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In the Dark

Chapter 1: In the Dark

by Ariel

In the Dark

By Ariel

Disclaimer: The characters and situations belong to JRRTolkien. I make no monetary gain from using them in this work.

Rating: PG for dark themes, discussion of suicide.

AN: In Mordor, following Frodo and Sam’s forced march, Sam is not the only one to have grim revelations as they rested by the roadside.

In the dark, fume-laden air, a chill wind blew.

Frodo opened his eyes. The sky above was a heavy ceiling of roiling cloud, dank and evil. It pressed down on him, forcing his limbs to the poisoned earth. Or perhaps it was weariness that weighted them so? For a moment, he wondered where he was, but the cooling sweat, the aching of his limbs told him - Mordor. His last strength squandered under the stinging lash of an orc captain, he lay where he fell, too exhausted to even tremble. The orange glow that touched the lowest reaches of cloud was Orodruin's fire. He was approaching his doom.

It was the silence that stirred him. For the moment, the Ring's seductive whispers were not echoing in his brain and the reprieve was almost as sweet as the promises the hateful thing so mockingly made. His mind was his again… for a time… though he knew it would not last. The Ring merely waited, silent and biding. They both knew it was only a matter of time. It was strong, especially here in the land of its creation, and would overthrow him in the end, he no longer doubted it. All that still remained was to see how far he could go toward that end.

Was this moment of clarity a new torment, then? A chance for him to see and feel the ruin that was his body? He was piercingly weary: so exhausted that even breath was a trial, so aching from fatigue that he had collapsed into a stupor deeper and yet less comforting than sleep. And now sleep would not come. He gazed up at the grey, listless sky and tried to order the chaos that was his mind. How far had they run? The march had seemed interminable and yet the land around them, though pockmarked and broken, was still the flat plain. They had not yet reached the roots of the mountain.

The mountain. Frodo focused his thought on that intangible goal. There would be the ending of his Quest. He would be done, free at last. When he'd begun his journey its end had been a distant, unreachable mark. Now, close enough to smell the sulfurous stench, he could almost taste his doom. The Ring would fight him. It would not let him cast it into the fire. Though quiescent now, its fiery tendrils had already ensnared his mind. He could see its glowing circle even as he walked, open-eyed, under the brooding sky. He had almost succumbed to the thing already. It grew stronger as the last of his strength drained away. If he did not complete his task very soon, it would surpass and consume him.

Frodo heard Sam's discontented shifting and felt the cloak that covered both of them move, but all other sounds, save the wind, were silent. The orcs with their foul breath and cruel whips had moved on, but how much closer to Orodruin the march had left them Frodo did not know. And he did not have the strength left in him to even look. His only hope had lain in stealth and speed. Both those qualities were beyond him now, but with or without hope, he had to go on.

Go on. There was no other option. He should have been sleeping while he could, conserving what little strength might return to him while the Ring also slept, taking his respite from its terrible onslaught in the way that would serve his purposes best, but his shrewd mind was too busy weighing his odds. He still had so far to go. The lembas Sam had insisted he eat would help, but Frodo knew in his heart even that would not be enough. By the time he reached the mountain's foot, he would be too spent to even point Sam up the path, let alone master an empowered Ring so near the source of its might. The realization that his heart had accepted long ago at last found its way to the forefront of Frodo's mind. He would only be able to cast the Ring into the fire if he rushed it, gave the foul thing no time to overpower his will, and cast his own body into the flames with it.

Once the thought of immolation would have horrified him, but now it gave him a strange sort of peace. The fire would take away his thirst and his hunger. It would free him from the merciless attack of the Ring. And in that burning, he would know that he had accomplished his Quest. His world and the home that he had given his all for would be free.

Until that end he would have to conserve whatever strength he had. It would be needed for that last gasp. He would have to rest when he could and lean on Sam as much as he dared. And he could not even help his friend understand why. The Quest was too important. The other hobbit would never let him go if he knew what Frodo intended. If he were to complete his task, see the job done, he would have to leave his companion behind and travel the last few steps of the dreadful road alone.

And what of Sam? Frodo released a soft sigh. What of Sam. If Frodo had had tears to shed, they would have filled his eyes. What fate would await his most faithful friend once he had perished in flame? It tore at his heart that the younger hobbit had to be with him, sharing this awful fate, but Frodo knew, even better than he knew he would not be able to part with the Ring, that he could never have come so far without Sam. They had been meant to travel this dark road together. And what reward had he to give one who had been so steadfast? Naught but death. A lonely death at that, without even the final company of the one for whom he had suffered so much. Though all his other regrets had turned to ash, that one still tortured him. Sam had to have come, the Quest would have failed if he had not, but if Frodo could have had one wish, one final hope, it would have been that his companion would somehow escape this black land, flee this place of pain and torment. He could no longer see the light and air beyond the burning blackness, but he knew there must be something else. He would never see it again, but he wished... Yes, he wished dear Sam someday could.

But such thoughts were folly. Sam would die, alone on the mountain because Frodo would not have the strength to stay with him. His eyes searched the pitiless clouds again, as if looking for an answer, a vestige of fortitude somewhere in his being, but there was nothing left - nothing but blackness, mind-numbing weariness and the red-rimmed eye of fire. His strength had surged within him more times than even he had thought possible, but the very last of it was gone, swallowed up in the slice of an orcish whip. There was nothing left within him, no matter what enticement he used to call it.

And so Sam would die. Frodo's throat tightened painfully, but no sob would come. He had taken this Quest freely, of his own volition and because he knew the Ring had already ensnared and ruined him. His life had been forfeit long ago and he had long ago accepted it. Sam was still unspoiled; his brief touch with the thing had not been enough to claim him, but even that did not matter now. Though it would not twist Sam's mind as it had his, the Ring would count the young gardener its victim too and that smote Frodo's heart. The Ring demanded the pure and innocent as well as the condemned and violated as sacrifice. It could not be borne, and yet it had to be. There was nothing else for it. The Quest required them both to lay down their lives. Was Sam beginning to see that? Frodo had been too filled with his own torment to notice, but he guessed the younger hobbit probably did. How could he not, by now?

Frodo tried to think back on the land they had struggled so to protect. The Shire. Though the word brought peace and he knew such a place existed, he could not see it. Such was to be expected, he supposed. It was but one more confirmation that he would never escape this doom. Only in Sam, his living marker, could he see a glimpse of the promise and potential, hope and purity of his homeland. Sam alone reminded him of what he had to protect and why he struggled through torment and beyond. But even for that service, Frodo would reward him with nothing but death alone on the mountainside. The knowledge rent his heart.

Day was lifting. Frodo could see it in the lightening of the clouds. His eyes, too dry for tears, again scanned the unrelenting sky as if looking for some reprieve, some answer that would dive, screaming, through the mists. But still, there was none. Of course not. The only answer lay in his own will, and the bone and sinew of his beloved friend. Those meager gifts had to be enough to see it through. There was no other option. Frodo's will, set weeks before, was still unwavering, but the revelations of the night gave it a keen, fey edge. He would push his limbs on with that will alone if need be. If they reached the mouth of the pit, he would abandon Sam and race towards the fire as fast as those limbs would carry him. He would not hesitate, would not give the Ring a chance to take hold, and would leap, eager and selfish, to his ruin. He would leave his Sam to die alone in a desolate world of rock and ash and heartbreak.

There was nothing else that could be done.

It was not despair that flowed over his haggard frame, but a sort of calm certainty. He would not see Sam's death wasted. If the Quest demanded the life of the innocent, then that life would not be lost in vain. If this was his only recourse, then he would follow it past his own end, to the breaking of the world. Sam had pledged his life to Frodo at Amon Hen and now Frodo silently pledged his to his servant. He would not see such nobility of spirit wasted because his strength had failed. He would do the job he had set out to do because his companion deserved nothing less.

Beside him, Sam stirred and wearily sat up. Frodo could sense him gazing about them, studying the landscape. The gardener was silent for a long time but Frodo did not move. As if from a great distance, he heard the Ring's echo in his mind. It was stirring too and, almost as if it had sensed his plans, laughed mockingly at his resolve. He kept his eyes fixed on the roiling clouds as the scorn and cruelty of his burden clawed at his mind. Sam rose without looking at his master and made his way to the edge of the pit where he stood looking at the land over which they must travel. A long, resigned silence fell between them as the younger hobbit considered the landscape. Frodo did not speak. He could guess what his companion was thinking but could offer him no relief from those thoughts. Presently, Sam returned and crouched beside his master.

“Well, Mr. Frodo,” he said. “I've been having a look round and thinking a bit. There's nothing on the roads, and we'd best be getting away while there's a chance. Can you manage it?”*

Frodo looked up at his friend searchingly. A rough, plain face, incapable of deception, a strong, weathered frame that had lost much of its comfortable pad of flesh and a pair of bright, brown eyes that now saw truly where their course lay. Yes, Sam saw the truth now, and yet he, too, was resolved.

“I can manage it,” Frodo answered him in a cracked voice. “I must.”*

The end

* 'ed lines are taken from the text of 'The Return of the King' by JRR Tolkien, Book 6, Chapter 3 - “Mount Doom”