I still retain with me the breath of the West, redolent with the utmost peace and wholeness that I have yet to find in this much hurt, much maimed corner of Arda. I still glory in the warmth of the swift sunrise, still carry with me the scents of the widest, sundering Sea, still quiver with the songs of the Elves of the Blessed Realm.

Yet now here I am, wrapping my fingers around your cold, sweat-moistened skin, feeling your heart flutter from fear and exertion, swallowing your gasping breath, caressing your hair—lank and matted with dirt and perspiration—and weeping, I am weeping.

I wish I could bathe you with the scents of spring morning, newly awakened earth and blossoming flowers. I wish I could cleanse you of your pain and fatigue as sure as a spell of warm summer rain. I wish I were at least a cooling touch in this place of fire and darkness. But how can I? Many seasons, full moons and sunsets have passed since last I reveled in untainted joy and freedom. I am dark now, sullied by the suffocating reek that chokes you, laden with the dust that I cannot help but smear over your wounds. I have no power now to ease your burden, to soothe your hurt. Forgive me, please, forgive me.

The Ring shifts on your breast as you rise to run again; your pale, rippling shadow drags behind you in the un-light of the dawnless day. The Ring. I recoil from It, revolted, angered, frightened. Evil. Betrayal. Madness. I stir, and softly, softly run my tendrils over your cheeks, and cradle your face—downcast and pinched from starvation and agony—and I weep. How can you bear It, o fair one, for so long, this far into despair? How can you withstand its scorching, freezing touch? How deep is the wound that It has gouged in your being? Can it ever be redressed?

You stop now, leaning into a mound of rubble and rock, your eyes closed, your breath comes in broken gasps that I gather in shaking hands. Your dear Sam stands behind you with eyes glittering with love and concern, but you are too exhausted to notice.

"Let's rest here, master," says Sam, gently putting his hand on your shoulder. Can he feel the tautness that I can sense when I drape myself over you? Your neck and shoulders are stiff from trying to stay upright against the weight of the monster you are chained to. No measure of resting can wholly rid you of that weariness. I stroke Sam's hand, I stroke your shoulders, gently, gently, hoping that what little respite I can give you can help ease the ache.

"A bit more, Sam," you gasp, eyes opening, a flicker of that tenacious blaze of will-power shining for a very brief instant. "A bit more."

"You're fair worn out, Mr. Frodo," Sam protests. "Rest here a while and you'll have some strength back in you to march further after."

You look at Sam, a faint smile on your parched lips. "Sam, I do not trust that I shall be able to stand again after a brief rest. We shall walk until our feet give way, then rest the day away. But not now."

Sam scowls and looks ready to dispute.

"Unless you can go no further, Sam," you say, raising your brows. "We can rest here if you really need to. Forgive me, but sometimes I think I forget that you might feel weary too. You carry so much more than I do."

Sam huffs and frowns. He stands straighter, hoisting his pack higher. "Well, no use wasting our breath arguing, Mr. Frodo," he says briskly, a touch of pink rising in his pale, dusty cheeks. "If we are to march then, we'd best be going."

"Are you sure, Sam?" you ask, a tinge of mirth in your voice. Sam glares at you and the ghost of laughter rips itself from your throat before the parched air turns it into a cough. Sam is immediately beside you, rubbing your bent back anxiously, but you wave your hand, dismissing him. "I am alright, Sam my lad. Move those feet now. Let us aim for that mound."

Two flitting shadows in the dim landscape you two are. I dance between you and Sam, twining myself around you, holding you, wishing I had the strength to carry you away from this torment, wishing I could rescue you.

The slag mound stands not four hundred yards from the one you left behind. But less than halfway there your breath begins to labor and your limbs shake. You stumble and stagger. "I cannot do this," you whisper to me and silently I agree.

I was there the day Glorfindel the beloved battled the dreaded Balrog of Morgoth. His golden hair glinted red in the glow of the fire of the beast, his sword set aflame by the heat: I danced around him then, seared by the radiant flare of his power, as he fought to his utter ruin, guarding the fugitives of Gondolin to his death. I carried his anguished cry as his spirit was sundered from his flesh. I mourned him, called him, longed for him, but the western wind carried back only the whisper of countless songs lamenting his fall.

I was there the day Turambar slew the dragon Glaurung. The air was heavy with the stench of the blood of the worm and I writhed in repulsion. His dying words, laying bare his treachery and malice, echoed within me and I wept in grief for Turambar and Niniel. In their death I stood still, their last words pulsing inside me, mingled with the roar of the waters of Cabed Naeramarth.

Yet Glorfindel was an Elf-lord of great power and skill, and Turambar was a sturdy man hardened in battle. They died a noble death, I cannot and shall not refute that, yet the adversaries pitted against them were but minions of the dark lord, powerful and terrible though they were.

But you, my dear one… No trace of warlike blood runs through your veins. Your life had been nothing but simple pleasures and contentment before; you are hardly prepared for any kind of battle, least of all against the embodiment of the ultimate darkness. You look fragile and feeble in the vast desolation of Mordor, yet you tread wearily on, steadily moving toward the absolute doom, to challenge the supreme shadow at its very heart. You, my loved one, a creature of gentle green hills, merry songs and ample supper before dancing fire. How are you to surmount this ordeal? What shall become of you in the end? Ash, dust, less than that? I tremble in fear at the thought.

You lurch in your step, but with a great effort try to steady yourself and run the last few yards before throwing yourself down on the ground, utterly spent. Sam comes and sits beside you, coaxing you to take a bit of water and a mouthful of lembas. You comply, muttering a thin whisper of gratitude, before sinking helplessly into a deep, exhausted sleep.

My beloved… I stroke your brow with my gentlest touch. Your eyes stir under their lids, your eyelashes fluttering softly. I lay myself on you, whispering of fair lands far away where there is still laughter and songs, where the Sun shines brightly in a sky of brilliant blue, where the chorus of water in creeks and brooks fills the air, where flowers dot the lush meadows, where happiness is and will forever be. I sing to you in a voice much defiled by terror and shattered by grief, but I sing of promise; if not of healing, then of salvation. Beyond this seemingly endless horror, there is hope still. Rest now a while, my dearest. The journey is yet to pass and destiny awaits you at the end. But now rest. Let go.

Your face looks tranquil now, the almost constant knot in your brow undone. A sigh escapes you as you turn in your sleep, your lips ease into a smile you hardly ever form in your waking moments. I can do naught to aid you, my beloved. Rest is the only gift I can bestow. I swirl gently around you now, wishing I could keep you in that sweet, restful haven forever, forever… Wishing I could shield you from the coming days of weariness upon weariness; when It burrows deeper and deeper into your broken, defenseless soul, and plunders what remains of your will and resolve. Wishing I could spare you the moment when the last shreds of your hope and courage are torn from you, leaving you a hollow shell pulsing and writhing with the lust and deceit that is It. Wishing I could shelter the clear, white light that is you against the encroaching loathsome darkness; darkness cloaked in the heart of fire and the hissing, demented voice that echoes from a past distorted. Wishing I could bear you away safe and hale, to your cozy hole under the hill. Wishing to dance once more to your laughter, your jest, your voice singing freely and merrily, your words quiet and kind and wise… Wishing, and despairing, but for a dim promise beyond the end.

I still keep the sunshine and moonbeam of the West within me, glorious, undimmed splendor and bliss. Yet I have tasted malice, I have known pain, I have witnessed valor and I have learned of grief. But I know I shall someday return to that land where I sing in boundless joy amid the branches of the evergreen groves. I shall reap again the lovely notes of the songs of the Elves. And I know that I shall hear your voice then, my beloved, amid the chorus of the Elves, rising in jubilation.