I know that I swore I would never revise my LOTR stories that I wrote 10 or more years ago. Well, I lied. This is an updated version of Earthen Vessels, revised during July 2013. The sentiment with which the story was written remains unchanged, but it inspires me to use my developed writing skills to enhance the story.
Anyway, I hope you enjoy the story as much as I enjoyed once writing it. It's remarkable how familiar I was with all of Tolkien's terminology. What I wouldn't give to recapture the knowledge I once held of Middle Earth. Oh, and if you read spirituality into this story, it's meant to be there. I see the religious side of Tolkien's work more than anything else and it usually arose in my fanfiction.
Gondorian walkways encompass the walls of Minas Tirith, giving wide range to soldiers on patrol. A lone Hobbit sought solitude in one such walkway, anything to escape the praises ringing in his ears from ignorant men. Frodo's face turned toward the land once christened Mordor, his eyes no longer clouded with darkness, fear, and trepidation, his heart no longer burdened by an Unnamed Horror. Relief sank beneath his soul's surface, encompassing every movement and nuance of his natural form.
To be free was a notion he had always taken for granted. At least until the time when only the barest memory of freedom remained, enough that he knew something was missing. The returned liberty was delicious and intoxicating, yet also new and confounding. Having existed with the weight of the Ring pressing upon him for so long, he barely new how to start living once again. An emptiness that had contained the Ring lingered in his being now, a hole that gaped large and unnerving. It waited, nay demanded, to be filled, but he knew not what to use for the building material.
A gentle touch at his shoulder distracted him from the reverie, and Frodo turned to find Lord Aragorn, once known to all of Middle Earth as Strider, standing at his side. The piercing eyes of Gondor's new king also turned to the imposing cliff walls towering over the wasteland that was once Osgiliath.
Aragorn's breath exhaled in a sigh of remembrance. "We have survived a tale none would believe had they not lived it at our sides." Aragorn's voice rang kind and true, his hand a reassuring weight upon Frodo's back.
"Even now, My Lord Aragorn, I cannot grasp that any of what has happened is truly real. That it actually took place. Many times it appears to me as a far-off dream. Yet, I put my hand here," Frodo's fingertips brushed against the shoulder wound gifted to him by the Witch-king of Angmar, "and I remember it all as clearly as you stand before me now."
Aragorn too touched a palm to Frodo's shoulder, the wound hidden by a light shirt and suspenders. "You need not call me Lord. No names of praise between us, only names befitting old have given much, Frodo, sacrificed much, but you have also gained much in return." Bending upon one knee, Aragorn met the sapphire gaze firmly. "Your deeds will survive long after Middle Earth has crumbled into ruin, long after this city has turned to dust, and long after the Elves have sailed for their realm of Valinor. You have left your mark, and it will never be forgotten. You alone had the strength to guard and guide the Ring through Mordor. And loyal Sam, guarded and guided you. It is nothing to be idly pushed aside."
Frodo's jaw clenched in contemplation before he nodded, "It is difficult to see, Strider." The familiar name settled easily in his throat. "The memories overwhelm me, late at night, while I lay in a world suspended between sleep and wakefulness. I cannot struggle to the surface, but am forced to relive that hellish nightmare that invaded my contented life in Hobbiton."
"I was," his words paused for confidence before haltingly continuing. "I was taken by the Ring, Strider. Consumed by it, overcome with no place to hide and no one to turn to in my hour of need. Not even Sam could save me from that fate. Instead I was saved by the hideous creature who wished my death with all that remained of his heart, and who I would have eventually become had I not completed my errand. I do not see myself as a hero, for there at the end, I continued on for my own sake more than for the sake of Middle Earth. I had nowhere else to go but forward. I could no longer see outside of myself."
"What do you see looking back, Frodo?"
"I see pain and suffering, anguish and horror, but I am also beginning to perceive the good which has emerged from a deed not of my choosing. I was just the carrier, Strider, the messenger. Some other power guided me when my own spirit failed. I place the salvation of Middle Earth into the hands of Eru and the Eldar, where it truly belongs. I could not have journeyed on my own strength, but rather, they carried me spiritually just as Sam carried me physically. Until Sauron himself was destroyed in a blaze of fire and ash."
Frodo clutched Aragorn's shirt sleeve in an iron grip, his eyelids closing against the overwhelming memories as Aragorn knelt in humbleness beside him, lending him strength. Aragorn's hand rose and gripped that which clung to him, his voice low, "Frodo, you were the vessel used, the earthen jar that Eru molded for this purpose. When we had need of you, you came willingly. Your spirit shone brightly throughout your journey, just as it shines now."
Eyes glistening at the honesty of Aragorn's words, Frodo accepted the respect afforded him by a man who he ranked so much higher than himself in all things. No one had ever spoken of his purpose so clearly. He had been chosen for such a time as this. Both he and Aragorn had been selected specifically for their tasks, and though others could have been called, they were not. Praise would never be entirely his, always shared with the companions of the quest, but he would no longer push the praise away nor strive to forget the events experienced. He and Strider were cut from the same cloth, sturdy and loyal, leaders in their own right. He had once feared this man, but no longer. His soul, strengthened by the words of Gondor's mighty King, released its burden of guilt. A breeze swooped toward them and Frodo imagined it lifting the guilt on its back, traversing all of Middle Earth to the sea where it would dissipate into nothingness.
Chocolate eyes locked with an azure gaze and Aragorn stood at Frodo's side once more, his hand clapped tightly on the hobbit's sturdy shoulder. They had been through much together, and neither would ever relinquish the friendship that had blossomed. Frodo's voice rang with a new strength, "Thank you, Strider, King of Gondor."