Chapter 7: Resistance

The tall, carved door swung open to Aragorn’s touch; an unfamiliar word and gesture assured admittance past the vigilant elves standing watch during the crisis within. Sam stepped inside a room much changed in the short time since he had been sent forth. Oh, Frodo, what is this? What are they doing to you? Sam hesitated, disoriented by the cold white mist drifting before him, through clear light, seeking every corner… and the vastness of pure sound…

Music! The entire room resonated as a fine instrument, strung with the sinews of Middle-earth itself. The air quivered with deep rhythms reverberating low, and piercing notes sung high… so far below and beyond Sam’s hearing that he could only feel them in his bones. Pure elven voices wove melody and counterpoint into a clear-loomed net, cast widely to capture the muffled mist mutely seeping, creeping… and the mist’s netted silence was woven also through their song.

A host of elves stood singing, immobile, composed, wreathing the complexities of their music. And Sam threaded his way through a passage that seemed to open before him, though the elves moved not. He approached the bed, and stilled at the sight of silver trays bearing fine-honed, glistening implements. And he knew that he might yet see in truth, his vision of Frodo stained in blood. Or are these the way to forestall the very worst? Oh, surely not!

He sought the helpful mirror. It was difficult to see clearly for elves and mist, even with the mirror’s aid. But in its glimpse he saw, for an instant of hope, an earlier reflection, indelible in his mind: Frodo surprised and laughing and alive, wryly amused at his predicament… sharing moments of trust with Sam… Hold on to that, Samwise… those sweet moments… But memory could not protect against the painful reality reflected back now. The mist hung thick over Frodo’s body, and rose alarmingly from his very flesh, from the fearful wound itself. And as mist wafted anew with every heartbeat, Frodo seemed almost to dissipate, faded into its swirling coils, lost to light and vision.

And through that mist, Lord Elrond sat close beside Frodo. One fine, tapered hand pressed firmly, palm down to the wound; the other poised, balanced at his breast, a silver glint at Frodo's heart... His expression was imperturbable, and his deep voice led the song. Gandalf, face creased with compassion and concern, stood in shielded power to Frodo’s other side. His staff cast the only light within the room and where its shimmering lucidity fell, the cold mist burned and steamed like fog seared in morning sunshine.

Pale under the shrouding mist, lying between the Wise, Frodo was no longer peaceful. That blessed interlude had ended when this last battle was engaged. Sam could hear his panting breaths, catching in his chest, each forced and laborious, and through the mist he could see the pain in every tense line of his body. And, when at last Sam drew close enough to see Frodo himself, not merely his hazy reflection, he saw that Frodo was awake… and his eyes… Sam gasped. Oh, Frodo, no! What do you see that hurts you so?

Frodo’s midnight eyes were dark and wide with anguished vision, their focus fixed and distant, reflecting each remembered terror lying before him, lying to him: Nazgul wraiths closing on him and Morgul blade striking anguish and, during all, the One Ring set corrupt on his hand!

None in Middle-earth, save the Dark Lord himself, had seen such horror and lived, nor could any resist the doom within that call; yet, somehow, Frodo had endured beyond hope. But will and body were failing him at last, unable to support his life against the compulsion of such evil. And Sam knew whatever would happen would happen now, and the Wise must summon all their age-long skill and healing art and deep compassion to the cause of Frodo’s life, if live he might.

And by the powers, Sam would help as well, with love and strength and all his flickering hope. And if will and healing art should fail, if only that terrible ‘more’ might save his Frodo from horrors unimaginable, even beyond his death… then… at least that death should come safe in the arms of one who loved him, though it be more than that one could bear.

Sam bit blood from his lip, knowing nothing could prepare him for what might come. He scrambled across the bed into the heaviest mist, glancing in defiant supplication to Gandalf and Lord Elrond. They acknowledged his presence with grave, accepting nods, and neither music nor light faltered. And it seemed to Sam that a glow of light fell on him in blessing and in hope as he claimed his right by love and service to be at Frodo’s side, here with Frodo in the centre of all…

He did not believe that Frodo could see… not him, nor anyone or anything beyond the horrific phantoms of his mind. But, he would try to ensure that Frodo knew that his Sam was here for him, if Frodo were capable of such knowledge, still.

“I’m here, Frodo!” he said, with a kiss to Frodo’s brow, as he took his place, lying beside him the better to enfold him, and hold him, and cling for his very life. And, was there the slightest lift of his chin towards Sam? Oh, please let him know I’m here… we’re here… for him… oh, Frodo, you’re not alone… never… Sam slid his arm beneath Frodo’s tensed shoulders, and spread his palm low and claiming over his belly, pressing his own body’s warmth close into Frodo’s chilled flesh. He strove to touch and hold at every possible point, yet not hinder the elven healing. And he shuddered at the throbbing tautness of that lean body, strung tight as an archer’s bow from legend.

As the elven crescendo soared to new heights, the thick mist swirled the more malevolently low around them. It was almost impossible to catch clean breath now, even though Sam lifted his head to where it thinned, higher than Frodo could possibly do as he struggled for air. And despite all Sam’s effort to sweep the evil mist away with his hand, it now coiled so heavily at Frodo’s nose and mouth that he must inhale it, smothering, with his next rasping, pain filled breath…

This is it, Sam! This is why you’re here… for his life… or his death… oh, hold on to him and never let him go… not to that… not to…

Breath and mist and music and light and the vicious torture tearing at Frodo, his face and body and mind, stood at apogee, poised on a teetering point of inevitability and it all must tilt… and plummet… to death, to life, to… what?

With everything left to him, Frodo utterly rejected and defied the evil will that summoned him. His eyes closed tight against dread and vision, face contorted, lips thinned to bared white teeth. His hands stretched taut, then clenched, white-knuckled, clawing aimlessly, flailing tight-fisted against the bed, Sam, the air above. He fought with and for his own will, and Sam held fiercely and matched and met every blind and random step of pain in their mortal dance to the death… dance for life… reeling to the music, the summons, the light…

And now, Frodo’s body convulsed beyond control, almost breaking Sam’s desperate hold, and pulsing violently out of time, against the music’s beat. His dark head snapped back against sweat-soaked sheets, spine arching sharply, in agony unconfined… With the last shreds of his defiance, and the last breath of his innocent life, Frodo screamed chaos into the midst of light and song.

In that moment, all the power of the Wise coalesced focused by Frodo’s final cry. Gandalf’s staff flared incandescent. The evil mist hissed and sparked to cleansing flame, dissipated in a thousand glittering wisps, and was gone. The elven chorus swelled to its triumphant climax, thunderous and brilliant, and it seemed that all the voices ever known were uplifted to this one timeless song. And Frodo’s heartbreaking, piercing scream was interwoven with that immortal chorus: a tiny grace note, beautiful and pure; unexpected and unlikely, yet intrinsic to the whole.

And then, Frodo collapsed, mercifully insensate, fragile in Sam’s arms.

Suddenly, the room was filled with urgent commotion. Lord Elrond withdrew his hand from Frodo’s pale shoulder, within his grasp a malicious black shard, smelted and forged in darkness. Discarded into a basin, it steamed and fumed malevolence, a cruel will directing yet its seeking purpose until whirled away by hands eager to banish this last trace of Sauron’s Morgul blade. And in Lord Elrond’s other hand, rising away now from Frodo’s heart, was a thing Sam could not bear to look on: glinting sharp, the clean, unbloodied reminder of awful possibility.

To think what might have been… But, Frodo is alive! Sam closed his eyes and reached up to Frodo’s face, tracing his lips, touching his cheek, brushing across the stark brows and soft lashes, picturing that dear face in health as his fingers hovered lightly across the pallor he could almost feel through his fingertips. It’s over now, Frodo, love… you did it… my Frodo…

Gentle elven hands wiped Frodo’s body with cleansing herbal oils and smoothed back his sweat-damp hair. He was lifted carefully, just enough for a silver cup of cool water, sweet-scented with a healing tincture, to be touched to his lips. The elves tending him stroked his throat to encourage a swallow and Sam was glad to see Frodo accept the soothing draught, though he did not stir to wakefulness. Sam gratefully sipped its calming comfort when the cup was offered to him, but would not move from Frodo’s side. Fearful that further injury had been done to Frodo’s shoulder, Sam forced himself to look, and was startled that the wound appeared unchanged, in spite of mist and pain. At least he’s not been cut nor harmed to hurt the more… the hurt must be all on the inside… it is enough… more than enough… but it’s over… The cruel wound was anointed with healing salve and a silken binding wrapped over all.

Sam sank down at Frodo’s side, and gave in to his need to enfold Frodo’s slim body in his arms, so relieved to feel living pulse and warmth returning. And Sam did not once release his fierce and tender hold, nor lift his tear-stained face from where it was buried in Frodo’s tangled curls, not even as careful hands reached gently between them, loosened his own clothing, and tucked soft covers around them both. “Sleep, Samwise… your Master will recover.” Another kind hand, Gandalf’s, Sam thought hazily, laid benediction on his head.

Gradually, the room stilled, lit only by serene starlight. Sam reached to brush wayward tendrils of hair from Frodo’s face, and ran his fingers across the corner of lips now softened into sleep. “Sleep, love… sweet sleep, and nothing more to hurt you, my dearest, brave Frodo…” he murmured, with a kiss to Frodo’s cheek.

Sam looked up. The mirror reflected tranquil elves seated on the far side of the room behind him, keeping watch over Frodo through this night. Beyond the mirror, through the filmy fabric floating, wafting at the arches, the ancient patterns of the stars sparkled, shimmering afar in the black sky. With a sigh, Sam turned from the tales they told, tales he had learned from the hobbit lying safe within his arms, and he laid his head beside Frodo’s. He pulled Frodo just a little closer, and felt him move, so slightly, deeper into his warm embrace. Overwhelmed by fatigue and hope fulfilled, Sam gave himself also to healing sleep.

* * *