Reníad by Murron

Fandom: Lotr

Rating: PG 13

Genre: Angst

Timeframe: Shortly after the Breaking of the Fellowship (1st movie)

Disclaimer: The characters and settings in this story strictly belong to J.R.R. Tolkien. I remain an admirer of his incredible work, which inspires in so many ways. No money is gained out of this story and no harm is meant. This piece was done due to Peter Jackson's wonderful movie adaptation.

Summary: Frodo and Sam are on their way to Mordor. On a rainy night, Frodo gets lost in the deep mists of ring dreams. Will Sam be able to rescue him?

Feedback: Makes the world go round :)

Please leave it here or send it to: elfling@gmx.de

A/N: This one's for Ms. Ellen, true friend and co-hobbit defender. In addition, for Firesong, whose work is inspiration. Much appreciation to Fran & Gabby Hope, who brought this journey to a happy end. Thank you :).

Reníad

(The Journey)

Come, thick night and veil thy weary travellers with easing blackness

Shadow this tearful eye and soothe a troubled heart.

Spare, mercifull'st lady, this soul and let it rest

'Til the morn will rise like golden seas

Beyond the horizon in a gleam.

Elven Prayer

~~~

The known world ended beyond the great river Anduín. Although the landscape did not change much at first, its foreignness was secretly present and unsettling. The trees appeared older and even the air tasted slightly musty and dry. A foul edema seemed to linger in every leaf and grain of sand. His markings were everywhere in this forsaken country. In the deserted wilderness that seemingly had no end, the two hobbits felt depressingly small. For one day and a half they had wandered towards the borderlands of Mordor. They had crossed plains and fields of sharp rock, but to them, it felt like their feet touched nothing but black ashes. The second night was beginning to fall and the southern mountains still stood against the sky in inaccessible distance. The weather had gotten worse, almost as if the winter would never end. Nothing was as it should have been. Even the sun in its colorless sky could not light their hearts. On their lonely journey, they only had each other to hold on to. Together the hobbits shared memories of their green home in the Shire. They imagined warmed hearths and blooming meadows, remembering all the merry faces they had left behind. All the while they spoke quietly and only now and then dared to hum a sweet melody full of memories. Through all their wandering not a word about the ring had passed between them, although its almost physical presence followed them like a never fading shadow. A burden that was not at all easy to ignore.

Frodo shifted the heavy package on his back to relieve his sore shoulders. As he raised his face, he saw thick clouds assembling in the south. It looked to him as if it might rain. Out of habit, he laid his hand over the bulge in his vest that revealed the ring. Feeling for it through the fabric had become as natural to him as setting foot after foot. It seemed as if he had never been without it. Yet at the same time, he detested its touch on his bare skin. It was always cold, but somehow it warmed the spots it met. Sometimes it felt as if it pulsed with his heartbeat. Still it was nothing but a piece of metal, smooth and beautiful in its simplicity. You could lose yourself in the play of light on it and if you looked long enough, you saw golden oceans and copper flames dancing in its depths.

Frodo shuddered and withdrew his hand. For a while he concentrated on nothing but his feet. Slowly he again became aware of the wind blowing over the rocky crest they walked on. In the treeless heights, the echo of their footsteps was the only sound for miles. Exhaustion had long since silenced all conversation. Out of the corner of his eye, Frodo looked at his comrade as if to make sure he was still there. His anxiety had not come from nothing. The last nights he had jolted out of uneasy sleep, convinced that his friend had disappeared and he was alone. It had not happened so far, but every time Frodo took an assuring glance, he felt oddly relieved.

Now Sam was trotting along silently beside him. His eyes were fixed upon a distant spot without really seeing anything. Frodo was aware of his pale cheeks and the slightly reddened nose, first signals for a late autumn cold. It occurred to him that back home there would have been herbal teas and a resolute elderly hobbit maiden to send Sam to bed and order another quilt. Within less than four days, he would have been back on his feet again, taking care of the garden roses and smoking under the weeping willows. Out in these wastelands no one took care of him. Sorrowfully, Frodo wondered what wicked fate had brought a good soul like Sam to this remote end of the world.

Pleasant memories stirred inside of him with the picture of his friend. He remembered one springtime afternoon, when the two of them had sat in an almost deserted inn. Their conversation had been of no grave issues, but the ale had been spicy and the butter cakes tasty. There was Lilly, a lovely young waitress with fiery curls jiggling over her ears. She had a crush on Sam, which everyone noticed except of course good old Sam. Frodo remembered her coquettish smile and how Sam blushed at her rippling laughter. How truly happy they all had been back then. The sun had shone through the panes, further warming their carefree spirits, and Sam had stared at his mug with rosy cheeks. His face had not worn the cares it did now. He had not yet been forced to see the chasms of the world, the awakening of darkness or the death of beloved friends.

Frodo blinked and for a moment, the past overlaid presence. Then the cheerful picture faded and all that remained was Sam's lonely figure standing out against the gray sky. The sunny afternoon at the inn now belonged to another reality. It made Frodo feel even more tired.

In the meantime, they had reached the end of the crest. The ground fell away at their feet and lost itself in remarkable depth. Boulders and grotesque rocks framed a possible path downwards. For a little while they stood there, motionlessly looking out at the plains below them. What they saw was not the least bit encouraging. The tree growth was thinner, soon only a small number of meager bushes poked out of the grass fields. From their high point of view, the countryside resembled a sloppy quilt of brown and yellowish green. Not far away, the swamp began and stretched itself wide to the edge of the mountains.

Sam wiped a hand over his eyes and looked unhappily down at his worn out vest.

"Tired?" Frodo asked gently.

Sam turned at him, solemnly furrowing his brow. "I can go on if you can," he said determined.

Frodo smiled mildly as he fleetingly reached a hand out and touched his friend's shoulder.

"I think we have had enough for today," he said, "let's set up camp, what do you say?" He looked around. To their right, he spotted a promising group of close grown trees, not far from the low end of the crest. With an encouraging smile, he pointed it out to Sam. Secretly he hoped they would be able to reach the shelter before the rain came and drenched them. Neat by nature, Sam put his waistcoat in order, then they began their descent. Loose rocks and slushy soil made the going hard, but at last, the two hobbits reached safe ground. In the shadow of the crest, the wind did not blow too hard and after hours of rough paths, the soft grass under their feet felt wonderful. Having their goal just ahead, those last feet were a lot easier to manage. The clouds above them mingled in a tight knot as they finally reached the small wood.

It was deadly silent beneath the foliage. Between high fern and mossy stones, giant roots rose from the earth. It smelled of resin and rotten leaves, but the gnarled tree trunks would provide a good enough shield against the coming storm.

They stopped at a little hollow and quickly freed themselves of their heavy loads. Backpacks slid to the ground and pans clattered. With a relieved sigh, Sam dropped to the ground himself. Slowly he stretched out his legs and closed his eyes for a second.

Frodo meanwhile reached for his hurting shoulder but quickly withdrew his hand. The pack's straps had rubbed the hobbit's sensitive skin raw, but there was little he could do about it. Their journey had taught him pain was part of a wanderer's day. Pushing some jet-black locks off of his forehead, he knelt down beside his pack and undid its strings. Carefully he loosened the tied up blanket and further searched the bundle. At the bottom of it, he finally found what he was looking for. Quickly he pulled a long scarf out of the pack and turned towards Sam. Not wasting a minute he walked over to his friend and held the scarf out to him.

"Sam," he said, "here. Take this."

Sam questioningly looked at the offer and then at Frodo. "But it's one of Bilbo's presents, Master Frodo, I don't think I should..."

"You need it a lot more than I do," Frodo said, cutting off his friend's protests. When Sam hesitated, Frodo knelt down and draped the scarf around the other hobbit's neck. Frowning slightly, he adjusted and tugged until he was satisfied. Finally he sat back on his heels and looked his comrade up and down, thoughtfully. Not long after this pensive stare began to unsettle Sam, so he uncomfortably picked at the wool of his scarf. At last Frodo straightened up and folded his arms.

"We had better make a fire, I'd say," he decided and nodded resolutely.

"Really?" Sam questioned doubtfully, "What if someone takes notices?" He began looking around. The entire place really gave him the shivers.

"The trees will shield most of it so I think we can risk a little fire," Frodo answered although it was not easy to sound confident. "Besides," he went on, " the wood's still dry so we won't have too much smoke." Hoping for the best, he looked up to the sky and mentally crossed his fingers. "Maybe the rain will spare us for a few more hours."

Sam also risked a glance up to the finger-like branches of the trees. "Yes," he said, "a little luck would be good after all."

Frodo let his arms sink down, his left hand casually brushing the pocket with the ring, and looked back over his shoulder. "I had better go and look for some firewood then," he said, "would you watch our packs while I'm gone?"

"Of course," Sam agreed, but Frodo saw him stiffen a little. Don't worry Sam, he longed to say, I won't run. A cold breeze chose that moment to touch his bare cheek. At least, I hope I will not be caught by anything.

A loud sneeze broke through the gloomy atmosphere.

With a small smile Frodo looked down at Sam, who furtively searched his pockets for a handkerchief.

"And some herbs would be useful, too, I daresay," he decided, "we can boil them with some hot water." His features softened slightly as Sam looked up to him. "I won't allow you to get sick, you hear me?"

Sam gently smiled back. "I'll go and look for some Goldbutter Leaves," he offered and started to rise. "No," Frodo said quickly, "you stay here. Rest a little, I'll bring some back with the wood." He felt the strong urge to take care of his friend. He did not want to think of it too much, but Sam would not be here if it wasn't for him. In fact, he would not be in any misery at all.

"You know what you have to look for?" Sam asked ambiguously.

"Little plant, blade shaped leaves and white blossoms," Frodo listed confidently.

"Blue blossoms."

"Blue," Frodo confirmed. Sam's brow arched a little further.

"I'll return as quickly as possible," Frodo assured him, then picked up Sting and swiftly climbed up the slope.

~~~

The grove mostly consisted of silver ash and rough barked beeches. Among their roots, it was quite easy to find the wood they needed for a fire. It was a little more difficult to find the desired plant, though. All Frodo came across were strange herbs that he did not recognize. He was neither a gardener nor a woodsman; his interests had always lay elsewhere. Now he wished he had paid a little more attention to Bilbo's lessons in herb-lore.

Brushing some ferns aside he found another funny looking plant. Its leaves were slightly red with stems that ended in swollen green tubers.

Strider would have known what to do with it. For a moment, Frodo hesitated staring at the poor sprout. He distantly wondered what Strider - no, Aragorn he reminded himself – would do right now. Were they all safe? Or had they strayed through the lands like Sam and he had, not knowing where their feet would lead them tomorrow.

He could not help but feel remorse at the thought of the dark haired ranger. There had always been a notion of strength about him, something invincible that wouldn't let you go no matter what. As long as Aragorn had been nearby, Frodo had felt safe and protected. In the shadow of the tall man he could easily hide and almost disappear from his enemies' view. When the ring offered the chance to conceal him by a high price, Aragorn was his shield for nothing but reliable devotion.

Devotion to me or to what I carry? Bitterness and doubt whispered spitefully in his mind, but Frodo brusquely shook his head. No, he could not think like that, he knew better. In Aragorn's eyes, he had seen the truth. There had been understanding and true pain, for Isildur's heir had known the nature of Frodo's burden. They shared an equal fate which made them allies beyond the bonds of the fellowship. Aragorn honestly had wished to stay and promised he would. How Frodo had wanted to believe in his promise. Instead they both had known it would never happen, for in Aragorn's eyes, Frodo had also seen the threat. With Boromir gone, the ring already reached out for its next victim. It was a curse, spraying its venom on anyone nearby. Greedily it turned everything into dark fog, brazenness and nobility, nothing could hold up against it. In the end, none of the fellowship would have been immune. Eventually it would have corrupted them all. Frodo had seen their faces in his dreams, distorted with greed and mistrust, he could not doubt those visions. It would have been their destruction. How could he ever wish to bring doom upon them?

Blinking wearily Frodo straightened up. For a vague moment, he found it difficult to remember where he was. A chill wind blew through the brush; rustling through leaves and roots. It was the only sound in the quiet little forest. Uneasily Frodo took some steps backwards. For once, the cold seemed very harsh to him. Looking around he raised his arms to cross them in front of his chest to try to warm himself. For the first time, he realized he was the only creature around.

Frodo swallowed hard then brazed himself. He should not have wasted so much time; Sam would be waiting and watching for him. With some effort, he turned his glance from the pale trunks. He then lowered his eyes only to notice his hand lay tightly over the pocket with the ring. Quickly he withdrew his fingers and hid them behind his back. His heartbeat echoed a little louder in his ears and his surroundings suddenly appeared even more frightful. As a hobbit, he was used to woods and their bizarre peculiarities, but this grove was strange. If he had not known better he could have sworn the shadows moved between the trees. Slowly he relaxed his stiffened limbs. His glance traveled down to his vest and rested on the slightly bulged pocket there. Why did he always have the feeling the thing in his pocket was watching him? It was only a ring, after all, just metal, and not a living creature. No, nothing of the kind.

Shrugging off his hesitation he squared his shoulders and took up his search. Yet out of the corner of his eye he still could see the queer, gnarled trees and it made him wonder. What had brought him here in the first place? Amidst all his daydreams about glorious adventures, he always had imagined his future a little different. Moreover, why of all beings had he been the one chosen to carry something as powerful as the one ring? Wizards could easily talk about a greater meaning, but for a hobbit, it all sounded rather odd. All those philosophical and strategic thoughts Big Ones struggled with were something totally new to Frodo. He could not pretend he understood even the smallest bit of it. Where the ring would lead him in the end, he could not tell. Nor did he know anything of a meaning at all.

Well, whatever it means or doesn't mean, Frodo thought and firmly pressed his lips together, its with me now and as long as I have it with me I know where I must go. Sighing, he nodded to himself. Sometimes he really wished for his peaceful home under the hill.

He stopped, stirred out of his thought stream, and looked down. There, at the tip of his toes, he saw the little plant Sam called Goldbutter Leaves.

'A little luck, indeed,' Frodo thought and bent down.

~~~

As he returned to the camp, Sam had already put up a small ring of stones. They piled up the wood and after a few attempts with the flints, they lit a fire. Soon a crimson glint smoldered beneath the wood and the two hobbits drew a little closer to the fire. As Frodo stretched his hands out, the growing flames warmed his palms. For the first time that day, he felt somewhat comfortable.

Sam took a dented copper pot out of his bundle and filled it with fresh water from one of their skins. As the water began to boil over the dancing flames, both hobbits' lent back and watched the sizzling fire for a while. Eventually Frodo picked the collected herbs out of his coat's pocket and gave them to Sam. The gardener carefully plucked the leaves from the stem, dropped them into a cup and poured some hot water over them. Steam rolled over the edge as he lifted the tin cup from the ground.

Sam looked doubtfully at the potion, then gave way to a little sigh.

"What is it?" Frodo asked alerted, "Wrong herbs?"

Quickly Sam shook his head. "No," he clarified with a rueful smile; "it just doesn't taste very good."

Shrugging he lifted the cup to his lips and sipped carefully. Frodo just stared at him until he could not help but chuckle. Still grinning he unpacked his blanket and rolled it out on the ground. Between his pipe and other useful things, he searched his backpack for supplies. What he found was frightfully sparse. From all the food they had taken from Lórien, there was only a small loaf of bread and some rather tiny apples left. There was enough Lembas, but Frodo was already bored by the elves' wondrous pastries. He might be a chosen adventurer and all but he was still hobbit enough to welcome changes in his meals. For a moment, Frodo weighed the apples and bread in his hands, biting his lip. Then he strictly shoved the upcoming thoughts aside and turned towards their little fire. Carefully he unwrapped the bread and began to cut thin slices off it. Sam watched him for a while, then reached for his own pack and rummaged through ist content. He revealed an uncut cheese and another apple. Frodo looked at them, then said, not quite able to hide his pity: "Better we put these back for another while." Lowering his eyes, he returned his attention to the bread. Half of it had to be enough for tonight.

Sam, who had laid his bundle away again, came closer to the fire.

"What do we do when our supplies run short?" he asked.

"We'll have to search for nuts and berries, I guess," Frodo answered while carefully wrapping the untouched half of the bread into a piece of cloth, "maybe hunt." Although we do not really know how to do that, he added bitterly in thoughts.

Sam closed his hands around the cup, sorrow in his eyes. Red sparkling embers spiraled into the air as a stick splintered in the fire. It was the only sound in the ever darkening grove.

"You think anything lives around here?" Sam asked low-voiced.

Frodo looked up, seeing the crippled trees grew even more hideous with the upcoming night. He felt a shiver run down his spine. "There has to be."

He pried his glance from the shadows, picked up two slices of bread and handed them over to Sam. After some time almost all of the logs had burned down to black coals and the fire crackled lively in the growing darkness. They roasted the apples on sticks and carefully picked the hot flesh from the deep red fruits. After their meal, they shared the wineskin given to them by the wood elves. By the time Frodo put the skin back to his package, Sam's lids had grown heavy and the good-natured hobbit had to suppress a yawn.

"Go to sleep Sam," Frodo said with a soft smile, "I'll take the first watch."

Sam began to shake his head in protest. "But..."

"I won't argue."

Sam nodded, resigning. "But if you tire, you have to wake me. No matter how quick this will happen," he demanded fervently.

"I will," Frodo agreed at once. To his very chagrin Sam's glance pierced him until he almost squirmed under his friend's stare. Finally Frodo added a half murmured: "I promise." Sam seemed to ponder this another swift moment, then he turned for his makeshift bed. Frodo slightly shook his head. He could try whatever he wanted. Somehow, it was always Sam who took care of him. With a sympathetic smile, he watched as the other snuggled into his blanket. Sometimes Frodo wondered if he really knew his friend. Sam always was so gentle and rather shy yet in some situations ... Frodo was just not sure what strength the other hobbit withheld. He just was not sure. Frodo's hand slid under his shirt, his fingers touching cool metal. In fact he might have Mithril as an armor on the outside, but from time to time, he strongly felt like Sam wore something even stronger inside him.

"Good night, Mr. Frodo," Sam said out of the pile of his blanket.

"Good night, Sam," Frodo returned, "pleasant dreams."

"Thank you." He hesitated. "Be careful, will you?"

"Sleep now, will you?" Frodo teased gently. The rustling of blankets was his only answer.

Smiling, Frodo drew his elven-cloak closer around his body, then climbed one of the enormous roots. Holding Sting on his lap he sat down, cross-legged, and began his watch.

~~~

The moments crept by. Minutes turned into hours and hours into a small eternity. Frodo yawned into his palm. Night dew had descended on his cape and the few locks peeking out off the hood glistened in the gloom. With the coming of night a ghostly white fog had emanated from behind the trees and now covered the ground ankle-deep. Bulking clouds hid the stars, but fortunately, the expected rain still had not come.

Frodo's fingers rubbed monotonously over the leather scabbard of the short sword. A while ago, he had gone over to reciting long and exquisite hobbit poems to keep his mind awake. Just as he came to the 25th verse of the song about Iris Took-Gamgee of Bywater's merry kettle, he was stuck. Frowning he pondered and brooded since the right rhyme seemed to totally have fled his memory. Was it gold and honey? Or something about cake? As if gained an independent will, his lids began to sink and the falling darkness was very seductive. Drowsily he started to sway on the root. Only a minute, Frodo told himself. Just a moment of rest.... The sharp cracking of a branch in the brush made him jolt up rigidly and his eyes flew open in alert. The shock from the sudden noise sped up his heartbeat and sent his stomach into a tight knot. His glance whizzed warily about the hollow. To his relief, everything was calm, nothing visible had changed. As Frodo looked back over his shoulder, he saw the outlines of the sleeping Sam beneath his blanket. Everything seemed all right there. Slowly his fast beating hobbit heart calmed down.

Easy, he soothed himself; there is nothing here to threaten you.

The hobbit's eyes were used to the darkness so even when the fire burned down he could make out the trees all around them, standing tall and silent as if on guard.

On whose guard?

Shuddering Frodo turned back.

He wished he at least were able to see the stars. Uncomfortably he shifted and stifled another yawn. Tiredness already saw its chance to creep up on him again. Rubbing his eyes Frodo stared ahead into the maze of beeches, ferns and bushes. Only a few moments longer, he assured himself, then he would wake Sam. The idea of crawling into his blanket was more than pleasant. He deeply anticipated the moment when he would lay his sleepy head down and close his eyes; this creeping cold was hardly bearable.

Slowly his head slumped forward.

Maybe they could sleep a little longer in the morning. If he thought it over, they still could have a piece of Sam's overly delicious looking cheese. That would be a feast.

Distantly he thought he heard something not far away. Sting still tightly clamped in his hands, Frodo sunk down on the root, his eyes closed, breathing calmly. The first wet drops of rain he did not notice. Unprotected, he was falling into chimerical visions of the darkest kind.

~~~

Flickers of light drifted towards him through the blur of leaves overhead. A long breath escaped from his lips as he opened his eyes and looked up. Trees surrounded him in a circle, wreathing a dark gray sky. As he let his glance wander further, he discovered he was in the midst of a clearing surrounded by ivory birches and cottonwoods. Cottony seeds drifted through the air like fairies, soaring up into the sky in spirals. Some were caught in his lashes and dark locks as he turned around. He blinked in mild astonishment, noticing his surroundings lacked the brightness of color. Instead everything looked faded, like pictures in an old book. As he looked down at his hands, he saw they were also pale, almost transparent, the meager light shimmering on his skin. It amused him slightly.

So I'm fading after all, he mused.

As he looked down again, he saw more details. The ground was covered with leaves and crinkled little plants without blossoms. No brush grew between the slender trunks, no stones were scattered on the ground. It all appeared lifeless, perfectly still and without disturbance. Frodo looked around in all directions. Nothing looked familiar to him. None of it resembled any place he had been before.

How far away my journey has led me, he thought, farther than any hobbit has gone before. The billowing seeds continued to drift and Frodo let himself be carried away with them. He walked slowly, never stopping to view the wondrous new place he had found himself in. In every fiber of his body, Frodo felt the desolation in this endless wood. It occurred to him that he finally must have come to the brink of the world. No human life existed here on the threshold to emptiness. Letting his thoughts wander, he followed the path.

I wonder if old Bilbo ever dreamed to come this far? he asked himself. Has he ever thought about coming to the one place were all roads end?

Dry, old leaves rustled under his feet. Rows of white trees led him deeper and deeper into the forest's heart. The silver leaves above him whispered like a faceless choir. Some spun to the ground, most quivered on the thin branches. Curiously, Frodo tilted up his head, instinctively knowing he was approaching the end of his walk. The light grew brighter as the trees stood wider apart. Then the path Frodo had walked along opened to another clearing. He stepped out into the open and finally stood before the heart of the forest and the last boundary of all things.

White dainty seeds danced about the clearing like early snow, swirling in anticipation as the searcher reached the destination he had sought. In the midst of the pale forest at the world's edge, Frodo Baggins was looking at the round and perfectly painted door of his former home under the Hill.

Deeply bewildered, Frodo shook his head. But that couldn't be the end of all roads. What would it mean if it were so? Had he come so far to see he'd gotten nowhere at all?

A sudden gust of wind rushed through the high foliage and an almost ferocious murmur rose from the trees. In addition, there was another sound, something new, almost drowned out by the hasty voice of the leaves. It sounded as if something swift moved beneath the trees. Quickly Frodo turned, but he saw that nothing had changed in the still forest surrounding him. Warily, Frodo turned back again. He trembled slightly as he raised his arm, his fingers reaching anxiously out for the door knob. He bit his lip until it almost hurt. Frodo's hand grasped the handle and the pressing of cool metal into his palm was like a memory revived. With a slight squeak, the door swung open. Dreary light fell into the entry hall, flowing over the polished parquet and creeping up the whitened walls. A pair of jackets were hanging at the neatly made cloak board and a broom was leaning against Bilbo's old wooden chest. New candles were stuck in the sconce, the whole homely hole looked like its inhabitants had never left it. Frodo swallowed hard as he set his foot over the threshold. There was the familiar scent he would always connect with these rooms. The faint smell of tobacco lingered in the air. He caught the sweet fragrance of summer blooms, which was slightly strange. There were no flowers in this particular courtyard at all. It was not the only thing that disturbed Frodo. The overwhelming feeling of coming home slowly faded and a shadow crept over the peaceful ambience. As Frodo looked to his side, he saw the white curtains billowing inwards with the wind. Dead leaves were tumbling over the empty table into the living room. As he took a closer look, he saw a fine layer of dust upon the oak tabletop and cobwebs under the crossbeam. His heart sank with sadness as he returned his glance to the entry hall. Brown leaves skittered over the floor in a swift breeze, scratching dryly on the floorboards. It was then that Frodo realized no one had come to this place in years. There was no trace of the lively hospitality that had greeted him when he came here as a lad. These rooms where as dead as the dim forest outside.

Gone, Frodo thought despairingly, we're all gone. Deep in the shadows that lay ahead of the hallway, he knew there was only dust waiting. Never again would these walls hear the sound of laughter or the tune of a song. They were all gone, and so was he. He had come to the end of all journeys and found there was neither hope nor solution, not even at this last harbor. Passionless tears welled up in eyes which he could not take away from the once beloved view. The sleeves of the left behind jackets slightly fluttered in another breeze. It tugged at his locks, too, riffling through his hair like a caressing hand, only the touch was as forlorn as the rest. Frodo felt the coldness in the wind and it made him shiver. He began to feel quite uncomfortable. Slowly he became aware that sadness was not the only feeling inside of him. A tingle of excitement ran up his spine and all of his senses tickled in fearful warning. Although Frodo could not tell what it was, he sensed something had changed. Suspiciously, he peered down the hobbit hole. The shadows in the hallway grew longer, reaching for the ceiling. The scratching of the leaves echoed unpleasantly loud in his ears. The interior was like it had been before – empty and withered. Still something was wrong and felt terribly twisted. Nervousness began to creep into Frodo's heart and he started to finger the buttons of his vest. The sconce tinkled quietly in the ever returning breeze and a few cotton seeds skirted into the room through the curtains. Frodo felt his throat go dry as he eventually was able to define the change. All his limbs stiffened and his hands sank limply to his sides. Fear sunk into his bones like fever. He could hear a rasping breath behind his back and felt the undeniable presence of another being. He was not alone anymore. Something had crept up upon him noiselessly like a shadow. If he turned around he would see it. Boneless and gray it would glare at him with empty eyes. His breath caught in his throat and his heart thrummed against his chest. It would lay its hand on him any moment, spidery fingers clamping on his shoulder. He felt as if he could not breathe.

Slowly did the dead leaves slither over the floor, scratching like tiny feet on the parquet. Sweat had begun to run down his neck and he felt how the fabric of his shirt clung to his skin. His lips parted slightly but no sound was released. Eyes staring blankly ahead, Frodo clenched his fists until his fingers dug into his palms. His knuckles turned white as his whole body grew tense and his heartbeat turned into a massive storm against his chest.

In a whirl, Frodo turned around.

Nothing. For a moment, Frodo felt his heart cease. The view threatened to swim out of focus, but then he blinked, and all became clear again. The short grass that covered the meager soil waved tiredly in the light wind. The clearing was as deserted as ever.

Trembling frantically, Frodo tumbled out of the doorway. Deep inside he felt the faint beginnings of nausea and his hands grasped helplessly for the vest's hem. With the last remnant of strength he closed his eyes and braced himself. First his hands let go, then his other limbs relaxed. His legs didn't feel like they could carry him much longer, so Frodo directed his thoughts elsewhere and concentrated on nothing but his breathing. He didn't want to open his eyes. This whole place was eerie.

...Baggins...

Almost screaming, Frodo jumped back and his eyes flew wide open. There was no one. The tall trees stared silently at him and the cotton seeds still danced through the air, weightlessly.

It's empty! Frodo thought, desperately, There is nobody!

The cracking of dry wood tore through the silence and Frodo whirled around. In the shadows between the ghost white birches he thought he saw something like a spectre rushing by. It was gone before he could be sure. Instinctive panic seized his heart as Frodo turned back again. High above, the leaves began to whisper anxiously, their voices climbing into a rustling crescendo. Out of the corner of his eye, Frodo glimpsed a rapid move. It was closing in. Suddenly it sounded like there were words in the rustling of the leaves.

No, Frodo begged, leave me alone.

His feet acted like they didn't even belong to him as he staggered forward and retreated from the round hobbit hole door. Behind him it felt like there was a dark and lurking eye. The heath crumbled under his soles as he tried to find the path that had led him here again. But there was no way out, he knew it. Swallowing hard, Frodo lifted his head. At the edge of the clearing, where the shadows rested between the trees, he felt a faint presence. The rustling of the leaves grew quiet once again as Frodo stopped, unable to move any further. Silence settled over the clearing as Frodo waited. Nothing came. Not yet. Maybe it wouldn't come at all.

Foolish hope rose inside him and in a last attempt to find safety, Frodo looked back over his shoulder. The hobbit hole was gone. An icy cold breeze touched his cheek as he turned back and then it was there. With the speed of lightening the thing came darting out of the darkness, it's arms raised. A shimmering white shroud fluttered all around it and in the darkness of its hood, there were no eyes and no features at all. The wraith had come to get him.

Screaming for his life, Frodo threw his hands up to cover his face and fell back onto the heath.

Blackness fell around him as his head bumped on the ground. A shrill voice in his mind kept screaming the wraith would be gone if he opened his eyes again. It had to be. Grasping the crumbled ground, his fingers digging into the black soil, Frodo opened his eyes wide. Less than two feet before him the thing hovered in the air, the rags about it wagging in an invisible wind. Paralyzed by the nothingness below the creases of the hood, Frodo lay on the ground. The leaves moved with a deep moan.

He couldn't say anything. He couldn't think anything. He only waited for the apparition to eventually take his soul away. At least then it would have an end. But the wraith didn't move. Frowning, Frodo looked at it. Only some loose endings of the cobweb like fabric fluttered against his toes. Slowly he sat up and carefully drew his feet out of the rags' reach.

Why are you here? Frodo asked. The thing did not answer.

What do you want from me? A coldness settled in Frodo's heart that eradicated all memory he had of warmth. Finally he could see something in the depth of the hood. There was malice and a hunger that would never be stilled. At the recognition, Frodo's eyes grew dark and empty.

Where is your master?

All blood drained from his cheeks, Frodo stood up. His glance still rested on the wraith but his thoughts already wandered elsewhere. For the last time he turned and this time he knew what was there to await him. First, he could see nothing but the pallid birches far ahead. He heard a deep humming rolling over the ground towards him. It grew more intense, turning into a roaring holler, and then it was there.

The flaming eye, exploding between the trees like a nova.

"... Give in to me ...," his voice rolled over the earth.

Shaking his head frantically, Frodo withdrew, twigs braking under his feet.

"... Become one with me ..."

The hobbit's arms reached behind him, searching for something to hold on and steady him, but his fingers only brushed thin branches. The eye extended between the trunks, its fire setting the trees ablaze and swallowing them in its iris. The heat had already singed Frodo's cheeks and now began to swell inside him as well. The ardent chorus of words spoken in Mordor tongue filled his ears until it deafened him. They were coming upon him from all sides and from within him. There was no escape.

...Come to us..., the voices charged, ...Come, Ring Bearer...

"No," Frodo whispered, tears brimming his eyes. He lifted a trembling hand to stop the nightmarish creature growing towards him but it was no use.

"... You cannot resist ..."

"Oh," Frodo breathed, his voice nothing more than a sigh, "oh, please..."

Flames were darting out like shooting stars, the heavily falling leaves turned into embers. The whole world melted into the infernal fire.

"You.Are.My.Creature! "

"NO!!!" A branch under Frodo's feet caused him to slip and stumble. With his last step he lost his balance and then he fell...

~~~

The storm had finally broken loose over the grove. Thick drops of rain were splattering down to the earth. In the shadows of the wood, a small figure was moving. Twigs were tangled in his dark locks and water beaded on his forehead. In the darkest hour of the night, Frodo staggered aimlessly forward, a painful whimper escaping from his pale lips. For the first time in his life he was walking in his sleep. For the first time he couldn't wake up. Dream wraiths drove him farther and farther away from their camp, deep into the maze of gnarled trees and rolling ground. The heavily falling rain drenched his clothes as he tumbled on, not seeing the ravine that opened up before him. A bolt of lightening shattered the unity of clouds above as the hobbit took his fatal step and fell. Thunder roared in the distance as the small figure crashed into the brush below. Branches broke under his weight and his cloak tore at one of them. Then there was silence.

At the foot of a steep slope, Frodo lay motionlessly. He lay on his side, broken twigs covering his form. The earth was cold and wet against his cheek, but he didn't feel it. Leaves clung to his face stained with tears as the rain continued to fall.

~~~

The rain had slowed down into a thin drizzle. Behind the shreds of the slowly withdrawing clouds, even the moon was visible for the first time in this frightfully night. The black soil of the grove was soaken wet and the leaves hung low with the weight of water. In the new bluish light emanating from the calming sky the trees looked only half as monstrous as they had before. Still it was no place for peace. Hurrying footsteps rustled through the underwood, ferns were shoved hastily aside and the short shadow of a small person pushed his way through the entangled brush, always accompanied by the sound of his elaborate breathing.

Sam almost fell for the same trap that had been Frodo's undoing. In the very moment he stopped, heaving in a sharp breath. Quickly regaining his balance, Sam took one step back, but he was still close enough so that his eyes didn't miss the pale figure laying at the foot of the slope. Only a white hand shimmered out of the chaos of broken brush and dark clothes, his friend's features being hidden from Sam. The gardener's face screwed up in pain at the sight and with a speed that had never been seen on him before, Sam climbed down into the hollow. Hands shaking, but his glance steady, he fell to his knees next to Frodo. He needed to check for injuries. A fall like this ... something had to be broken. A gust howled high over their heads as Sam stretched out his hand and hesitated. For a split second, everything around him froze. There was no sound, no movement, not even the faintest motion as Sam closed his eyes, reached out and felt for Frodo's pulse. His own blood rushed loudly in his ears, and for a moment he could hear his own heart beating like a drum in the dark. Then a second beat joined and Sam felt the steady stream of life force underneath his finger tips.

A trembling sigh escaped Sam's lips and something in his chest slipped into the right place again. He withdrew his hand and opened his eyes, the world around him becoming alive again. Taking a look around, Sam searched their surroundings quickly for any menace. When he saw none, he began to undo his cloak. Shoving the elven brooch into a pocket he pulled the cloak from his shoulders and laid it beside him. Carefully he bent forward and slowly turned his unconscious friend around. The face that met him was cold and covered with moist leaves and soil. Sam pressed his lips together as tight as he could, searching his pockets for a clean handkerchief. When he found one, he began to clean the other's face before he tried to invigorate him by carefully slapping his cheek.

"Mr. Frodo?"

A shudder run through the body before him and the slender fingers flexed.

"Mr. Frodo? Please, wake up."

It worked. With a painful moan, Frodo opened his eyes. "Sam?" he managed before his voice cracked.

"Yes, yes, of course," Sam choked, not able to hold back the tears any longer, "I was so concerned when you were not there. I already thought ...I thought ..." Squeezing his eyes shut, Sam stopped himself from crying. The last thing Mr. Frodo needed now was for him to falter. He strictly shoved the all too fresh memories, the shock when he woke up and couldn't find his friend, away. The fear he had disappeared into nowhere.

"Are you alright? Is anything broken?" Sam asked fearfully.

"No...no, I think not." Blinking wearily, Frodo looked up to the far end of the slope. "I guess I was lucky – uuuh..." The pain that surged up in every breadth and length of his body showed him exactly how lucky he was.

"Easy," Sam said quickly and supported him with a strong arm, "don't move."

Frodo obeyed gladly. Without resistance he let himself sink into Sam's hold, resting his head against the other's chest. For the moment he didn't care about the pain. He didn't think at all. He just wanted to lie there, feeling another heartbeat and not feel alone. After a while, tears began to fill his eyes. Frodo tried to struggle but at the same time knew there was no use. The pictures returned, one by one, shining bright in every detail. The hobbit hole ... the wraith ... the eye ... .

I cannot do this, he thought despair numbing his mind, I was never made to do this. So many good people's lives depend on me and I will let them down. I am their last hope and I will fail.

He had been foolish to pretend he was strong enough to fulfill a task as important as this. He was not Bilbo and never would be. He had neither the courage nor the heart to face the dragons. Especially if they began to roar inside him. How could he possibly be the one to bear so many people's fates? Hadn't the ring come to him by chance after all? And now it was here to destroy him as well.

A hoarse sob broke from his lips, shaking the frail body of the little hobbit.

"Frodo?" Sam asked, his voice heavy with concern, "what is wrong?"

"I'm not good enough for this," Frodo groaned, "I never was. Oh Sam, it will all come to a bad end."

"Don't say that!"

"But it's true," Frodo shook his head. Clasping his hands before his face he sat up. He had seen the great eye. How could he ever hope to have a normal life again? His hands sank weakly into his lap. He remembered the hopelessness he had felt as he stood before the round door in his dream. There had been no welcome for him. It was like he had been sucked into a parallel world where only the shadows of his memories existed. The Dark Lord of Mordor had spoken to him. He would never be able to come back. He had called him his creature. And indeed, Frodo felt something inside him change.

"I fear what I may become," he whispered.

Sam stared at him wide-eyed. Feeling as though he finally had no strength left, Frodo sank back against his friend and laid his head against his shoulder. What he could not see was the expression of deep felt compassion in Sam's eyes. Carefully Sam held the hurting friend and stroked the other's curly head a little awkwardly.

"Don't you remember what Gandalf said?" Sam asked softly, "He believed you were meant to get the ring."

"What if he was wrong?"

"Wizards never are," Sam said, "Besides, I believe a journey's never finished until you truly come to the end of it. What to make of the way, well, I pretty much guess that depends on you."

It was odd, but the earnest words of the humble gardener moved something inside Frodo, actually pushing a part of the growing desolation aside. Sam had so much faith. It was not an armor like Mithril, it was no weapon at all. Inside Sam was a brilliant white light, burning brighter than everything Frodo dared to imagine. It had been there all the time, but only now, in probably one of the darkest hours of his life, he was able to see it. For the first time he fully understood how truly blessed he was being able to call such a fair soul his friend.

"As long as your heart is true," Sam said, "you will not fail."

"No Sam," Frodo returned with a small smile and sat back to look the other in the eyes, "as long as you're true, I can face anything."

With a shy smile that was so like him, Sam returned his glance steadily. Sighing, Frodo ran a hand through his tousled hair. The pain in his back had lessened, apparently he was lucky after all. Still his clothes were drenched and now that he had time to notice it, he felt the damp coldness on his skin. He raised his eyes to the nightly sky, where the pale moon shimmered behind a dark ribbon of clouds. It remembered him of ghosts, like all things in this dead land did. "Oh, Sam", Frodo whispered, "whatever have we got ourselves into?"

Sam followed Frodo's glance and furrowed his brow. "You know, my grandmother used to say: ,A fly caught in a jelly jar still can feast on the jelly.'"

Raising both his eyebrows Frodo looked at Sam, an intuitive grin tugging at the corners of his mouth. "Your grandmother was a woman of great wisdom."

"Indeed, she was," Sam agreed, also grinning. He had noticed the hint of a smile on Frodo's face and for a moment fear and paleness fled from his cheeks, as well. "And she could cook the most delicious strawberry jam of our side of the River."

"I bet she did." Shaking his head in amusement, Frodo prepared himself to straighten up.

"Do you think you can walk?" Sam asked.

"I will at least try," Frodo sighed, his voice still weak.

Sam stood up and held out his hand to him.

"I will help you."

With a warm smile Frodo looked up to him and took his hand.

"I know."

Finis