Only Beyond the Sea

by Varda

Once I had regained the open air, outside on the slopes of the burning mountain, I paused and took stock of my situation. Leaving Sam Gamgee inside on the precipice overlooking the fires of Oroduin was a cruel thing to do, had I been thinking like Frodo Baggins. But I was not Frodo Baggins any more; I was the servant of the Ring, its owner now, not just its keeper, and no cruelty was beyond me.

But at that very moment that I attained greatness, some spark of that destroyed hobbit Frodo still lingered in my mind, and instead of kicking Gamgee into the abyss I brushed past him and left him blubbering on the rock, while I, rejuvenated and inspired, strode towards the outside and the burning air, which I drew into my lungs with greater joy than the cool sweet air of Rivendell or Lorien.

But that was long ago, even measured by lives of Elves rather than of men or hobbits. Long ago I left Mount Doom and made my journey across Mordor. Now I was visible to the Eye, which hunted me with even greater energy now it that it knew who and where I was.

But Elrond had said to me; 'To use Sauron's ring you must become Sauron'. And so it was. Worn by me, it had power, even if that power devoured what I had been. Now I was neither Frodo, nor Sauron, but some new creature who lived without fear or weakness, travelling swiftly across the burned lands to the North, fleeing Sauron but not fearing him.

In the West, the armies of Sauron suddenly deserted the battlefield where they had threatened to destroy the captains and chieftains of the battered kingdoms of Gondor and Rohan. At the very point of defeat and certain death, they were on a sudden reprieved, as a desperate Sauron recalled his forces to find me.

Find me! I don't think all the wizards and Elves of Middle Earth could have found me. I flitted like a ghost, growing translucent and invisible to the eye. I was dark against the dark, pale against the light, elusive even to Sauron and his hunters.

It was not supposed to happen like this. Gandalf, I think, deceived me. Or he was himself not aware of what would happen if the Ring overcame me. Either way, the armies of the West were saved, and Sauron distracted. The more he hunted me, the weaker he became, while the longer I ranged free, the stronger I became. I was but a shell, possessed by the Ring, but to me it gave great power. I did not become a Ringwraith; for they were servants of lesser rings. The one who served the great Ring was more than a wraith. He was a phantom of immeasurable power. He was Sauron, or that part of Sauron that had been put into the Ring.

Blood he had poured into the molten gold at the making of the great Ring, his own blood. Now, it ran in my own veins. I felt no pain, nor no joy either. The distant Misty Mountains, when I first beheld them in my flight, were beautiful beyond all describing, snow-crowned under a rising moon. But to my eyes they were no less hideous than a reeking bog pool. I had lost the kind and innocent eye of Frodo Baggins and gained the foul soul of an orc.

How did I live then, pursued by Sauron and his wraiths? Little food I took, till the body of a hobbit became wraith-thin and warped. My clothes hung in rags and I was so grimy and besmirched with the mud of countless wild fells and dark rivers that I could scarcely be seen against the landscape. But flesh must have sustenance, even flesh possessed by the Ring. So I squatted by shallow pools and swift-running rivers and snatched with fingers that seemed to have on a sudden grown long and bony squirming fish and even frogs and newts, and devoured them raw. I felt no disgust, nor no delight either. I had become a puppet, with no love or hate, just the onrush of the power that was the Ring, guiding me, impelling me, crushing out all that was left of the Frodo Baggins who had left the Shire so long ago....

Sometimes I heard the hounds of Sauron, the Nine, on my trail. But they could never overtake me. Far beyond their powers was I, for the Ring that commanded me ruled the rings that commanded them. Sauron, caught in his own web, raged and wept and faded once again into the black pit of night that had been his hiding place for aeons.

At last, on a dawn that was silvered with the first frost of autumn, I found myself on the slopes of the Misty Mountains. My heart, blackened and crushed as it was, lifted, for here I knew I could find refuge. That other bearer of the Ring, Gollum, had found refuge here, once upon a time long ago. Here, I could hide from that torture, the sun. Here, I could sleep long in the earth, safe with my treasure, my precious, my master.

As I climbed to a dark, ragged chasm that was the mouth of a great cave in the side of the mountain, the first rays of morning lit up the sky and the green lowlands below. My eyes, long forgetful of beauty, shrank and I had to protect them with my clawlike hands. Under my bare feet, the frost had vanished and the crust of ice on the ponds and streams had melted. I waded through the last pool towards my goal, and just then I looked down and I saw my reflection in the water.

What was left of Frodo Baggins at that moment? I, who was he once, cannot say. A certain wisdom, a strength of will, but now all turned to darkness. But of his face and form, something had to still live on, and that face looked back at me, and I shuddered, despite all the power and comfort the Ring could give me.

The eyes, blue as a summer sky, were now wide and staring and starting out of their sockets. The whites were almost obliterated, but what was left was yellow and inflamed. The apple cheeks had grown hollow and gaunt, the cheekbones like a knife. The mouth, once wide and generous and quick to laugh, was now dyed with the blood of nameless things caught and eaten raw. The skin was grey, like dry paper, the skin of a corpse.

The long curly dark hair had all but disappeared, and only a few wisps of grey clung to the bare skull. Only shreds of clothing remained to hide the gaunt, starving frame. I was a hobbit no longer.......

'Mr. Frodo! Wake up, the toast is ready. You don't want it to get cold. I've buttered it for you.....'

Frodo opened his eyes and sat up with a great, panic-stricken intake of breath. He almost knocked the cup and saucer out of Sam's hands.

'Easy, Mr.Frodo!' cried Sam, stepping back quickly 'I didn't mean to startle you. I came in and you were asleep but I saw the fire red and all and I thought you'd like to wake up to a nice bit of toast......'

Then Sam looked at Frodo's face and turning he placed the cup and plate on the table and drew up a chair to sit beside his master.
'Mr. Frodo? Is everything all right? You look like you've seen a ghost....'

Sitting bolt upright in his armchair, by his own fireside in his own home, Frodo fought to regain his breath. But the terrible dream still hovered over him with dark wings and would not go away.

Frodo looked around wildly. He was in his own parlour, sitting in his own favourite chair, which had been Bilbo's favourite chair too. On the mantlepiece over the fireplace a row of copper jugs gleamed in the warm light of the flames and a wooden clock, the face yellow with age, ticked contently. On the hearth a black kettle was singing, and a plate of toast waited on the table at Sam's elbow. Beside his chair, Frodo saw his pipes set neatly in a little rack, and on a shelf was a row of jars of pipe-weed, neatly labelled. The one marked Old Toby was much handled and worn. Frodo shook his head; which, after all, was real; the parlour and the buttered toast, or the dreadful dream?

'Only beyond the sea...' he thought to himself '...or beyond the gates of death will I ever be free of this memory; that heartbeat when the Ring mastered me, and I was not Frodo any more, but some splinter of the soul of Sauron.....'

Sam was leaning forward, concern on his honest, kindly face. Frodo knew he had to set his friend's mind at rest. He knew Sam was beginning to guess some things, and worry about others. The butter was beginning to congeal on the toast.

'It's nothing, Sam...' he stammered. 'Just a dream......'