For Into Darkness Fell His Star
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 4, Part 145
April 14, 1452
Frodo found that he could turn his head, effortlessly, like drifting through water. There, ensconced in a living chair shaped from a great tree root, sat Sauron as he once had been, as he always remained in his own imagination--a ravishingly beautiful being with sunset-brilliant curls, and eyes aflame in a personal vision. He toyed with a diadem of copper and beryl. "How do you feel, Frodo?"
"I..." Frodo moved his hands, held them before him, wiggled the fingers. No, it didn't resemble moving through water, after all, but through the most luxuriant unguent, warm and supportive, and as sweet as though he could perceive perfume through his pores. "I feel..." No pain remained within him of any sort, body or mind. He had not realized till then the weight of everyday pains, the weary feet, the strain in the back, the sensitivity of a tooth that someday would become a toothache. And all of the silly little anxieties, hurt feelings, embarrassments and shames--none of them made sense anymore. "I feel fantastic!" He ran his fingers through the fur that wrapped him. "This...this feels exquisite." He listened. "Sound...I seem to hear just a hint of music...a great and powerful music...surrounding me like a mist." He looked around him. "Colors...oh heavens, the colors! Richer, more intense--so far beyond the ordinary!" But then he saw the diadem sparkling in Sauron's hands, and something almost troubled him, something that he felt ought to trouble him.
"I will not crush it, if that would displease you," said Sauron. "I merely wish to bend it out a bit, so that it will fit a larger head than that for which its maker shaped it...there. That is much better." He placed it on his head, and it did indeed look magnificent, nestled in those lustrous locks, setting off the blazing eyes. "You need no other kin than me, Frodo. Embrace me as your own, and I shall cherish you as I have never cherished any other."
Frodo sat up and stared at him. He swung his feet out of the bed and onto the floor--effortlessly, like he had never realized before how movement normally took effort, and what a nuisance he found it. Not that Frodo could think, not precisely. But he could feel, and his feelings moved towards the glorious being in admiration verging upon worship, especially when Sauron waved a hand and said, "All of this--and more, so much more!--is mine to bestow upon you." Then Sauron stood, raised his arms, and laughed--the carefree laugh of a child, and he threw back his head and pirouetted in the chamber's heart, and he looked young, so purely, innocently young, as the red hair drifted through the air and the diadem coruscated in its midst. "Do you want me, Frodo, and all that I have to offer?" Who in his right mind could have refused?
But just as Frodo opened his mouth to consent, he felt something creep across his arm...then more things, then on his legs, his feet, then on his neck...He looked down in horror at worms--thousands of worms!--crawling all over him. He made a ghastly noise halfway between a shriek and a groan, he leaped to his feet--but only to stumble into more worms--he brushed the beastly things hysterically away from him, but more extruded through the earthen walls, reaching blindly for him in waving, slimy tendrils, and still more slithered across the floor to slide over his feet!
He heard a throat clear, and a crusty old voice say, at his own height, "Accept them, Frodo-lad. They are your mortality. If you do not pay attention, you shall die before your time, before you have finished all your tasks. Listen to your heart beat, now!" And he heard his own heart speed up, faster and faster until it raced. "That is the sound of life, m'boy! Embrace it."
"They're maggots!" Frodo cried. "Filthy rotten maggots!"
"Aye, that they are," said the hobbity voice. "Good to hear you thinking, again. Keep doing that--as hard as you can. If you keep your brain active, you might still get out of this alive."
"A-alive?" Frodo turned and stared at Bilbo Baggins, standing there as large as life, with his thumbs hooked in his braces as though nothing could be more respectable than his presence in a poppy-dream. "But you...you're..."
"I tell you, lad, you are in the grave--the worms will eat you if you do not climb out of it!"
Frodo swatted wildly at all of the crawling things that covered him. "But you're dead! I saw you die!"
"Well yes, in a manner of speaking, in one world at least. There are many, you know. In another world--possibly--I have mastered dream-travel and whisk about through time and space, so 'when' I died has no relevance to me whatsoever. Now, now, don't gape like that or a worm will crawl into your mouth. Yes, I am dead, more or less, and my presence really should alarm you! I have come to escort you to Mandos--as a friend of the family--if you don't make it. But I'd really rather that you do. Sam would be so put out if we took you ahead of him."
Frodo stammered, "Are, are you alive anywhere in a real world?" while he combed worms out of his hair with frantic fingers.
"Good, good--keep on thinking! They're all real, dear boy, even Sauron's corner of it--that's the danger, you see. Unrealness cannot hurt you, but this dream of his can kill. Oh, and by the way, isn't that one maggot crawling a bit too close to your nostril?"
"Get them off! Get them off!" He beat at himself, but more crawled up his legs as he watched.
"No," the old hobbit drawled, "The fear will do you good." And Frodo heard the bare feet walk away.
"Poor Frodo," said the luxuriant voice, and a long-fingered hand waved over him, banishing the maggots just like that. "Abandoned by your own kind. Turn to me, Frodo, and I will protect you." The hobbit hesitated, then looked up, confused. "Trust me." Sauron ground worms under his boot and looked with one raised brow at more crawling close. "Consider the alternative."
Frodo's head spun. He dared not say a word, and somehow he knew it. But he turned his face towards the glorious maia beside him, and his hand reached out, and his eyes pleaded. The maia clasped his hand and smiled on him with such radiance that it flooded him with a potent kind of coziness that he had never before imagined; everything whirled and he seemed to waft away...
When next he opened his eyes he saw that he stood upon a pinnacle, and the most marvelous land stretched out before him, miles and miles and miles of gardens, all of them fruitful and every plant in its place, the trees and hedges trimmed and bent into fantastic shapes. And in the midst of these gardens rose a city like none that he had ever seen, a work of art, shining towers of glass interlaced in perfect proportion with arching roads upon the air. And upon these roads traveled people, drifting by without actually moving, borne by a rainbow of vehicles that no beast drew, in dizzying speeds that yet seemed langorous in the context of the larger whole.
Now the sun set, and Frodo gasped, for the entire city lit up before his eyes, a lace of piercing-brilliant lanterns that banished night, exquisite in their orderly arrangement, outshining the chaos of the scattered stars that smokes had mostly blotted out anyway. And faster and faster the people moved without moving, never exerted yet never resting, components to a gigantic machine. The sun rose again even as they watched, though Frodo felt no time pass, and still human motion surged unceasing through the city and its gardens, seemingly freed from every need.
"This," Sauron said softly, "Is all that I have ever dreamed of, all that I have ever wanted to create. Perfect harmony, perfect control, where no one hurts or hungers or grieves, where none are even capable of doing ill, where nothing can ever go wrong again!" To Frodo's surprise tears filled up the Dark Lord's eyes. "Do you find it marvelous? Yet it is but the template, the plan that I have always championed against my naysayers, the compass by which I have steered. Nothing has ever mattered to me except to bring my vision to fruition."
Sauron laid hands upon the hobbit's shoulders, turning him gently to take in all the view. "Has pain occurred along the way? Yes, but what is that, if it leads to the end of all pain? Have people died? So that others may live unending. Have lands fallen into ugliness and destruction? It has all been but sawdust on the shop-floor, soon to be swept aside once the craftsman completes his masterpiece. Or, to put it another way," Sauron said, turning Frodo to face him, "people have judged me on the basis of my uncured compost-heap, and ignored me when I tried to describe the harvest yet to come."
"I never knew!" Frodo cried. "I had no idea!"
"Of course you didn't." Sauron caressed the face upturned to him. "Those who envied my vision kept the truth from you."
Yet even in his dreaming Frodo's feet remained bare, and though the pavement felt smooth and cool to his soles, it also felt hard, and he missed the soil, even the rough clay and grit of Nurn. He looked down at the gardens, but fabric covered the ground from which the plants rose, and paving filled in every space between. "May I ask one thing of you, Sauron?"
"Certainly, my dear."
"Is there any wild corner left?"
He expected to hear "No," but instead the Dark Lord smiled--actual dimples formed upon his face. "Yes, as a matter of fact, I have preserved one corner precious to me. Take my hand, Frodo, and I will show you." When Frodo took the hand a dizziness whirled over him, as though he swept through great distances of wind, and then they alighted once more, and Frodo wept for joy at the touch of soft soil beneath him, and the gentleness of grass, and the smell of nature all around him. He opened his eyes to a field so starred with poppies--with the broad, white poppies of Mordor--that they might have been drifts of snow.
But Sauron hissed in anger and surprise, for in the midst of all these flowers stood one in robes still whiter than the petals all around him, so brilliant in fact that it pained Frodo's eyes and he had to raise his hands. But still he caught a glimpse of an ancient face, not beautiful at all by the usual standards, gnarled and saddened and bitten betimes by weariness and pain, long-bearded in an unkempt way, yet it gave off such love that the affection of Sauron in contrast suddenly appeared as no more than the modeled smirk on a doll's face, meaning nothing except a memory, an imitation of what once had been.
"You! Meddler!" Sauron cried. "Have you not done me enough harm? How dare you invade my final sanctuary!"