull him back again.
Yet Harding...surely she of all people would have to understand. The memory could not exist so sharply in the realm of clogging flesh.
Then the commanding figure, who focused them all, drew in a light greater still than all the others, greater even than his own, still more courageous, still more sacrificial, still more unconditional. With this the King bound all the rest together into a rope of brilliance that Frodo could no longer resist.
Who had the right, indeed, to separate a father from his son before their time? And Frodo had miles left in his thread, miles to weave into the Web of Life.
Yet Sam’s love alone did not overpower Frodo. Rose’s love inextricably intertwined it, doubled it, matched it in intensity, one with the hobbit that she’d married. For though she had never marched waterless across Mordor, nor resisted the wiles of the Ring, yet she could have, had anybody asked it of her, for the sake of a son. She could have done things to shock the Valar themselves.
Frodo tumbled backwards, backwards, cried out at feeling once more the waking nerves, the threads on skin, the temperature of the world, hungers and thirsts and the aching desire to stir a body too long lain still. No! Everything that he’d thought incinerated started to congeal right back around him again, heavy, uncomfortable–He tried to wriggle free, and almost succeeded, but then a whiff of familiar perfume distracted him and his eyes popped open of their own accord.
He blinked a couple of times till things came slowly into focus. The room did not look in the least bit the same. Winter-bared vines twisted outside the window, and strange runes carved the arches overhead. It did not even smell the same, with vapors of athelas reminding him painfully of the scented winds that cross that other land...
As the King fell back, exhausted, Mattie cried out, “He’s awake!” then pressed forward and hugged Frodo, covering him with kisses and tears. “Oh darling, forgive me, forgive me! I should never try to give you gifts that aren’t yours!” The kisses stung, the tears burned, yet he discovered that he welcomed them, all things too much and not enough–for that other light burned in the sensations. He could not explain. Light burned, and he wanted the burning. He wanted it to consume him clear to ash.
Yet all things moved slowly in this world, though swiftly, too. It would take years, now, to burn away the barriers to returning to that black shore on the brink of light. Frodo stared at Mattie. He saw plainly what radiated from her. He turned to Elessar; it shone from the King as well. Frodo raised a surprisingly weak hand to trace the view of the vines in the window. They also glowed. And his fingers...yes, just like Elves glimmer in the dark, yet no darkness could fit in here when reality itself bulged with light. Then he blinked, astonished, looking all around him, his head not moving from the pillow. The air..maiar, luminous, suffused the air!
In a slightly hoarse voice the King said, “Frodo? Can you hear me? You rest in the Houses of Healing.”
Frodo stared at the carved beams of the ceiling. This should mean something.
Choked in tears, Mattie said, “You stopped breathing. We forced you to breathe, then, but we could not wake you. We thought...I feared...maybe you had gone without breath too long, you would stay thus forever, in deathlike sleep, until you died in truth.” Then she turned anxious eyes to the King. “He will be all right now, won’t he?”
“I hope so,” Elessar murmured, yet he sounded uncertain. “It is well that you told me promptly what you had done, else we might have lost still more days, pursuing the wrong treatment.”
Elessar saw the hobbit’s puzzlement, and half-laughed in relief to witness any reaction at all, “Yes, Frodo. For three days and nights I have striven to call you back. It always takes more effort, when the patient does not want to return.” Frodo noticed, in exquisite detail, how many lines creased the anxious face. “It came to the point where I considered letting you go.” The King’s voice thickened. “It seemed like the most merciful course.” Elessar passed a hand over his face. “I finally left your side, returned to my own family and took some rest, last night. Yet I dreamed about Mordor pining for you, all of the tilled land lapsing back to waste before my eyes. I had to return.”
The land...memory forced its way back, hurting like the blood returning to a frozen limb. Suddenly Frodo’s memories shone more vividly than the waking eye had seen, playing out for him everything that he had missed, all of Mordor’s aliveness, and all of her suffering. And all of the loveliness beyond the suffering, the yearning to become as she ought to be.
Wearily the King added, “So I rose again with the dawn and tried once more.”
“Thank heavens he did!” Mattie exclaimed.
“Aye, thank the Valar, for they compelled me. And in my desperate hour they revealed to me how to reach out my soul, to summon all of those who love thee–and they are many–to bind them all into one great call. I gained a glimpse–a frightening glimpse–of the power that Sauron perverted to bind all greeds to himself in the One Ring. I will not exercise such power again! Yet all gave willingly what I asked of them. That alone saved me.” The monarch stared out the window for a moment and shuddered.
Frodo’s awareness slipped away from the room, turned wholly inward, overpowered by the memories of his land. He heard the groaning rocks of Mordor, he felt the grit upon parched clay, he ached with every withered leaf trying to keep alive no matter what, long enough to bear some fruit. He tasted the salt in the soil, he sweltered under the sun and shivered in the frost of winter. His heart swelled and swelled with love and grieving, trying to grow the capacity to take it all in and transform it.
The vision that he had seen in Barliman’s Brew, so long ago. now rushed over him and through him once again, only more vividly, not diluted by mere mortal intoxication, stark and true this time, beautiful and horrible, the overlapping images of what had been and what could be, till Frodo would have cried out in pain and ecstacy hopelessly intertwined, if only he could anchor himself fully in his flesh to give voice to anything.
The King leaned forward till he blocked all else from the hobbit’s sight, cradled Frodo’s head in his hands, and said with grim precision, “Frodo, listen to me. We cannot always do as we please. We must finish the duties allotted to us.” Then his brow furrowed with concern when the hobbit’s face did not change. “Frodo? Do you comprehend? Can you speak to us?”
Frodo swallowed, and then rasped in a bare whisper, “I..I am hungry.” It surprised him to realize in full once more that he had a body, and it desired food. “May I please have some breakfast?”
Elessar laughed with relief. “You may have as ample a feast as my cooks can serve!” He stood up and rang a bell. “The good news is that, in examining you, I discovered that your liver has shrunk back down to its proper size already. So yes, you may have butter, gravy, cheese, or anything else that you wish.”
In no time at all a rich and savory-scented stew came before him, tiny maiar of nourishment dancing in the steam that rose up from it, so that for a long while Frodo could do nothing save to marvel, till Mattie took up the spoon and raised some broth to his lips. It tasted...so right! He took the spoon and fed himself. Food seemed to anchor him, for it was good, and his body good, as the toys of children are, years before the time should come for putting toys aside.
Yet, even as he ate, he could not help but see more than he properly ought to–the many maiar who hovered about, tower-great or thumbnail small or everything in between, following healers about their business, pouring gentle, strengthening music into blanket-wrapped patients that herbwives wheeled out into the garden, just beyond the window, while others sang exquisite lullabies to dormant plants out there, urging deep roots and patience for the spring, no two songs alike, yet all of them harmonizing. He saw the faces of maiar of the earth in the very stones of the walls, patiently upholding the shelter around him. He saw maiar of trees maintaining the integrity of the beams overhead. Then Frodo turned his face towards the hearth-fire, and perceived, in a sudden flare whiter than the usual flames, the maia who hovered particularly around himself.
“Hello, Gandalf,” he said between mouthfuls, while the King tensed, suddenly alert.
Hello, yourself! But really, lad, you should try not to pay attention to any of us.
“Have you ever tried that, yourself, pretending not to see?”
Longer than you can imagine. The spirit sighed, and a curtain stirred faintly as with a draft. Ah well, what has happened, happened, and we must make the best of it. Frodo, please make an effort, at least, to appear as though you perceive no more than anyone else. Your wife is beside herself with worry to watch your eyes rove everywhere.
“It isn’t as though she didn’t give me my share of worries in her day.” But then he tried not to stare so obviously at the disembodied among them after that.
One more thing–and no, don’t look at me, look forward. I should give you fair warning that a mirror might surprise you. But such things happen, when mortals meddle with more beauty than their capacity to handle.
Elessar could no longer keep from whispering, “Is Gandalf here? How I have longed for his counsel!”
The spirit took on more of a human appearance, an old wizard grinning in spite of himself. You tell him, Frodo...
“...that you have done every bit as well as I could have in your place, Estel. Better, for it is your destiny, not mine. You need no further help from me.” Frodo repeated the words given to him, while the King stared on with all the years of care in his eyes. “And tell the hobbit that he needs to pay less attention to the likes of me and more to living in the world that he’s supposed to!” Frodo gaped at what just came out of his mouth, so comically that both Mattie and the King burst out in laughter, breaking the tension of the moment.
“You heard it yourself, Frodo,” the King said, smiling. “Now finish your food.”
“And afterwards do something about your hair,” his wife added, bringing him a comb and mirror. “I cannot tend it properly with your head upon a pillow.”
After his meal (the most bountiful that he had managed since the death of his son) Frodo did as his wife asked of him, noticing the silver-streak amid the darker curls.