For Into Darkness Fell His Star
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 12, Part 153
Hands of a Healer
May 6, 1452
Frodo clung to the deep, soft voice like clinging to a rope cast down into a pit--an elvish rope glimmering in the kind of absolute darkness that you only find in Mordor...
"I need you to relax, Frodo. I need you to trust me." Long fingers, calloused by the sword, rubbed away with expert skill the knots cramped in his shoulders and his neck--knots by now so accustomed that he had forgotten they could ever relax without aid of the bottle or the gum. He grew sleepier and sleepier. "You need not speak. Only remember. Remember and trust that you have no memory so terrible that I cannot share it with you." The freshness of Athelas, brought live from Gondor and cherished roots and all in a clay pot throughout the journey, now sweetened the steam all around him. "Let yourself slip down, down into trust like sinking into a comforting bath, warm and sustaining, needing no effort..."
Frodo started and opened his eyes. He saw that his dearest friends hovered around him and the King, candlelight sparkling in their anxious eyes. Fishenchips, nearest of all, knelt before him, holding out a steaming bowl, cupped in his hook and steadied by his hand. Frodo sat on a cushion in the center of his bedroom floor, pressing May's lens against his breast.
Elessar's elf-trained hands remained upon his shoulders, comforting and strong. "Easy...easy...it is all right." The words matched the drowsy rhythm of the fingers. "Do not let that memory trouble you. I do not invite you into the dream of Sauron, but into a genuine peace. You are safe with me. I will not let go of you. I will bring you back. Trust. Your family has known me of old, and I have proven true."
Frodo took a shuddering breath and closed his eyes again. He inhaled and exhaled fragrant steam, and listened to the voice, and felt the probing, kindly touch, and listened to the voice, and felt his limbs relax as though they could float up to the roof and carry him out the window, and listened to that voice until he could no longer distinguish word from word, only hear the richness of the sound.
Now he felt a soft tingling spread out through him, transforming him, like he became a fog of infinitely tiny particles, buzzing with their own energy, without exertion on his part. And the athelas somehow wafted between the particles of Frodo Gardner, through some medium realer than himself. And at that moment he released all of his memories, particles drifting from himself like pollen on a gentle wind, while every mote of his being shivered with relief.
Something shifted! The memories became sparks that shot back through his cloudiness, explosions of recollection that burned--pulse! pulse! pulse! They tore him apart--Dragon eyes! Watersprite leer! Fever-glow! In flashes he saw again the horror in the face of Drift, heard the sound of Mattie's drunken laughter, felt the cloying burn of brandy in the throat. Faster and faster the images burst through him--Kitty swiped him with her claws...Billie Lass screamed and thrashed in the blood-spattered snow...Hand O' Plenty raised his cleaver over a cringing goat...Tentacles boiled up over the gunwales of the ship...Leech convulsed upon a hanging bed...Hazel shed her buds in an untimely fall...tendrils crept over a mad elf's face and into his slightly parted lips...a bloodstained child with reptilian gaze reviled him...a glorious, flame-haired maia shriveled into a burning eye glaring with resentments. Memories blew him apart! Motes of Frodo Gardner hurtled everywhere as visions of Valinor collided with hallucinations of a future hell as war-crazed maiar battled over the shifting temporal landscape of the Poros Pass as the tower aged around him and rebuilt itself over and over as voices grumbled from their cells in the shadowed Hall of Mandos...
...and in the center of that chaos, all things whirling around it, burned a single eye of fire, flames streaming around a slitlike pupil with nothing, absolutely nothing behind it. The emptiness of that pupil pulled all of the particles towards itself, insatiable, sucking bits of Frodo down into the whirlpool, where the emptiness devoured them into nothing, leaving itself as hungry as before. No sound existed save for the roar of that maelstrom, a blur of mutterings over and over in the dark--the same voice that had darkened his mind for months.
"Frodo. Come back." The spinning stopped. Just like that. Every particle froze. The flames of the eye did not move, as still as a painting. "Frodo." The voice sounded like a music of many chords, and it drowned the muttering out. "Frodo Gamgee Gardner. Frodo son of Samwise. Frodo son of Rose. Frodo of the Seeing Glass. Frodo of the Growing Corn. The only darkness that you need is the deep, rich soil. The only fire that you need is your own warm hearth. Come back. Come back. Remember who you are."
Now slowly, by fits and starts, the spiral began to reverse itself. The darkness surrendered some particles not yet disintegrated. Those on the brink moved backwards. Faster and smoother now the spiral turned, spinning away from the eye, which seemed to shrink and grow dim. The particles came together. They knit back into Frodo Gardner. He grew in solidity until he sat on a cushion by the light of guttering candles, his weary friends around him, Fishenchips sitting nearby on the floor beside a cooling bowl, and the King kneeling before him in a sheen of sweat.
In a small and cracking voice, Frodo asked, "Am I free?"
The King sighed, and passed a shaking hand over his face. "I have lifted our trance for only a moment, Frodo. I have seen more deeply into your affliction, and you have a decision to make."
"I am not sure that I like the sound of that. You didn't answer my question."
"I know." Strider slipped from kneeling to sitting, and Elenaril brought him a strengthening drink of fruit juices and ground seeds. "Frodo, I can see now that I can free you. But you need to know the cost."
After a long pause, in which hardly any dared to move, Frodo asked, "Yes?"
"I cannot destroy Sauron himself. He is made of stuff older than the earth. If I free you, he will leap to someone else."
A desperate look came into the hobbit's eyes, though he saw no one, nothing; terrible thoughts blinded him. Slowly he replied, "I could...no. But I could...I could argue that Mordor needs me whole, that I, well, I'm less expendable than someone else might be--am I not? But no. No. Absolutely not. That's Sauron's way of thinking, isn't it? Everyone's important." His eyes cleared as he looked to Elessar, and in a quavering, yet almost humorous voice he added, "It has to be me, doesn't it? Hobbits have a bit more strength for this sort of thing, don't we? Just a bit. Not even elves can handle it so well. Very well, then!" He drew himself up straight where he sat. "I will continue. I will put up with whatever Sauron has to throw at me."
Uncle Pippin looked on the verge of tears, and the candle-light brought out every wrinkle on his face as it sparkled on his lashes--but the elder's face crumpled into a smile. Back in the shadows sat Lanethil, smoking the King's pipe; none could read his expression. Elenaril nodded her frightful head, and squeezed the hand that Crookyteeth suddenly reached out to her, shining streaks running down the younger woman's soft cheeks. Bergil looked on with a soldier's grimness, his back stiff and straight. But Fishenchips leaned forward with that burning look that sometimes filled his gaze.
Nobody knew that the King had been holding his breath until he let it out with a sudden sigh of relief. "If you bear this suffering in such a mind, then it will do you far less harm than it might have otherwise. I had to leave you the right to choose. Yet know now what the other decision might have led to. Sauron has tired of petty prey. He would not have jumped to some weakened beggar in the streets--not with a better target right at hand."
"You?" Frodo sat up on his pillow's edge. "But that would have been horrible indeed! I, I'm glad I didn't put myself first--if anybody's not expendable, it's the King!"
"No, Frodo." Strider shook his head. "Sauron would not have leaped to me. I have no wound to enter by, and many safeguards against him. He would seek unsuspecting prey. And through you he would find exactly what he wanted." The man hesitated before saying, softly, "He has been trying from the first to get into the Shire, Frodo. He nearly brought Legolas there, foiled only by the fact that, resembling a man in his fading, Legolas found himself turned back by the ban against men entering your country. But had you come a day later to Bree, Sauron would have driven the elf to cross the border by stealth, if necessary."
"The Shire? You mean..."
"I mean that if I strove to expel Sauron from you, he would, as his last act, flee down the link between you and your father."
"My father!" Frodo gasped.
"Yes. I have seen that link, Frodo. Do you not touch each other sometimes in your dreams? And you have opened yourself up so far to Sauron that he has seen it, too. You have given him enough power to travel that path, should I loosen his hold on you--that is what I saw in my journey through your soul." Strider's eyes narrowed. "Who else does he hate so much, in all of Middle Earth? That hatred--I had always known it must exist, of course. Yet I could not have conceived of its breadth--no man could--without that glimpse...just a glimpse..." He shuddered, and drank the rest of the juice.
"No..." Frodo whispered. "No--I would endure anything rather than see that happen!"
The King sat down the mug and smiled. "I am sure your father would have said the same, in reverse circumstances. And for that reason, as well as others, I would have accepted your choice, had you asked to be delivered, in the hopes that the Shire's natural resistance to dark things would give Sam extra strength. But the doubt would also plague me that Sam, having borne the Dark Lord's Ring, might yet carry within himself an old wound that Sauron could enter wholly--more deeply than he could plunge into any other being left in Middle Earth. Indeed, I fear that Sauron has hoped for that same thing."
Then Strider grimaced and turned his face away. "I blame myself for this. I had Legolas at hand. At hand! I should have looked more shrewdly into him. I should have seen that which he bore within. Instead I assumed that a simple breakdown made him as he was, after a shock that confronted him with fading. I let the many cares of kingship distract me from what I should have known--I who once wrestled with Sauron mind to mind in the Palantir. I failed Legolas, and I failed you."
But Strider looked up again, when a small hand covered his. "Everybody fails sometime," Frodo told him. "In a vision Mandos told me that he wanted to see what good I would make of my sin. Everything works out eventually, for those with true hearts."
At that the King smiled sadly. "This much at least I have done for you. I have halted the drain upon your will, and restored to you the better portion of yourself. Now, if you will, I shall strengthen you further for the trials ahead. But I warn you; it will not be painless."
"Wait," Frodo said, as the King reached for a steaming kettle, to scald the rest of the athelas. "What's to keep Sauron from leaping through me to my father any time he pleases?"
Strider set the kettle back down by the hearth. "A great lethargy confines him, born in part from his own weakness--the result of the ring's loss--yet reinforced also by the very device that keeps him clinging to this world. To drain power from those under the poppy spell means to imbibe some of that same poison, himself. He can drift a ways away from you to drain his distant slaves, even as the fronds of some great sea-plant can drift far from the root, but he cannot leap from host to host without riding the impetus of another."
"Then how did he seize upon Legolas in the first place?"
"I gather that Legolas slew the warg that bore Sauron, who then rode the creature's death-throes to the warg-slayer, waiting for the wound he knew must shortly follow. Sauron would have found wargs easiest to possess, having once been Lord of Werewolves in lost Beleriand. What a prize he found that day in the poor, tormented elf--and how he had bided his time, waiting for any such chance, ever since his fall!"
"But I had only a half-healed scar, no breach within as yet, no madness in me that I know of--how did he enter a mere rawness of my arm?"
"It helped Sauron's cause that an orc made the wound. Not all poisons in orc-blades affect the flesh. Yet he could only slip just under your skin by that means, even so, soon expelled if no further opportunity presented itself. But you were ill-advised, Frodo. The ways of dwarves are not always best for the Children of Illuvatar. You felt ashamed, did you not of your indulgences in the feast after the healing?"
"Well...yes. I suppose you know that by now." He glanced, embarrassed, to Uncle Pippin.
"Yet you continued to partake of whatever elf or dwarf poured for you--you gave away a little of your will to others before you ever did to Sauron. That gave Sauron the entry that he craved."
"You...you read all of that in me?"
Only kindness shone in the King's eyes as he clasped the hobbit's arm. "It would have been but a small fault, under any other circumstances. But you made plain the breach in your own principles and upbringing--you questioned the wisdom of joining wholly into the feast from the start."
"Is that why Sauron..." but Frodo could not finish.
"Yes," Strider answered gravely.
The hobbit leaned forward and clasped the King's hands. "Tell me, please! Will I ever be normal? I mean, in, you know, in convivial matters? I experimented once...all right, twice!...but just twice, since First Harvest." Blushing, he glanced at Bergil. "Sorry. You didn't know. I sneaked...but it was no good! One sip would not suffice--just a little bit like Sauron's dream--I know now, that's what I wanted, before I even knew, before Mattie showed me--just a cruel, teasing little bit, I wanted more, and that didn't work either, and on and on till...I got sick. In secret, in my room, in the middle of the night. It wasn't any good at all."
Gently the King said, "I do not yet know, Frodo. It might pass. Or it might trouble you always, every time you try to drink."
"What--never to share a beer with my Papa? Never gather with friends in the Green Dragon? No toast to the bride as my sisters marry? Sauron has robbed me of all that? What will I do at birthday-parties? What will I do at wakes?"
"Frodo, we cannot yet tell. It may be that all such craving will pass from you with Sauron's departure. But it might stay with you forever. Some do learn to live with such a thing, abstaining for their lives..."
"But if I cannot know for sure until Sauron's..." Then suddenly the hobbit's eyes widened. "Until, you said, until Sauron's departure?"
"Did I say..." Then suddenly Elessar's eyes grew distant, and he rose to his feet. Movements slow, he turned towards the west, and stood a long moment, as though listening. Then he stared down at Frodo, a strange light in his gaze. In a richer voice than before he spoke to Frodo, saying, "He could leave you, but only by a supreme effort--one that he cannot yet imagine making, even hearing me say this as he does right now. At most he will promise himself that he will muster the effort tomorrow, or the next day--only to fail in his resolve. Because it would hurt him. It would wake him, tearing the veils between him and all his errors, and that is something he cannot face--unless some rage greater than his fear compels him, as one day it will. On that day, Frodo--and it shall come soon--he will abandon you of his own volition, and your father shall come to no harm--for he will discover a still greater hatred and a target for its rage." Then the man shivered, and became Strider once again, and as he faltered Fishenchips sprang up and fetched a chair for him to sit in.
"Forgive me, Frodo," Strider said in a weaker voice, his head now in his hands. "It seems I had not yet left the healing state entirely. Did I speak to you?"
"Yes--and foresightedly, I hope."
"Then, while I still hover in the realm of foresight and all such gifts, let us finish what we began."
So now Fishenchips plunged into simmering water the last of the kingsfoil, and Elenaril added her desert-born sage--that herb grown in defiance of the Dark Lord in the very shadow of his strength--and the potent steam rose up, engulfing them both in a moist and fragrant warmth, as the King knelt before Frodo, taking his hands.
Frodo found himself drawn rapidly into the dreamlike state, this time like one adrift in water, pulled down a swift current, guided in the arms of a stronger swimmer. Old thoughts streamed past him, hardly remarked, except where undercurrents strove to drag him from his rescuer's grip. But Strider never let go.
Undercurrents. More and more of them. The other memories. The lies.
"Oh, hi, Uncle Pippin. Crookyteeth and I were just going to have an early breakfast. No, I wasn't going to break my own fast, but here--why don't you join us? I can sip fruit juice while the two of you enjoy yourselves."
"Yes. I am fine." "Yes, everything is all right." "No, I never hear Sauron's voice anymore. You needn't worry so much." "Splendid day, isn't it?" "There is nothing--absolutely nothing--wrong with my mind."
"Yes, of course, I have quit all drinking." "No, I haven't touched a drop since that dreadful party, I assure you--I have no need." "You needn't look at me like that, good man--I am buying this for a friend." "I just thought I'd turn in early tonight, maybe stay up a little to read or write." "Why, I feel perfectly fine this morning, in the best of shape. Why do you ask?"
"Worried? Not at all! You are imagining things." "Yes, everything goes according to plan." "Trust me--I know exactly what I'm doing." "Don't you worry--I'll get you through this drought. I shall get you all through. No, I'm not afraid a bit." "The crops will prosper--I promise you. Nobody has anything to fear."
Oh Strider oh friend of my father of my people of myself I fear so badly I fear so unbearably badly when I see the dry and dimpled leaves drooping in the fields when I taste the thickening water I must give them and it might as well be sweat. Oh King oh Tar Elessar oh Elfstone star of the Dunedain why did you put so much trust upon the shoulders of so small and young a servant why trust the lives of a nation on a weak and addled youth who cannot really promise anything they want to need to have to hear? Oh friend and liege and visionary who can understand what others cannot guess of my ordeals oh fellow servant of the unrelenting west I cannot abandon this desperate people yet I cannot even begin to give them everything they need of me before I expend myself completely and leave them as empty as hungry as children fed on dragon-flesh who cannot help but devour me to the last when I inevitably fail!
And there, in the arms of Truth, Frodo found safe harborage, not the condemnation he expected. And all of the shames and griefs and worries and temptations and surrenders sped on past, a river he need not swim in any more. And there in Truth he rested his long weariness, with nothing left to hide and nothing left to say, no longer exhausting himself by the effort of hiding even from himself his limitations.
Somewhere a kindly, kingly voice assured him that it did not all rest on him, that when the Valar give us great labors, they also give us great aids, that the ultimate responsibility rested beyond ourselves, we only need but try. We need not empty ourselves, simply be vessels through which another power flows.
Sauron could not fathom that. Sauron had cut himself off from his Source, convinced of his own self-sufficiency. Sauron now roamed the earth, a filthy beggar-spirit, utterly depleted despite delusions of grandeur, scrabbling for whatever he could steal, blinded by his own will to that endless flow of power to the servants of the Servants of the One.
Stop trying to resist on your own. Stop trying to battle Sauron with the strengths of Frodo Gardner. Rest. Relax. Trust. Let a greater power do the battling for you.
Frodo sighed, and slipped into comforting dreams (of a weaver, a beautiful, flame-haired weaver of many hands, untangling the skein of his life and weaving it into the larger tapestry, all in order, all as it should be) unaware of the muscled, gentle arms that carried him to his bed.