Veiling of the Sun: 27. The Last Step

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27. The Last Step

How could this be happening? It was not supposed to end this way! It seemed impossible that this promised moment of victory had shattered, ruined by a black evil so horrifying and familiar. Was it all for naught? The pain, the anguish, the fear? To have come so far, to have fought so hard, only to be in the end defeated by their own greed and weakness… The last step of this journey would be the worst! This was not the way it was meant to be!

Tears rolled down Sam’s cheeks, streaking through the grime. "Please don’t, Frodo!" he whimpered, wishing desperately that this was just some nightmare from which he might wake. Through the wetness in his eyes he watched his dear friend, his heart breaking at the blank expression in his eyes. His terror tortured him. If he raised his hand to throw the Ring, Frodo would kill him, of that he was dreadfully sure. Only his will remained strong enough to act, and it shoved his numbed, shocked mind into a panicked race for some way to stop the inevitable. "Not now! Not after everything we’ve been through! Mister Frodo!"

The black cover of Frodo’s eyes broke for a moment. He released a choked sob, his frame quivering in anguish. Sam felt terribly helpless. "I can’t, Sam," he whimpered. His pale face fractured in a taut expression of rage and regret. "I can’t let you destroy it!"

Let us not come to this… He had to reach Frodo’s heart and smash the hold of the Ring. He did not know if he had the strength when the wretched trinket in his palm still taunted and allured him so! "Frodo, please…" He took a deep breath to steady himself and turned slowly, praying that he did not threaten the riled Hobbit with any sudden movement. "Don’t give into it now! It holds no sway over your heart! You are stronger than it!"

Sting was wavering now, pressing against Sam’s neck. The Hobbit winced and whimpered in fear, feeling the edge nick his skin. "Give it to me, Sam!" he screamed, sweat glistening on his distorted face. He seemed more a demon, tormented and tortured by unnatural desire. Sam shook his head numbly, his voice lost and his resolve cracking. This only enraged Frodo. "Give it to me!"

He closed his fist about the Ring. The shadow squeezing his heart tightened its grip, and Sam lost his strength. He closed his eyes and lifted his chin. He could not falter! He could not! Lend me the strength to do this!

So they stood, the fires of Mount Doom raging all around, blasting the air and the two Hobbits. Neither could relent. The moment dragged on, time marching slowly into an uncertain future. There was evil everywhere, inside, outside, in rocks and bodies, in hearts and eyes and souls. A twist of fate had created this path, a perversion borne from lust and greed, from the Ring’s evil. And now another twist made of the same such corruption would destroy it.

There came a piercing shriek, and a mass of blurred gray that vaguely looked to be arms and legs streaked past Sam’s eyes. Surprise thundered over the Hobbit, and he reeled backwards, losing his balance, as Gollum landed heavily on top of him. He screamed as the slimy monster’s fangs snapped, his grimy fingers clawing for Sam’s tight fist that held the Ring. "Give Sméagol his precious! We wants it! Give it, gollum!" Those sharp teeth bit and those nails scratched, drawing blood and tears. Sam gasped, struggling to breathe, as Gollum rammed his knee into the Hobbit’s stomach. He fought back frantically, instinct guiding his body for his mind was silent in horror.

He clenched his hand tighter about the Ring as Gollum shrieked and howled, ripping at the flesh of his curled fingers. With his other hand, Sam scrambled for Legolas’ knife. After a terrible eternity of desperately reaching, his fingertips brushed the hilt, and he took hold. A muted cry of fury passed his lips as he ripped the shimmering blade free. Gollum screeched in hapless terror and leaned back, but he was not fast enough to avoid the swipe of the sharp edge. It slashed into his arm, and the little creature hollered his pain, clambering off of Sam.

Breathing heavily, Sam tucked his hand close to his chest. The knife he held before him. In the bright orange and yellow light the blade glowed like liquid fire. "Stay back!" he shouted, his voice shaking. Gollum slithered closer, pressing his injured arm to his side. "You foul creature! I won’t let you take it! Stay back, I say, or I’ll hurt you worse!"

But the stakes were clearly too great for Gollum, Sam realized in a flurry of panic. The strange creature could not allow Sam to destroy the Ring; his addiction to its power was simply too demanding and overwhelming. Gollum sneered cruelly and pounced again.

Frodo growled lowly and grabbed the demon’s skinny arm, yanking him back. Gollum would not so easily be subdued and yelled his frustrated fury while belting Frodo across the face. The Hobbit yelped and staggered, Sting clattering to the floor. Yet he too was driven, and he regained his balance easily. A determined glint shone in his eyes. Sam saw no more, though, for Gollum was upon him again. With his leg so injured, he could but painfully kick and turn as the creature assaulted him, hoping to beat him senseless enough so that he might relinquish his prize.

Sam cringed as Gollum managed to slam the hand holding the knife into the ground and pin it there, leaving him defenseless. Placing all his weight upon the Hobbit to keep him immobile, Gollum grunted and reached, straining to grasp Sam’s other hand. Sam lodged his knee against Gollum’s chest, pushing the beast back. The small, stout Gamgee kept his balled fist above his head and for the moment out of reach, but he knew his strength was waning. Gollum’s fetid stench invaded his nose. That, combined with the heat and the weight upon his chest, made it difficult to breathe. He had to do something to escape! Panic churned in his stomach and he whimpered his desperation. He was too weak!

Suddenly another grip latched onto his free wrist, pulling it to the ground. Sam ripped his eyes above and behind him. The Hobbit felt his heart break.

Frodo pressed his hand to the burning rock. With his sweaty fingers, the other Hobbit pulled and pried at Sam’s tightly closed ones. His dear friend turned ally to the darkness! He was so alone and helpless!

He wept then, for there was but one choice left him. He despised this option, but time was rapidly running out, and he could never hope to defend himself in this state against both Frodo and Gollum. It filled his heart with deadly dread. How he ached for Frodo! How he feared for himself! He did not want to embrace that which he hated and yearned to destroy, but there was nothing left to do, and he had little strength left.

Sam took a deep breath to steady himself. Then he kicked up with his good knee and caught the unsuspecting Gollum in the jaw. The creature gasped his pain and fell to the side. It was enough to stun Frodo, and Sam was quick to take advantage of the moment, yanking his arm free from his friend’s hold. He knew he could not stand, much less run, so he ignored his wailing heart and opened his palm.

The Ring’s song soared inside him. He had no time to try to ignore it. Frodo and Gollum were upon him seconds later, their treasure free for their taking. Yet they were not fast enough, for Sam slipped the Ring onto his finger, and vanished from their world.

There was a soundless flash of light and dark, and he was whisked into a fiery hell. Nausea claimed him as the disjointed brightness and shadow flooded his eyes, bleeding into a blurry and disorienting scene of moving shapes and figures. His courage and strength nearly depleted, he did only what was needed to escape. His hand tight about the knife, he ripped it up. There was no sound and he strangely felt nothing, but he knew somehow that the blade had met its mark. The world shook and shuddered, and the weight left his chest. Pulling the weapon free, he scrambled away as quickly as he could, clambering across the heated, black surface. Only when he had reached the end of the rock walkway did he stop.

It was then the immensity of where he was struck him. Sam tucked himself into a tight ball, not wanting to look but unable to divert his gaze. It was a terrible sight. The twilight of life and love, surrounded by the blackest hatred and contempt. The Ring burned around his finger, joyous and elated in his mind, and he could not help but feel its powerful happiness. It disgusted him, but it also pleased him somehow.

It was calling to its Master.

From the depths of Sam’s heart, Sauron responded. Those quiet, rough words so often chanted in the corners of his consciousness become a gay song of renewed attention. The Dark Lord was beckoning vigorously from Barad-Dûr, embracing the spirit of the Ring. Sam felt weightless, lifeless, hopeless. There was no substance to him or his body. He was but an object in this strange world.

A piercing howl sliced through the cacophony of wind. His blood ran cold as he recognized it. The Ringwraiths! Ai, they were coming, heeding their Master’s request to save his precious Ring from destruction! Were he not so disjointed and terrified, Sam might have realized the folly of his choice to wear the Ring. He should have known better! The Ring did give, but it always asked for much in return. Now he would die, and the Nazgûl would take back the trinket! Damn him for his stupidity!

He screamed his furious despair, but his voice was a soundless wail in a deafening roar of Sauron’s triumphant song. Sam was paralyzed. There was nowhere to hide in this world, no place he might run. Perhaps he might have thought to remove the Ring and easily toss it into the molten depths all around him. But the simplest of actions suddenly seemed impossible, and the Ring had gained control of his mind and body. He could do nothing but feel and see. All that remained of him was his heart’s crumbling last defenses as the dark forces battered it.

He resigned himself to a death he could only hope would come. Slowly he looked up and squinted.

It was amazing, even beautiful. Flames of white and black raced up the walls of Mount Doom’s mouth, coming to converge in a bizarre blazing ceiling. From its center bled reds and oranges, bringing hues to the colorless fire. They lapped at him, warm and soothing. Such an awesome sight that brought wonder to his heart! That was, of course, until he realized at what he truly gazed.

A thin, black iris stared at him, bathed in fire and murder.

He was inside the Eye.

The wall shuddered, and Aragorn nearly lost his footing. He grabbed for a hold as the platform creaked and cracked. The wood was resilient, though, and held steady to the pounding. Aragorn grunted and quickly righted himself, grabbing more arrows from the quiver of a fallen archer. He notched them quickly and took aim. There was no shortage of targets, and he let the shot fly powerfully in a breath. It sunk deep into the eye of an Orc, and the beast howled. Its last cry was lost in a great dissonance of shouting, screaming, clanking swords and armor, and whizzing arrows. Its body disappeared just as quickly, trampled under the pounding feet of the assaulting Orcs.

There was a sea of the enemy beneath them. The Orcs howled and yelled their fury, pounding at the wall in frustration. The ground was a mess of corpses and blood, a gruesome mud of red gore and dirt. Commanders ordered their archers to fire again, the edict echoing down the parapet, and a rain of razor sharp arrows descended upon the mess of monsters. In the craze, Aragorn could not see how many of their opponents they had managed to fell. Sauron’s forces returned fire of their own, and those archers unlucky enough to not have a place to duck were hit. The king winced as blood splashed upon him, a soldier beside him catching an arrow in neck. The man screamed and pitched, falling from the platform and tumbling back into Gondor’s army behind them. Another archer was quick to hop up the ladder behind them and take his spot.

Aragorn unleashed an arrow, his shot joining the volley of their return fire. Another wave of Orcs died, but it seemed to do little. Sweat stung the ranger’s eyes as he looked to the horizon. They continued to flood onto the field; ten more Orcs appeared for each one they killed. Doubt and fear coiled in his stomach, and flashes of the disaster at Helm’s Deep kept resurfacing to dent his resolve. Cold chills raced up and down the small of his back as he knelt, grasping Faramir on the arm. The young lord met his gaze, searching about the bodies on the platform for free arrows. Medics and free men pulled down the dead and carried the wounded from their stronghold as quickly as possible, but it was simply not fast enough.

Faramir breathed heavily, pushing a lock of hair behind his ear as he clenched the shafts of the arrows in his palm. Archers were rising again to fire, and the twang of bowstrings was loud in the late afternoon. "I have sent men to the arms depot for more arrows," declared Faramir, turning to crouch and lean against the wall, "and for rocks and hot oil that we might wield against them." He did not need to speak further, for his eyes were expressing his concern plainly, and Aragorn already understood what he could not say. They were massively outnumbered. An hour had passed since the battle had begun, and they had been able to maintain their position but at a greater loss than he had anticipated. Sauron’s forces seemed as unbelievably huge now as they did when they had first reached the wall. Many of Gondor’s archers were wounded and dead, leaving the less able to brandish a bow upon the wall. Reports from Lord Vardaithil indicated that his situation was only marginally better. They had yet to repel the onslaught of their attack, and they crowded like rabid dogs at the wall’s base. This could continue well into the night, Aragorn sadly realized, and they were slowly depleting ammunition stores. Orcs were not overly intelligent creatures, but they were tireless. Eventually the Last Alliance would run short of arrows or people to effectively fire them, and the Orcs would learn. Surely they had brought some sort of supplies to storm the wall! Darkly he mused that such equipment might not even be necessary. Perhaps the pile of fresh corpses would grow so large as to reach the top of their stronghold.

The ramparts quivered dangerously, and Aragorn winced as shots clanged loudly against the stone. Men fell, struck by black, vicious arrows, some pin wheeling and tumbling over the wall into the howling mass of Orcs below, others stumbling back and collapsing like a dead weight into the troops. The king waited until the piercing of shattering stone stopped, and then rose and commanded his men to fire in a loud, frustrated yell. Those that remained followed his lead, twisting and turning to face their attackers and letting loose as many shots as possible. Orcs howled in their death, stumbling in a fearless charge against the wall. It shook again as the army rammed it, and Aragorn fell to a crouch.

"Aragorn." The king turned at his name. Gandalf pushed along the narrow ledge, stepping almost magically around obstacles at incredible speed. The wizard appeared concerned, his dirty face apprehensive. "The wall cracks at its foundation. We may lose this ground sooner than we thought!"

Aragorn cursed inwardly, his mind racing. "Could masons reinforce it?" he asked of Brodderband.

The lord was momentarily distracted by wiping the blood from a cut on his brow. He lowered his hand and then paid the king his attention. "Perhaps," he conceded, his voice a shout to be heard over the clamor of battle. "I will send for them immediately. But the lads on the wall are weary and weak, my Lord. They cannot hold this with such intensity much longer." Brodderband saluted and then rushed off to find men to repair the wall.

Aragorn’s heart thundered. Oh, how he wished for a clear action, for a simple solution! Deep inside him a snide voice sneered that he had lost this, that the situation was dire and hopeless. Though he wished to deny, his logic and pessimism supported the conclusion. The wall would crumble under the strain of the Orcs’ battering. The archers were dying far too quickly, and those that remained were tired and weak. They could not be sure their supplies would last the time needed to defeat Sauron’s army. Retreat seemed the only option! No! If we lose this, we will be forced into the city! They will surround and siege us! We must hold this!

So deep in his thoughts, he did not immediately realize what the others found particularly unnerving. Faramir grabbed Aragorn’s knee, lowering his bow. "They have stopped!" he gasped. The young lord turned around and knelt, glancing at the field beyond.

Silence. Aragorn felt his blood chill and gooseflesh rise. Faramir was unquestionably right; the afternoon had become eerily still. The Orcs had ceased their blood-curdling battle cries. The assault of the wall had terminated as well. His booming heart deafened him. A cool breeze brushed over him, whistling in the grasses. All was quiet.

Gandalf sighed. Gasping, Aragorn turned to the ancient Istar, anxiety riddling him. His flesh crawled when he saw Gandalf’s ashen face. The wizard focused his once distant gaze upon his friend. The ranger regarded him with imploring eyes, afraid of what was serious enough to distress the strongest of all Istari. Gandalf spoke quietly, so that only those closest could hear. "They are coming."

Aragorn’s stomach dropped. His limp fingers nearly dropped his bow.

"Wraiths!" one of the archers atop the wall shrieked. The ranger ripped around. "Ringwraiths, my Lord!"

The emptiness continued for a terribly long moment, as if time was waiting for the horror of what was happening to sink its venomous teeth into their hearts. Then all eyes were trained on the massive army of Orcs. There was at first nothing but the still beasts, standing erect and powerful in the dying, bloody sun. Then the lines of black warriors parted. Through the path they created, a dark menace thundered along the plain. Aragorn squinted, his breath coming in shallow gasps.

A shrill shriek cut through the silence. The other riders answered in a chorus of screams. A murmur went through the men, a whisper of terror and panic. Aragorn lurched forward, standing and grabbing the stone wall. They tore across the field, their great black horses snorting as they ran. The thunder of their hooves filled the silence, and the Orcs pressed to each other in shrinking away from the massive demons.

Aragorn shook his head numbly. Sauron’s black servants reached the wall and formed a line parallel to it. The king understood immediately what was about to happen. The Nazgûl were going to ram the fortification!

"Hold steady!" the king shouted, recovering his stature. The man were quivering and shooting him awkward glances that Aragorn struggled to ignore. In truth it shook him greatly. He could only rationalize this grievous turn of events. It could not make a difference! They still had to fight and hold this land!

The Nazgûl drew their pale blades. One rode forward slowly, confidently, upon a great, black winged stallion. The Witch King. The horse snorted and pawed at the ground. The demon’s dark, shadowy cloak ruffled in the breeze. It raised its sword, and its horse reared. Then it shot forward in a lightning advance.

Aragorn took careful aim at the careening Witch King and then let his shot fly in a flash. The other archers followed his lead, letting loose a barrage of arrows. Yet they were little more than flies to the demons, brushed aside and deflected. The ranger felt nausea crash into him, dizziness and fear sucking away his will and strength.

The massive front legs of the Witch King’s horse pounded into the wall. The stone shattered and the structure shook violently. Aragorn pitched forward, barely securing his balance as his fingers scraped over the stone. He yelped as the long, steel blade whizzed narrowly by his face. A steel, black gauntlet tipped with sharp nails slammed down at the top stone, pulverizing the rock into dust. Another Nazgûl reached over the top of the wall and down to the platform. Its dark hand viciously grabbed Aragorn’s arm.

"Lord!" cried Faramir.

Aragorn could not breathe. His limbs were weak and useless as he struggled. Suddenly a gloved hand wrapped into his surcoat and yanked him back. He saw the sky, heard distant shouting and squealing, felt himself being yanked back. He blinked and the daze shattered like glass. Fear crawled over him. "King of men…" hissed the Witch King. The sword came down below Aragorn’s chin. "Perish!"

Faramir gave an angry cry as he landed a fierce kick into the Witch King’s shoulder. The Ringwraith shrieked in anger as it lost its grip and fell backward. The Blade of Gondor exited its sheath with a song of pride and power. This the young lord swung mightily at the Nazgûl grasping his king. The attack caught the demon unaware, and the sword smacked against its chest. The painfully tight grip on his arm was gone in an instance, and the threatening tip of the weapon left the vulnerable flesh of his neck.

Shrieks and screeches filled the air, piercing ears with pain and hearts with fear. The other Nazgûl battered their fortitude instantaneously with horse and sword. Gandalf helped the shuddering Aragorn to his feet and steadied him as the wall shuddered and buckled. Faramir was not so fortunate. The rocks against which he leaned for support cracked and broke with a bang, spraying stone all about. The young man gave a cry of terror and surprise as he lost his footing. He pitched forward, arms pin wheeling, and tumbled unto the battlefield.

Faramir hit the ground hard on his side with a loud thud. For a moment he lay there, groaning, struggling to catch his wind. It was a moment wasted, but it mattered little. The Nazgûl surrounded and circled the fallen lord like buzzards did carrion.

"Faramir," gasped Aragorn in panic. He shook his head numbly. Helpless fury coursed over him like lightning. He struggled away from Gandalf, rushing to the edge of the parapet. He leapt onto the stone where it had broken away. He would not lose another friend! "Faramir!"

The Witch King hissed gleefully, its dark cape fluttering in the breeze, as it struck. Faramir barely raised himself and his own weapon in time to deflect the blow. The other Nazgûl stabbed at his vulnerable side, slashing him across the breast. Faramir screamed as the cursed blade cut through his surcoat and chain mail, slicing into his skin. He stumbled back into the wall, his free hand pressed over the wound.

There was no time!

The Witch King raised its wicked sword to strike the hapless Faramir, the other Ringwraiths surrounding him following its lead.

Aragorn could not find it within him to breathe, to think, to feel. He could not look away!

The murderous stab never came, for at that moment something strange seem to come over the Nazgûl. Each stopped and lifted its shrouded head, as if hearing a message from afar that was meant for them alone to perceive. Time stood still as the demons lingered, leaving all in a panicked, paralyzed attention.

Then the Witch King gave a howl that seemed to echo over the plains. The Orcs snorted and yapped in confused fear. The most unusual act occurred, one that astounded and perplexed. The Ringwraiths pivoted and returned their blades to scabbards hidden by black and shadow. Their lord mounted its massive steed. In a flash they turned and raced off in a flight so rapid it challenged the eye to follow it. Seconds later they were out of sight, disappearing as quickly as they had come.

Aragorn wasted no time. He turned to the other side of the platform. "Give me the ladder!" he bellowed. "Hurry!" Stunned soldiers were jolted into action by the harsh, frantic tone in their king’s tone. They hauled up the wooden structure and carried it to the other side, teetering precariously with the heavy, awkward frame. They lowered it down with Aragorn’s help. It was not quite long enough, for there was a bit of a depression on the other side of the wall. "Faramir!"

The young lord snapped from his frightened trance. He crawled to the ladder, limping slightly, and grabbed the rungs. Wincing and gasping, he pulled himself up its length as fast as he could. When he reached the top, Aragorn leaned over the wall as far as possible. The Orcs were coming again!

Finally Faramir’s hand locked into his. Aragorn grunted, bearing his teeth in the effort, as he strained with all his might to pull the young man to safety. An archer reached down to grabbed Faramir’s other arm, reinforcing Aragorn’s grasp. Another launched an arrow at an Orc scrambling to follow, killing it instantly. The men rallied to save their Steward’s son, swiping and shooting at the creatures reaching for Faramir’s feet. Finally they lifted the young lord to safety. Two soldiers had the ladder back behind the wall seconds later as Aragorn stepped back with Faramir’s wheezing form.

Up and down the wall the fight resumed. With renewed fervor the men took their positions. They did not understand how or why they had been spared the wrath of Sauron’s Nazgûl, but they had, and knowing that was apparently enough to rejuvenate their spirits.

Aragorn eased Faramir down, pressing his back against the wall. "How badly are you wounded?" asked the king, watching as the red-faced young man struggled to catch his breath. Faramir still held the Blade of Gondor in his hand. Its end was covered in a misty, black blood.

"Not badly," he wheezed. Aragorn wrapped an arm around Faramir’s shoulder. Tears built in the ranger’s eyes, blurring his vision. He felt the guilty wretch for what Faramir had done. The young man had saved his life from the violent rage of the Nazgûl. They would have seen him dead, and the nation of Gondor rendered hopeless and leaderless. What a hero Faramir was! What a wonderful friend! And yet Aragorn knew he was undeserving, rotten almost, for he had done nothing to warrant Faramir’s trust, and the young man had without second thought offered his life for his king’s. The ranger had disowned Boromir, cast him aside, refused him the acceptance he had sorely needed to find again his valor! And now Boromir was dead… How could Faramir feel such loyalty, such compassion?

He held the hand of a truly great man. Faramir met his gaze, sweat covering his face in a glowing sheen. Aragorn could not find it within himself to speak, the words lost in a thick lump in his throat, his bravery but a fluttering wisp in his heart. But he needed to say nothing because Faramir appraised him with an understanding look. He nodded, grinning weakly, and squeezed Aragorn’s fingers. Then he fell back, gasping.

A bit of panic surged within the king. He eyed the wound on Faramir’s breast. "Send for a healer," he snapped, "quickly!" He heard a soldier grunt and sprint down a ladder. He pulled away the severed chain mail and cloth. The laceration was not deep and had cauterized instantly, so there was hardly any blood. The skin around it was already inflamed with the poison. Wounds from Morgul blades were extremely painful and sometimes fatal. Fortunately the injury did not seem serious.

"Do not bother, Aragorn," whispered Faramir, his eyes squinting in agony. "I will be fine momentarily."

"Nay, it is no bother," returned Aragorn. "I can ease the pain when the healer arrives."

Gandalf grasped Faramir’s other shoulder to steady him. "Rest now, young man. You have done well today!" Faramir smiled again and closed his eyes, leaning tiredly back into the wall.

Aragorn shook his head, his mind racing. The full extent of what had just happened was slowly beginning to strike him now that he was sure Faramir was safe. "Gandalf," he began, somewhat winded, "why did they abandon their attack?"

"I cannot say for certain," remarked the old wizard. The rage of the battle nearly drowned out his voice, but Aragorn could still hear his thoughtful words. "But I believe Sauron is threatened."

"Threatened?" he echoed incredulously. He did not comprehend the implication of Gandalf’s statement immediately, but when the fog of fear and relief cleared from his mind, he began to understand. "Sam and Frodo…" he breathed. Gandalf only nodded, his eyes grave.

The ranger glanced to the east, towards the faintest blood red staining the horizon. He knew it was Mount Doom seeping its evil fire into the sky. Aragorn closed his eyes and reached out his heart. As much as he did not want to admit it, he knew that any victory they might win on this field would mean little unless Sam and Frodo destroyed the One Ring. Unless they succeeded, Gondor and all of Middle Earth would still inevitably fall.

In the chaos all around, he grasped a single moment of peace and let himself believe. Let them be brave. Let them have strength! Then it all resumed, the noise, the death, the horrible fight. He prayed the resourceful Hobbits somehow fared better than he.

He was gone, lost, trapped in a cell of his own making. The bars were made of a dark fire, and he had not the strength any more to test them for weakness. A demon had possessed him, a demon driven by rage and greed. As his soul withered in the prison, he tried to convince himself that the imposter within him was some sort of alien spirit, something foreign. The fault lied not with him! Yet this was a selfish falsehood, and he knew it. The madness within, seduced into an ambitious drive by the Ring, had simply broken free. It was as much a part of him as his goodness and charity. He had let this happen, too weary and worn to fight any more. What was the use anyway? Destroying the Ring would accomplish nothing!

This monster moved his arms and limbs in a most heinous act. He wanted to scream but he was gagged by his own fear. It was a terrible feeling, to watch his body commit crimes that turned his stomach. But he could not form thoughts to counteract or struggle, numb in the allure of the Ring’s promise. There was nothing left of him. All that had transpired had weathered away his soul to leave but one thought: he wanted it to end. If taking the Ring would put a stop to this torment, then he would gladly do such!

At the moment, Sam had somehow managed to elude him. This was but an act of desperate folly, he knew, and he almost reveled in Sam’s stupidity. Silly fool! Sauron would surely turn his attention back to them and send all his forces to recover the Ring! He had only brought down upon him the wrath of the Dark Lord!

He clenched Sting tighter and narrowed his eyes. He felt not the aches of his body or the exhaustion of his limbs. There was only the need for the Ring, and he followed it with all his spirit. At this time the One called to him, drawing him with a sense beyond that of physical and tangible experience, pointing his leering heart in the right direction. His eyes saw through this world into the next, where shadow bled into light, and he knew where to go.

He stomped to the end of the rocky outcropping. There was nothing but a heat strong enough to distort the air, creating a glassy picture of rock and fire. He smiled; he knew better, and Sam would not hide from him.

He reached down, down into a different place perhaps, and took hold. He thought he heard a cry of surprise, and his greedy fingers desperately sought the Ring. Its nearness drove him mad with desire!

Sam reappeared with a gasp. He had pulled the Ring from his finger, obviously realizing that wearing it did little besides draw to him the Eye of the Dark Lord. He wasted not a breath and launched upon Sam. "Give it to me!" he hollered, furious lust in his tone. He pummeled the other, dropping Sting in order to gain better leverage upon his sobbing friend. "What chance do you think you have?! Sauron has seen you! He will take it back!" Such horrible, wretched logic!

Sam whimpered as he crushed his wounded leg into the ground. They were dangerously close to the edge of the gritty rock, and the heat was painful. The other Hobbit could form no words, his mouth open in a silent cry of ultimate anguish. "It could have been mine! It should be mine! Give it to me! It was mine to bear, mine! Give it to me now!"

His hands locked upon Sam’s throat, and he squeezed with a murderous intent. His friend gagged and choked, his face burning red, as he held the Ring above his head. He ground his teeth together and squeezed, angry beyond all comprehension. He cared for nothing besides the Ring! Nothing! "It is mine," he hissed through clenched teeth. "I will kill you for it!"

The struggle lasted a few moments as he strangled Sam. It was a horrible sight that ripped at the heart with a vicious knife of betrayal and despair. Harsh breathing filled the air. Sam’s wide eyes rolled back into his head as he fought for breath. He shook him, as if pushing the spirit from his body. Yes, he would kill him! And then the Ring would be his!

Finally, he struck the dying Sam across the face with his fist in an added touch of sadistic malice. This was enough force to jostle Sam’s limp body, and his fist came open. He gasped. The Ring! It fell from Sam’s palm to the ground. Fate, as it would have it, did the impossible deed for them. The little gold trinket, glowing wickedly in the light of its birthplace, twinkled as it rolled on its side almost innocently to the edge. It dangled on the cusp of the rock for but a moment, yet that moment lasted an eternity of lost breath and unbelieving stares. Then the air gave it a tiny push, and it tumbled down.




A shrill scream came almost instantaneously from behind him. Gollum jolted forward, bleeding horridly from the wound in his chest, and grabbed for the falling Ring. His fingers but brushed the band. In an act of sheer insanity, the horrid little creature dove after it with a cry. "My precious!"

He scrambled to the edge, watching in heart-stopping disbelief as both the Ring and Gollum struck the molten rock below, the latter releasing a gruesome shriek. In that quiet second, he contemplated following his beloved, hateful Ring. But he had no time to make a decision, for a great and amazing thing then happened.

There was a deafening explosion of air and sound, and he cried as the force knocked into him. Light became shadow, shadow became the sun, and everything bled heat. Above the clouds thundered and roared, splitting as a great vortex of spinning air formed over the top of Mount Doom. In the cacophony nothing could be heard but the wind and pounding of his heart. Time seemed to slow, and in the violent swirl the Ring’s evil shattered. He watched, unable to think or feel or even breathe, as Sauron’s servants were pulled from the sky above into the storm. The Nazgûl were sucked down into the void, their pale, twisted faces emerging from the winds only to be pulled back. They screamed in their demise. The twilight world pulled tighter into itself, pulverized by the power of reality, and Sauron’s evil shrunk into a tiny speck of light.

Soundless thunder cracked, shaking the crater, and that star exploded in a force powerful enough to topple him.

Then it was quiet.

The Ring was no more!

Frodo cried as he broke free from his cell. Powerful relief and euphoria washed over him in a great shudder. The Ring’s call was silent, fleeing from his mind, leaving his soul and heart unbound! The monster of his corruption shriveled and died. He was free. He was free!

He was falling!

The small creature had no time to right himself, so disoriented and disjointed, as he came in control of his body again. His balance had been destroyed by the wave of energy in the destruction, and he stumbled back. A sense of terrifying weightlessness struck him and he flailed in panic. The heat scorched his back. His heart stopped. Mindlessly he reached for something, anything, to stop his descent.

Miraculously his fingers struck the ledge. His body was yanked painfully, and he nearly lost his grip. Frodo whimpered, tears leaking from his eyes, as he looked up. He was dangling off the edge, below him all the fury of Mount Doom. His arms cried out in strain, and he tried to pull himself up. He simply did not have the strength, and he grunted in defeat. His heart sank in a mire of despair. The Hobbit’s fingers slipped. He would die here!

A hand came down from above and grabbed his wrist. Frodo jerked up, unable to believe it. Another reached down to grip his other hand. "Hold on, Mister Frodo!" He felt his soul break in relief. Oh, Sam! Sam!

His friend’s head, covered in its mop of curly hair, appeared above the edge. Frodo quaked, so overjoyed to be saved that he felt his stomach twist and heave. He gagged on his breath, choking on his sobs. After that, there were no words shared, only grunts of effort and tears of liberation. Frodo kicked, fighting to find a foothold on the face of the rock. When he did, he pushed himself up. Sam grabbed the back of his coat and pulled. A moment later he was safe, sturdy rock beneath his body once more.

Frodo collapsed into Sam’s embrace. "Sam! Sam!" he wailed, burying his face in his friend’s breast. Sam tightly wrapped his arms around his friend as he sobbed heavily and without reservation, bearing together their pain and anguish. "Sam, I am so sorry! I am so very sorry!"

Sam held tight to him, and he to Sam. They stayed as such for a long while, struggling to rise past all that just transpired, immensely glad to simply be alive and together. To be themselves again! Hearts beat with joy and elation.

Then Sam sniffled. Frodo leaned back, his face streaked with tears. "We’ve done it, Mister Frodo," Sam gasped, his face glistening with tears. "I can hardly believe it! We’ve done it!"

Frodo could think of nothing to say. His mind was far too numb to feel guilt or sorrow over what he had nearly done. Of the monster he became. Instead he rested in the security of their success. He managed a weak smile. You have done it, Sam. You saved us all! If not for Sam, he would have succumbed forever, and the Ring would have been lost. He would have died… Yet the wonderful Hobbit, his stout and loyal friend said nothing of it, humble and strong. Dear, wonderful Sam! But Frodo said nothing of it, knowing Sam would disclaim honor or privilege anyway. Feeling rather unworthy, he simply declared, "I’m glad, Sam. I’m so very glad!"

The Hobbits found it within themselves a moment later to stand, and Frodo retrieved their fallen weapons. Sam was bruised and bloodied but otherwise hale, veritably glowing with pride and happiness. He draped his arm again over his friend’s neck. Frodo felt his despair and guilt then poking through the joy of what they had accomplished. But he pushed it aside for the time being. The moment was simply too stupendous and amazing for regret! There would be time later to come to terms with what happened.

Sam shook his head sadly then, staring into the glowing, liquid rock below them. His face fell a bit, his bright eyes dimming with pensive sorrow. "I almost feel sad for that little creature," he remarked. There was pity in his voice, and a great deal of confusion.

Frodo narrowed his eyes. "Gandalf told me he might have a part to play in all of this," he murmured quietly. What a strange irony! Without Gollum, how different this might have been! Frodo might have never followed Sam across the Anduin. He would have never found Legolas’ knife, which just moments ago defended Sam against their attacks. He might have murdered Sam himself, if not for Gollum’s interruption! Fate had twisted indeed, making the most unlikely of people the most important of players in its game. Frodo supposed he should have felt ashamed or at least sad, but all he knew was soothing relief. That demon, twisted by his love for the Ring, so driven by it that he would have rather leapt to his death in its pursuit than live without it… That demon could have been him. "I know now that he was right!"

Such thoughts were better suited for another time. Now they had to escape, to shrug their burdens and return to their friends. Shadowfax was undoubtedly waiting at the foot of the mountain. The mighty horse could lead them to safety and to the others.

"Let’s go, Sam," he said then, tearing his blank eyes from the abyss of molten rock. He offered his dear friend a grateful, quivering smile. "We’ve done what we came to do."

And so they did. They limped from the top of Mount Doom sharing a companionable silence that, for the first time in so very long, was not wrought with despair. The wall had come down between them, and they were bonded again in love and trust. There was pain and guilt left to be understood, and fear still to be conquered, but these were but tiny grievances in the moment. Somehow, they had done the impossible. They had taken the last step of this unforgettable and perilous journey together, ending it as it had begun. How incredible that was! How incredible that two simple, unremarkable Halflings who had for all their childhood only dreamed of adventure changed the future of Middle Earth! Though they did not speak it, both thought the same thing, heard the same warm and friendly declarations of the Gandalf the Grey made so many days back.

"Hobbits really are amazing creatures. You can learn all that there is to know about their ways in a month, and yet after a hundred years they can still surprise you in a pinch!"

Never before had a day come that proved those words so true!

This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.

Story Information

Author: maggie

Status: Reviewed

Completion: Complete

Era: 3rd Age - Ring War

Genre: Drama

Rating: General

Last Updated: 11/12/02

Original Post: 07/14/02

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