3. Irmo's Reward
(Elvish phrases are explained at the end of the chapter.)
Dreams. His existence was made of visions; light, dark, soothing, and often violent. Yet those visions could become reality, if he indeed wished it so. All emotions and feelings were flowing through him, constantly vibrating in the air. He was communicating with the mortal and immortal races in a never-ending circle, sending them dreams which could be a gift or a curse, or even a sign of foresight. Not many did he allow clear visions of things to come.
Meeting in dreams was something Irmo not often had considered, at least not for mortals. Only special events made him do that; mostly he did not see the urge to make something happen at all. Those who possessed higher skills, like the Maia, could communicate in thoughts, paired with the ability to see signs of the future and interpret them as foresight.
Now, however, from the land of ancient Lórien in Aman, Irmo, Master of Dreams, was helping two mortals meet, though not in a common way. Both would later only remember this as a dream, very intense and real, but fragile and rare. Though this was no mere dream, but those two could not be united at the shores of Aman forever. This was a reward for both of them; for all they had achieved in dark and sinister times.
Two common mortals. They had taught even the High Elves and the Maia that the Impossible could be achieved. All-consuming darkness must not be a reason to let hope fail entirely. Those two, amongst many others, had proved that. Especially the little halfling who had endured fear and pain far beyond mortal power. He had survived it, though physically and mentally wounded, and had been allowed to come to Tol Eressëa to find his lost peace here.
The most-needed reward of happiness and contentment was given to Frodo Baggins, former hobbit of the Shire. And Frodo had accepted this gift gratefully, filled with a never tiring awe... the way he faced his new home from the day of arrival, and this acceptance and curiosity had only grown more intense with the passing of time.
The Man however, clad in black and silver - the Gondorian colours - was clearly confused, but nevertheless he accepted this immense change gracefully. Irmo felt the calm and wise air of maturity that surrounded the King of Gondor. He had left his existence as a Ranger long ago, but still there was something left of the rough, solitary man roaming the wild for many years, often only accompanied by his own thoughts. Aragorn had seen many things in his life, and was used to handling uncommon situations.
Now Irmo, Master of Dreams, continued to weave his strong magic without any boundaries.
Slowly, Aragorn and Frodo loosened the embrace to look into each others eyes. Aragorn could do nothing but admire the peacefulness that surrounded his dear little friend; his shining eyes, full of mirth, happiness, and laughter. He looked at Frodo, taking him in, smiling with joy. A few fine threads of silver glistened in Frodo's dark curls that had grown and now covered his shoulders in gentle waves. Strands of his hair were braided, and that gave the hobbit an even more elvish air than he already had. His face seemed ageless, yet wise. He wore the finest garments: a silver-blue tunic with a fine patterns of leaves, and the breeches matched the colours and the pattern perfectly. But although Frodo looked changed, he still was the hobbit Aragorn knew - now looking self-assured and glad, his forehead no longer frowning with sadness and worries.
"Mára aurë..." Frodo finally breathed softly.
"So... Frodo... you are real. This is real! I was sure I would wake in my room in Minas Tirith, the memory of you fresh, but the pictures fading, like dreams use to do. Arwen would hold me, whispering soothing words of reassurance, before I would glide into sleep once more..."
"I get the impression that you are wide awake now. And I'm as real as you are, Aragorn," laughed Frodo. He offered his hand to help Aragorn get up, but Frodo didn't let go of their clasped hands yet. Frodo watched Aragorn as intently as the Ranger had done a few moments before, taking in the sight of his dear friend. Frodo found that Aragorn looked content, and only barely aged.
"Come on, " Frodo said merrily after a few intakes of breath. "Let me show you something." And with these words he headed for a cluster of high cliffs in the distance, whistling a merry tune.
Aragorn was amazed at the lightness with which Frodo was climbing the rocks. The hobbit went carefree and swiftly, knowing each stride by heart. The King soon found he could follow Frodo without any difficulty. He could still breathe easily, and he smiled, lost in the beauty and joy around him. And especially the light that radiated from Frodo, bearing peace and happiness, moved him.
Frodo turned. "We're nearly there. This is where I went every day in the first years after I'd arrived here." He looked at Aragorn, a hint of melancholy surrounding him suddenly. "Here... here I was alone with my weary thoughts, and could cry without being seen. It soothed me more and more to come to this place. It's so full of beauty and light. Who can remain without hope in a place like this? I could sit here for hours, watching the waves and breathe in the salty air. After a while it felt as if the Evil inside of me could do anything but vanish."
"You were never evil, Frodo." Aragorn whispered.
"But I was not resistant against it. I got influenced by it, and changed so much that I fear even Sam thought he'd lost me."
Frodo looked out at the sea. His eyes were bright, too bright perhaps. Not everyone would see that Frodo was lost in some dark memories, but Aragorn did. He touched Frodo's arm soothingly, and Frodo smiled, snuggling closer to Aragorn. The trust Frodo showed moved the King deeply. Too clearly he remembered the reluctance and wariness Frodo had used as a shield during the Quest. And thereafter.
"Do you still feel responsible for what could have been the possible downfall of Middle-Earth, if it had not been for Gollum who had interfered?" The offensive question had left his mouth before Aragorn even could think about the emotions which could be awoken in Frodo's mind.
Frodo looked at Aragorn, fiercely, cool dark blue fires dancing in the depths of his eyes.
"I alone would never have been able to do it. I dare doubt even Sam could have interfered. The Ring seduced me, and It held sway over me. I was crushed and yet ecstatic... and I wanted that power. I think that to remember it so clearly was the deadliest wounds of all that I got during that journey. To know that I wanted that power, that I wanted this might, to destroy and to bleed, to hurt, to give in to the darkness. I was driven - driven to welcome the Evil, and embrace the Evil in me, though I had no chance to survive this. And I knew it, I knew it. But in the same moment I wanted it..."
Frodo's breath had sped up. His forehead was covered in sweat, and Aragorn briefly thought about interfering, making Frodo stop describing his emotions, and to soothe the hobbit. But Aragorn was too fascinated. He held his breath. Frodo never had spoken that clearly about the torture he had gone through before, and of the effects the beguiling jewel had had on him.
"Power. Power that feeds you with a compulsion that is treacherous, but you long for it so that you cannot think straight anymore. It was like this, and also it was not. I was consumed by a fire that hurt me, but also warmed me and my tired soul. It gave me ecstasy, and peace, and greed. It gave me the feeling of being powerful, of having a chance to turn the world at my command... and to be the Master of Light and Darkness, responsible for all Good and Evil."
Aragorn felt helpless, for he heard the despair that Frodo still could remember.
Frodo's gaze was clouded with dark memories, and he was panting. Aragorn took Frodo's cold hands and rubbed them soothingly. Frodo took a deep breath. His face was flushed, his eyes brimming with tears and he trembled. Then, slowly, Frodo recovered a bit, and went on:
"Do you realise how strange this sounds? And yet I do not know how I could describe it another way. I was torn, but the Ring made me feel whole again, though this wholeness was not peaceful and soothing, but consuming. It tore my soul apart, and at that moment I gave it away willingly. I never complained that I lost a part of me then, for it was only fair. But Aragorn... I learned here that I was not responsible for all that has happened, and that I was one of the few who could go so far with the Ring without giving in to the temptation much earlier. And there was Sam. He kept me from most harm, and I think it was his voice, his touch, that often got me back from that fiery and dark world of fear and seduction."
Softly, Aragorn asked: "Do you feel guilty still?"
Frodo smiled. The trembling in his body ceased, and ebbed away.
"Now, the guilt has been washed away. It has vanished. But it took a while, and many tears, nightmares and ragings. Even here. I felt helpless, and torn. But then healing came, slowly, soothingly. I regained some peace of mind, which I didn't think I could ever find again. And I found happiness once more. Nan mára..."
Aragorn nodded. "Cuivië ná acca sinta ná úlassëa," he answered in fluent Quenya.
Frodo smiled and nodded, too. The fierce expression had left him, and he looked peaceful and radiant again. Aragorn found that Frodo could revive the memories for what they were: dark, horrifying, seductive. But Frodo could also let go of them. It was like he was telling a tale about an unlikely hero from long ago, wholly caught up in the story, giving it life and movement... but then he found his way back to the present without difficulties.
"I feel fine now, Aragorn. I'm at peace." Frodo squeezed the hands of the former Ranger, reassuringly, and with hidden strength. Aragorn ruffled Frodo's dark, shiny curls affectionately and breathed in deeply.
All was silent now but for the slight breeze and the waves that crashed at the shore, far beneath them. Aragorn watched the sea; little white crowns that moved swiftly on the blue-grey water, and the sun shone down upon it all, giving it the illusions of little white jewels all over, to the end of the horizon.
None of them knew how many moments had passed. It could have been minutes, or hours. The wind had become fresh, and in the sky there were white clouds drifting out to sea. Frodo sat there quietly, motionlessly, his head leaning onto Aragorn's shoulder. Suddenly he moved, and searched for something in the pocket of his exquisitely bordured tunic. "Ah!" He finally said, with a satisfied smile on his face. He held out his hand to Aragorn.
"Here... this is for you. It will remind you that this was no mere dream."
Aragorn took the little stone Frodo held up to him. It looked white and milky, and when Aragorn took it, he felt warmth radiating from the crystal. When he looked at it, he saw a soft blue light glimmering within. The shimmer changed into all the colours of the rainbow when he held the crystal into the sun; the colours seemed vague and fragile, but they were definitely there.
"A moonstone," Aragorn said. "Those are seldom found, even in the Glittering Caves. I always adored those stones... they are full of secrets, cloudy, and yet they shine from within, bearing beauty and pureness. It reminds me of you, Frodo. The same light radiates from you, and yet you always had your secrets. But once you opened up to someone, they were able to see your inner light. Such a pure light..."
For eyes to see that can.
"Pure? Oh Aragorn... I once thought I could be pure, but the Quest made me see that I never was. I have seen too much darkness that has murdered all that was once pure in me. But now, I have begun to heal, and it feels like I'm filled and surrounded with that mysterious light indeed. The memory of the Ring is not fading, but it does not hurt me anymore. It does not haunt me anymore."
"If you had not been pure, and would not have remained pure all through those dark months, Middle-Earth would now be reigned over by Sauron, Frodo. Purity and love have brought you and Sam so far. Devotion, and determination. Strength that lay in both of you, only that your strengths were different. To me, thinking about you two would be akin to weighing earth and air against each other."
"Ah, Sam. My dear, faithful Sam... I think of him being happy and whole now. I hope my vision of him is right. It just broke my heart to see him so upset when I left with the other Ringbearers. But in the Shire I would have withered and died very quickly," Frodo whispered.
"Sometimes I can feel his presence, Aragorn. Then I know he is thinking about me, and I'm sure he feels that he is in my thoughts as well. It's nearly like a soothing embrace. In my mind I can hear his children's happy laughter, and Rosie's voice; in my mind I see Sam, strong and happy, and whole. I wish that those visions were reality..."
"Sam knows that, Frodo. And he is happy now. We have a steady exchange of letters from Gondor to the Shire, and back. His Elanor will soon come to Gondor to be one of Arwen's maids of honour. Sam always thinks of you, and writes about memories of you very often. He loves you, and he loves to share his memories of you - and that will never cease. His Rose and his children are keeping him happy and whole."
Frodo smiled. "Then it is as I have hoped. He is happy. He is fine..." Frodo repeated the last two sentences. Aragorn smiled, too.
"He surely is, though he doesn't forget to think about you at least once a day, or so he told me. And Sam will be allowed to cross the sea, when his time comes. I have the feeling Sam senses that he and you will meet again, far off in the future."
"I so long to see him again, Aragorn. I have so much to tell him, and I don't think I even have thanked him enough. I wish for Sam to feel the same happiness and wholeness as I was blessed to find." Frodo's eyes were focused on a far point, high above the Sea. He was looking eastward, Aragorn noticed.
And from the East there came a faint melody, or so he imagined. Soft and far away, but vibrating and strong, connected with Frodo's soul. Nothing could really divide the two friends of old. Their bond was too deep to be broken. Frodo closed his eyes with a gentle and contented sigh, leaning his head onto Aragorn's shoulder once more.
"Mára aurë." Good afternoon. (Literally: Good day.)
"Nan mára." I am well.
"Cuivië ná acca sinta ná úlassëa." "Life is too short to waste it being unhappy." (Literally: "Life is too short to be unhappy.")