According to The Return of the King, after Gandalf, the Elves, and the hobbits rode north after the War, they camped west of Moria for seven days (September 6-13) prior to the departure of Galadriel, Celeborn, and their entourage through the Redhorn Pass towards Lórien.  During this time, Gandalf, Elrond, Celeborn, and Galadriel communed silently at night about many things, past, present, and future.  Please note that I have taken a few liberties with location and geography; in this story, the Company is camped in a forested area near the foot of Celebdil -- one of the three mountains beneath which Moria lies.

Even with all of his elaborate plans and armies, Saruman never once set eyes on the One Ring -- or learned, with certainty, the identity of the Ringbearer.  Although the Ring has been destroyed, the obsessed Saruman is, even now, unable to think of anything else.  This is an AU tale in which Saruman and Gríma were never overtaken by the Company on their way north out of Rohan and Dunland.  As the story begins, these two are still unaccounted for, and Saruman still retains one power -- his voice.

Chapter 1 references The Silmarillion chapters 9 and 15.

DISCLAIMER:  Of course. The characters don't belong to me, I just get to think about them day and night.


"I am permitted to wear the One Ring: why cannot I see all the others and know the thoughts of those that wear them?"  Frodo Baggins, The Fellowship of the Ring, 'The Mirror of Galadriel'


Chapter 1 --- The Three

September 6


Frodo opened his eyes slowly, blinking in the bright sunlight streaming into the large tent shared by the hobbits.  It had been many days since they had been able to sleep late and not break camp immediately.  He burrowed back into his blankets, nursing a slight headache.

"Everything all right, sir?"  Sam paused on his way out of the tent.

"Fine, Sam," Frodo replied, "just the strangest dream…"

"Another one?  What about?"

"Ice."  Frodo yawned and threw off his blankets.  "It doesn't matter."  He and Sam left the tent to wash up, and on their way back from the small, sparkling stream that ran amid the trees near the camp, they joined Gandalf, Merry, and Pippin as they stood together, gazing up at the glittering peak of Celebdil.

"Where is it?" Merry was asking.

"There."  Gandalf pointed high above them.  "Just below the highest peak, the Balrog's remains still lie-- now hidden to all but the Eagles."

Merry whistled, and Sam closed his eyes, trying to imagine what had happened so far above their heads -- but Pippin scowled in concentration.

"So," Pippin said slowly, "we have the last dragon at the bottom of a lake, and the last Balrog at the top of a mountain…"

"And I trust that word will not reach me of an army of foolish Tooks launching expeditions to view the remains of either," Gandalf said sternly.  "In any event, there is no way of knowing whether or not that was 'the last Balrog'.  Many things lie hidden still in the depths of the earth."

"Or the depths of the waters," Frodo said quietly.  "Gandalf, are we anywhere near the lake?  You know, where that creature tried to---"

"The West Gate of Moria lies to the southeast of us now," Gandalf assured him, patting the hobbit's shoulder.  "We will not be going that way, Frodo."

"Good."  Frodo turned to his fellow hobbits, his headache gone and already forgotten.  "Breakfast?"

"Breakfast!" Pippin agreed.

It had been a relief to the hobbits to learn that the Company would be halting for some days prior to the Lord and Lady's departure.  The journey north had been a leisurely and peaceful one, but the days of constant riding had begun to be wearying.

The sons of Elrond also welcomed the opportunity to remain in one place, and planned to use the week to explore the foothills of Celebdil, an area they had not visited before.  Elrohir never tired of discovering the hiding places of nutritional and healing herbs, and Sam, eager to learn about new plants and their uses, made plans to accompany him the next day.  Upon learning that Elladan wished to locate some caves which Gimli had described, Frodo, Merry, and Pippin asked to join him.  The sons of Elrond reminded the hobbits of Legolas, always singing and full of tales.  Elrohir and Elladan, for their part, had discovered that they enjoyed the company of the hobbits, who were lighthearted companions, and walked as silently as they.  After nearly a month of constant travel from Rohan, strong friendships had been forged between all of them.

The weather since leaving Rohan had been warm and dry, but now late-summer storms were threatening.  Everyone spent their first day of "rest" working together to set up a substantial camp of large tents and pavilions, and gathering downed branches for firewood.

The day passed pleasantly, and after supper, talk, and some singing, the hobbits went to their beds.  Although he no longer chose to wear it, Frodo checked Sting as had become his custom.  This close to Moria, there was always a chance of stray Orcs; however, the blade showed not even a flicker of blue.  Frodo lay down and sighed, hoping for a night free of the strange and vivid dreams he had been experiencing.

"You did not win the entire war by yourself, Peregrin," Merry was saying quietly.

"Yes, I did," came Pippin's sleepy voice.  "Who woke up the Balrog so it could fight Gandalf and he could get more powerful and wizard-y than before?  Who got us free so we could run into Treebeard and get him angry enough to rip Isengard to pieces?  Who got Sauron's attention in the Stone so Strider knew what would happen when he looked into it, and draw the Eye to him, and not Frodo and Sam?"  Pippin stopped for breath.  "Who was---"

"You know, I think you're right, Mr. Pippin," Sam chuckled.  "Couldn't you have found time to throw the Ring into the Fire, as well?"

"I couldn't be everywhere at once, you know," Pippin grinned.

"True," Merry laughed.  "Well, thanks, Pip.  I'm glad the rest of us could help you in our own small way."

"Me too," Pippin yawned and curled up in his blankets.  "G'night, Frodo."

Frodo smiled into the darkness.  "Good night, Pip.  And thanks."


Frodo tossed and turned in fitful sleep, his dreams a cascade of people and places he didn't recognize.  He awoke around midnight, his head pounding, then sat up and looked about in utter shock.  He was no longer in the tent, but in a vast, crystalline hall, an expanse so huge he could scarcely comprehend it.  Bejewelled pillars glittered and shone, and… were gone.  Frodo looked wildly around the dark tent, hearing nothing but his companions' soft breathing.  What had just happened?  He got to his feet and left the tent, looking for Gandalf -- but saw, instead, Lord Celeborn.  The Elf Lord was moving soundlessly through the sleeping camp and became aware of Frodo watching him.

"Frodo," Celeborn called softly, "you are up late.  Is everything all right?"  He beckoned the hobbit to him.

"I'm not sure," Frodo replied, coming to the Elf Lord's side.  "I've been dreaming about such odd things, and just now I… saw something… wide awake.  I hoped Gandalf might be able to explain it."

The Elf Lord crouched down in front of the hobbit.  "Do you wish to describe one of your dreams to me?"

"Last night was… ice."  Frodo tried to remember.  "Fields of ice.  Freezing cold, and ice.  We walked and walked…"


Frodo shook his head.  "It was so real, almost as if I was part of a line of people walking and walking through ice.  Some didn't survive it, and we had to leave them behind.  Horns blowing…"  Frodo winced, rubbing his temples.  "I saw pillared halls," he whispered.  "I… see… it's too much…"

"Frodo," Celeborn said quietly, "you are seeing the travels of Galadriel, long Ages past."

Frodo stared at him in shock.  "How?"

"Let us find out.  I am on my way to join her, Elrond, and Gandalf.  I believe you should accompany me."  Celeborn rose to his feet and took Frodo's hand, leading the hobbit into the trees along a faint path.  After a time, Frodo could see a faint light glimmering ahead, and Celeborn led him into a clearing where three familiar figures sat in silence.

"My Lord?" Galadriel asked, "Is something amiss?  Frodo, are you well?"

"My Lady," Celeborn said gravely, "You speak this night of Doriath, and the majesty of Melian's realm?"

"We do," Galadriel replied.

"Frodo is sensing your thoughts, seeing the images you describe.  Last night he dreamed of the Helcaraxë, and the passage of the Noldor to Middle-earth."

Galadriel motioned for the hobbit to approach.  "Come closer, Frodo."

Frodo came to her side.  "Doriath," he murmured.  "Was it pillared and---"

"Yes," the Lady smiled.  "The realm of Melian was glorious beyond words.  We…" She inclined her head to Elrond and Gandalf.  "We do not use words when sharing such tales.  Our thoughts are open to each other."

Frodo suddenly gasped, his eyes widening in fear.  "I didn't do it, Lady," he cried.  "I swear it to you.  I never tried, not once."

"What are you saying, Frodo?" Galadriel took his hands.  "Tell me."

Frodo looked up at her, his eyes so full of anguish it smote her heart.

"You said…" He swallowed and tried again.  "When I saw your Ring, in Lórien, you said that before I could know the thoughts of other Ringbearers I would need to train my will to the domination of others."  Other Ringbearers… Frodo glanced at Elrond and Gandalf, than back to Galadriel.  "I swear it, Lady, I never did that.  It was all Sam and I could do, just to stay alive and to hide, and…"

Galadriel cupped Frodo's face in her hands.  "Frodo, we know you have not done this."

"But you said---"

"I know what I said."  Galadriel was filled with anger at herself, and overwhelming pity for this tormented hobbit.  "I was wrong, Frodo.  Even someone who has seen as many Ages of this world as I have, can make a mistake… now and then."

Frodo took a shuddering breath.  "Then… why is this happening?"

"I do not know."  Galadriel exchanged glances with Elrond and Gandalf, but Frodo could sense nothing of what passed between them.  "We are able to veil our thoughts, but did not know that it was necessary to do so.  We will cause you no further distress.  Frodo, look at me."  She looked into the hobbit's face; it was pale and drawn.  "Are you in pain?"

"My head," Frodo whispered.  "It's like…"  The pounding had grown into a fierce headache -- sharp and stabbing.

Elrond quickly moved to kneel at Frodo's side.  He pressed one hand gently to Frodo's forehead and the other to the back of the hobbit's head.  Behind his closed eyelids Frodo saw a flash of blue, and felt a warm pressure filling his head, pushing away the pain.  He sighed in relief, and felt Elrond's hands leave his head.  He felt weak with the sudden cessation of pain.

"Frodo," Elrond's voice was low and soothing.  "Be at peace and return to bed.  We will talk more about this tomorrow."

Frodo nodded, but grew suddenly lightheaded.  Elrond caught him as he stumbled.

"I am all right," said Frodo insisted.  "I just felt dizzy for a moment."

"You feel warm," Elrond said quietly.  "The headache and dizziness may be your body's attempt to adjust to all that you are experiencing.  A good night's sleep may be all that you require."  He lifted the hobbit into his arms.

"No," Frodo protested, "you don't need to---"

"You are no burden," said Elrond.  He gave his companions a worried look and started to carry Frodo slowly back to the main encampment.  "You must tell me if your headache returns."

"I will."  Frodo frowned, struck by a sudden realization.  "Lord Elrond, what you just did… do you wear one of the Three?"

Elrond looked at him steadily.  "Yes.  I am steward of Vilya, the Ring of Air -- most potent of the Three, its energies have been slowest to fade."

"And the third…" Frodo gazed up at him, wide eyed.  "Gandalf?"


"I had thought…" Frodo tried to think clearly through the dizziness he was feeling.  "You said, in the Council, that you feared the power of the Three would dissipate when the One was melted."

"We all believed that would occur, and quite quickly," replied Elrond.  "Indeed, the power of each ring has diminished greatly, and will no doubt continue to do so, until they are but heirlooms of a bygone Age."  He smiled sadly.  "One of the reasons we are encamped here is that there is much for us to yet discuss with Gandalf, and not all of it can be said in words.  As the Rings' energies weaken, our ability to converse silently will likewise fade."

"That is sad," Frodo sighed.  "It seems a wonderful thing, to me."  He frowned.  "Are my thoughts as open to you, then?"

"We do not intrude without permission," Elrond assured him, "or unless there is great need."

Frodo saw that they were approaching the camp.  "Please put me down before we're seen; I don't want anyone to fuss."

"You never do," Elrond smiled, setting Frodo gently on his feet.  "Go to your bed.  I do not believe your dreams will be disturbed any longer."


Back in the clearing, Celeborn had seated himself with a sigh.  "Frodo's long burden has changed him in ways none of us realized."

"I was wrong in what I told him," Galadriel said, troubled.

"On the contrary, I believe you were correct," Gandalf said thoughtfully.  "Frodo did train his will to dominate, although he is not aware of it."

"Please explain," Galadriel said.

"Gollum was not tamed by fear of the Ring alone," the wizard mused, "but by Frodo's will."

"He did not consciously seek dominion over another---"

"No," Gandalf agreed, "but in order to survive, to resist, to endure… Frodo underwent a transformation of which he was unaware."

"Perhaps," Galadriel said slowly.  "I know of no other mortal who has discerned my thoughts as he has.  And now---"

Celeborn nodded.  "He has grown, and is stronger than he knows.  There may be no end to that of which the hobbits are capable."

Gandalf smiled in the direction Elrond and Frodo had gone.  "Especially this one."

** TBC **