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2
Following the Steps

Following the Steps


There was one more official stop to be made, and after an additional day spent at this second camp they set off on the third morning to pass the spur of the mountain to approach what had been the field of battle, on this, the anniversary of the day on which Sam and Frodo had awakened in Cormallen.

They’d not ridden far before Sam, who was riding between Aragorn and Faramir, paused his pony. “It doesn’t look the same at all!” he exclaimed. “All the black and slag and all--it’s all gone now!” He looked about, and at last pointed. “I think as we come that way, and that’s about where we first saw the gates--but the rest is all different!”

For those who’d fought there both before and after the Towers of the Teeth had fallen, many now smiled. “Even we have difficulty telling where the Black Gate stood,” said one of the soldiers who belonged to the White Company and who’d served in the Third Company with Beregond of the Guard. “Only one of the two hills that stood then yet remains, and we are certain of it only because of the white stone we raised on it to mark where our Lord Elessar once stood.”

Here one last statue had been raised--this time of Mithrandir the White with his hand lifted even as he had stood, cautioning all within hearing to stand still for the moment, as the moment of Doom had come upon them! After this last memorial was properly unveiled and dedicated, Merry began exploring the area, trying to appreciate how the battlefield had looked then. “It was nothing as it is today,” Gimli explained. “Then there was no grass, no trees, no living things at all to soften the ground. Most of the land was stark and empty, and what pools there were were dark and slimy, unfit to drink from. And afterward we searched the field for any who might have survived. I believe that we found Pippin over here----” And he led the way to a section near a lower rise. “Lord Imrahil fought from the hill that stood here. However, when the earth shook as the Ring fell into the Fire this hill split, and the stones that had made up its upper reaches rolled here and there.”

Merry looked up curiously at a great grey figure that stood there. “Who sculpted the troll?” he asked.

Legolas laughed. “None did!” he answered. “Gimli had it brought here from the Pelennor that we might always remember how close we came to losing Pippin. It was frozen in that attitude when the Sun pulled clear of the clouds and shone upon it.”

“But couldn’t you have used one of the trolls who fought here?” Pippin asked, his attention caught. “How about the one that fell on me?”

Legolas smiled. “That one was already dead--it did not turn to stone. The rest did not remain upon the field of battle once the Eagles arrived--they were confused, particularly when the attention of the Enemy was drawn away as Frodo and Sam arrived within the Sammath Naur and Frodo found himself struggling with Gollum. The trolls and most of the orcs, finding themselves without guidance from their master, all turned and fled the field, most heading back toward the Black Gate, and they were caught by the earthquake that caused the Towers of the Teeth and the wall to fall.” His eyes went distant, reliving the scene in his memories. “The earth itself opened and swallowed the signs of the might of Mordor, along with most of its armies as well. It was a sight to see!”

Farry and Elanor had approached the troll and were looking up at it, their eyes wide. Elanor tentatively reached out a hand to touch the creature’s great calf while Farry turned to look up at his father. “But this one is taller than those on the way to Rivendell,” he commented. “Or at least it seems that way!”

The King nodded solemnly, looking up appraisingly at the face of this troll. “First, those were crouched while this one is standing. Remember, those were caught in the midst of an argument as to how to prepare thirteen Dwarves and a ‘burrahobbit.’ But those who served here in Mordor itself also were of a taller, more massive breed. All trolls tend to be very strong; the ones who fought here and on the Pelennor were much stronger than those we are accustomed to fighting in the north.”

Farry was shivering with the mere thought of it. “No wonder Gimli thought you were dead when he found you,” he said to his dad. “You must have been so crushed!”

“He was,” Gimli agreed, coming up alongside the young Hobbit and placing a reassuring hand on the lad’s shoulder. “But I found him in time, and we did have Aragorn and two Peredhil here to see to him--and a Wizard as well!” As Radagast the Brown joined them, the Dwarf nodded. “It can be helpful, having the friendship of Wizards,” he added.

Radagast laughed. “Well, all is well on the way to recovery now, including the land,” he grunted, looking about with satisfaction. “Now all here comes closer to what it was intended to be at the beginning.”

Soon most of the Hobbits were gathered about the feet of the stone troll, listening to Gimli as he told of the long search for Pippin, and how he’d recognized the Hobbit’s foot sticking out from under the fallen troll. Farry was listening with fascination, and Elanor was standing by her father, his arm about her protectively once more. But one Hobbit had wandered away: Sam saw Meriadoc Brandybuck walking further and further east, toward that area where differences in rock and stone indicated that the earth had been stirred by the anger of Aulë himself. After a moment he murmured into his daughter’s ear, gave a significant glance at his wife, and surrendered his place to Rosie so he could follow after Merry. As he sought to catch up with the Master of Buckland he heard another quiet step behind him, and realized that Strider intended to join the two of them.

Merry was looking eastward intently. As Sam caught up with him he said, “And the two of you were both there--you both went through all that!”

The land within the circle of the Mountains of Shadow and the Ered Lithui was still mostly empty and bare. Together the two Hobbits examined it as Aragorn came up behind them, setting a competent hand on a shoulder of each of them. “And what fascinates you regarding this view?” asked the Man.

“That Frodo and Sam survived that,” Merry explained, looking up briefly to meet his eyes. “I’m trying to understand where Barad-dûr stood, or the mountain.”

“It does look considerably different now,” Aragorn noted. “The Black Tower, though, was over there, about forty miles. And Orodruin, it was beyond by another twenty miles or so, there where that great prominence is now. That, my friends, is all that remains of Mount Doom. Watching it erupt on that day was a marvel. And none of us, seeing the top of it explode into the air and the great fountain of molten rock bursting upward, could imagine that anyone could have survived.”

“Just what we could see from the city was so daunting,” Merry murmured, “When we felt the tension grow to the snapping point, and suddenly the ground shook under us--we were afraid the end had come--that we wouldn’t see any of you again! But then the wind began tearing at the clouds, and we all felt relief in our hearts! I was still afraid to believe--to believe that all of you would come back again!”

“And what is this?” asked another voice as Prince Faramir joined them, followed closely by Pippin.

“Just looking there. And why didn’t you stay with the rest?” Merry asked his younger cousin.

“I don’t need to hear again how I was buried under that troll,” Pippin assured him. “After all, I went through it first hand.” He rubbed at his chest uncomfortably. “It’s enough to make the places where the ribs broke ache again.”

They all stared toward the remains of the mountain once more, each quietly contemplating what had happened there, so many years and two weeks ago. Suddenly Merry looked up to meet the King’s eyes purposefully. “How long to get there now, Strider--to the remains of the mountain, I mean? Can we take the time before you must be back in the capital again?”

Faramir looked curiously at his wife’s swordbrother. “You wish to go there--to the ruins of Orodruin? Why?”

Merry turned back toward the remains of Mordor. “I have to see, is all. I have to go there, see what’s left of the way Frodo went, and spit in Sauron’s own Eye for what he tried to do to my cousin! Frodo won, but at what a cost? Now, I pray he’s healed and happy once more. But Middle Earth lost so much when Frodo Baggins left it to go to Valinor.”

The two Men communicated wordlessly, their years of close association having given them each a wonderful appreciation for the way in which the other’s mind worked. At last Faramir said thoughtfully, “At the very least four days to get there, although it would be perhaps better to plan for six each way. Nor do I know of any watercourses that run between here and there----”

“Oh, you need not worry for water,” interrupted a new voice, and all were startled to realize they’d been joined by Radagast. “There are a few small streams, and even more springs throughout the area. Lord Ulmo seeks to reestablish his ways through that land, with the aid of Lord Aulë. Once they are finished that will allow the Lady Yavanna full access once more. Already she has brought some of the surviving plants back to a more proper growth. I do believe, Lord Samwise, that you will appreciate it.”

“Then if we ride toward the remains of the mountain we will find sufficient water for us?” Aragorn asked to reassure them all.

“You need not worry on that score. The healing of this land is well begun, you will find.”

They thanked the Brown Wizard, and returned to the rest of the company. They then went back to the camp around the promontory for the night.

As they gathered in the pavilion where their evening meal was served, the King, his attention apparently on the sauce he was spooning over his meat, made the proposal to all there. “We are giving thought to going but a bit further--to ride into the ruins of Mordor to the remains of Orodruin itself. Merry has begged this journey of me, and I cannot find it in my heart to deny him. And I find that I, too, hide within me the desire to see where it was that Frodo and Sam sojourned, and how it was they were rescued. Those who do not wish to go with us may await our return at the guesthouse at Cormallen --we should be gone about eight to ten days.”

“Perhaps as long as twelve days,” Faramir amended, a slight smile on his face eyeing his King obliquely. “However, it is to be hoped we would return more swiftly than that.

By mid-afternoon the next day those who would ride to the ruins of Mount Doom were ready to begin their journey. “There used to be roads much of the way,” Aragorn told the others, “both as reported by Sam and Frodo and as I saw myself in my one attempt to look within Mordor. Some of our Rangers and soldiers have crossed into its remains, usually following rumors of sightings of orcs or trolls, and they have stated some of these roads survived the earthquakes and more natural changes since. However, to my knowledge none has gone far past the former site of Barad-dûr, certainly none as far as the mountain. What we will see I could not say. Radagast has indicated there is drinkable water along the way, so we will not be required to take a wagon for water barrels. We may need to leave the horses behind at one of the sources of water should we find the land too terribly rough as we approach the site of the mountain, but I doubt we would need to walk all that far.

“Until we return, we leave you all in the capable hands of Lord Erchirion here, who has much experience in watching over nervous spouses and children. And we ask that you not worry overmuch. We will take excellent care of ourselves and one another.”

Sam had insisted that Rosie not go along, as she’d realized shortly after their arrival in Minas Anor she was expecting still another child. Rosie had, however, unexpectedly championed her daughter’s plea to be allowed to go with her father. Diamond had no interest in seeing the mountain, and so would attend on Sam’s wife. Estella, on the other hand, had indicated she had no intention of allowing her beloved husband to go to such a place without her beside him. Farry would go with those who were headed for the mountain and would stand by his father and the other Travelers. Princess Éowyn had made it plain Elboron would not remain behind, although she and the younger children would remain at the guesthouse; and at last the Queen, having discussed the matter with her husband and considered it in her heart, told the rest, “The children and I will be coming, too. It is important that Melian and Eldarion see this, and I would be with them, and with you, my Lord Husband.”

Faramir would ride by the side of King and Queen, and Elboron would accompany Eldarion and Melian. With the inclusion of Legolas and Gimli, the King’s sculptor, Master Faralion for the bards, ten men at arms drawn from both the King’s Guard and the White Company, and two Rangers to serve as scouts, they set out upon their way, leading three pack horses laden with supplies, and two ponies with the Hobbits’ gear upon them.

It was sunset when they passed the place where once the Black Gate had stood; by the time twilight had faded they were traveling along one of the roads down the inner side of the Morannen and the eastern rise of the Ephel Duath, and they camped in the open near one of the remaining cisterns, well between two of the ancient fortresses where Sauron’s forces has been stationed.

“It’s not quite the same,” Sam commented to Merry as they set out their bedrolls. “Yes, it’s hot and dry enough, but the smell of the air’s different. Afore it was dry and dead, full of awful scents. Now it--it’s clean, if’n you understand. Dry, but clean.”

Having laid out his roll, he moved out onto the road again, peering first back toward the living lands and then toward the place he knew the mountain’s remains lay. Pippin and Merry, accompanied by Estella, had followed him, stopping just short of the roadway. Sam shook his head. “Of course,” he said with a sigh, “then we was afraid. There was orcs all round us, and the roads was full of them, marchin’ here, gettin’ ready to go out and fight Aragorn’s army. I think as we must of come most of this way, after the orcs caught up with us and made us march with them.” He went silent for a moment, staring down the road toward the south. “He was so tired when we come to the crossroads,” he said, lost in his memories. “I was afraid as he’d fall, and then they’d really look at him and know as we wasn’t orcs. And his eyes--he thought the same. He thought the same!” He shook his head. “I was ready t’kill that slavedrivin’ orc, I was, there at the last. Wonder if’n he survived? I’d surely like t’tell him now just what I thought of him! Was lucky when we ran into the other group of orcs--them got fightin’, and I could get my Master away.”

Aragorn and Master Ruvemir had followed the Hobbits away from their campsite. “If it disturbs you too much we could always stop here and go back, Sam,” the King advised the Mayor of the Shire.

Sam gave his Mannish friend a sideways glance and shake of the head. “No, Strider--I’ll see it through. Maybe tell him, one day, what this place’s come to.”

“A good idea, Master Samwise,” agreed the sculptor.

Sam turned to look at him squarely, and smiled before returning to their camp and checking on his daughter and Farry, then wrapping himself in his blankets for the night. Elanor woke once in the night to find her father sleeping near her, and Lord Aragorn sitting beyond him, smoking quietly, watching over his friend’s dreams as he once did, long ago.

*******


All were surprised to feel no dread as they passed near the former site of Barad-dûr. “I thought I should feel horrible here,” Merry noted, speaking for all. “I mean--that is where he dwelt for so long--the very seat of his power!”

Pippin, who had spent long hours studying the writings collected by Frodo and Bilbo, had a small, startled smile on his face. “Oh, no, Merry-mine,” he said. “But it’s because at the end even the Great Powers turned on him, and wiped the place clean of every trace of his influence. Can’t you see? Aulë himself opened the earth to see all swallowed up and buried within the heart of the world! And wasn’t Sauron once called something like ‘Friend of Aulë,’ there in the days he was true to the Powers and lived in Valinor, before he made it clear he’d changed allegiance to Morgoth?” He shook his head and stared at the empty, turbulent landscape with pleasure. “Look! There are plants there now, where his tower must have been!”

And, indeed, this area appeared to be a small oasis in the midst of what still was much a desert land. The few black stones that they could see that had apparently fallen free from the tower as it fell were now covered over with vines, and green plants like trees lifted their serrated crowns toward the sun.

“And as Radagast foretold, Ulmo’s water adds his seal over Aulë’s earth and stone, further freeing Middle Earth of Sauron’s memory,” agreed Legolas, his smile satisfied.

Gimli, who rode as usual behind his sworn friend, nodded sagely. “Must have been a great disappointment to him, realizing just how much his former Master regretted that early friendship,” the Dwarf grunted. “Mahal must have taken that betrayal very badly to have agreed to this. And you will note that Mahal’s Lady has also added her own signs of approval to the looks and feel of the place!”

As they rode on their hearts were lighter.

*******


Indeed the cisterns along the remains of the roadway proved full of fresh, clean water; and as they approached the remains of Orodruin they found they now followed a small watercourse where a shining, singing stream flowed over stones, apparently washing colors into them. Alongside the stream grass grew green, and short vines covered much of the raw stone.

“There’s birds and beasts returnin’ to this land,” Sam noted as they watched a hawk swoop upon a basking lizard that just managed to escape becoming the hawk’s noon meal. Not far away a great toad gave a hop to take it under the shadow of a pile of leaning stones.

Aragorn nodded his agreement. “Yes, all returns to the way it once was--as it is in much of Rhûn, for example. It was a blessing to see the last of the evil of his spells of horror disappear from what were the Dead Marshes. And now proper life returns here as well.”

They rode on, but had now to leave the road, its line having been covered over with molten rock and the debris from the top of the mountain over a score of years since. They camped by the side of the stream where a great hollow in the stony ground had allowed a sizable pool to form.

“We will have to go on foot the remainder of the way,” Aragorn noted. “There are too many rifts in the ground that could cripple our mounts. It should take us a day, or perhaps a day and a half to complete the journey--for those who would go on.”

Those who had been part of the Fellowship looked to one another. At last Gimli spoke for them all. “We had all meant to accompany Frodo to the end then,” he said, his gruff voice particularly solemn. “We will go the distance this time, to keep faith with him now.”

Pippin and Estella slipped their arms about Merry’s shoulders as the older cousin agreed, “Yes--this time I won’t be carried away before we come to the end. I need to prove to myself that the quest indeed ended properly, and that I did my best to follow him where it was needed that he should go. We each did what we could then to see to it that the Enemy was defeated. Now that the victory is confirmed, we should let the Powers know how hard it was to have to let him and Sam go on alone.”

So saying, he held out his hand to Sam, who took it, his own eyes moist as they hadn’t been then, considering how little water he and Frodo had had left. “I----” Sam cleared his throat. “We did it afore--and this time it’s easier--much easier, for now I know it wasn’t for naught.” He was beginning to smile. “And you know what? If’n my Master was here now, he’d be right there, in the middle of that pool, laughin’ at the lot of us for bein’ such sentimental fools!”

And then they were all laughing. Slipping free of Sam’s grip, pulling off his shirt, shrugging off his braces and shucking off his trousers Merry ran forward to jump into the water, disappearing under its surface. After a moment he reappeared, laughing as he shook his hair out of his eyes. “It’s wonderful!” he called. “Come in, all of you! Sam’s right--Frodo would have been first in! And as this pool is, in its way, his gift to us, I intend to enjoy it thoroughly!”

Soon enough most of the company was joining the Master of Buckland in the pool, and even Sam was convinced to do so, although they allowed him to remain in the shallows. And if the guards were shocked to see their Lord and Lady and the Prince of Ithilien disporting themselves as gladly as the Hobbits from the Shire, they never admitted it!

That night they ate ravenously and slept well, and no one’s dreams appeared troubled.

*******


Just before dawn they left two guards with their mounts, and set out once more, now on foot. The walk to the mountain took them all of the day and a half the King had prophesied. The ground was uneven as they made their way over the black stone that marked the lava flow, although now and then they saw signs of the land as it had been then. Near midafternoon of the first day of their walk they paused in the shade of a great boulder that leaned at an angle against a shorter one. Sam took a drink from his water bottle, and looked upward thoughtfully. “This is mighty like the place where we rested, and I saw the star.” He sat down between the two stones and looked up again, then nodded. “Yes,” he murmured. “It was here. He didn’t see--was too far gone, what with fightin’ the Ring and all. I had to hold his hope here. Yes, I had to hold the hope for the both of us.”

He was very silent for the rest of the day, and both Elanor and Farry stayed close by him. Merry was mostly staying by Estella and Master Ruvemir, assisting them as needed over the rougher parts of the way.

“Perhaps I ought to have remained with the horses and ponies,” the sculptor noted. He had almost fallen trying to step across a crack in the surface. He paused, wiping his forehead and staring ahead toward the bulk of the mountain, not that far ahead of them now. After a moment, however, he shook his head. “No,” he said, “no, I’ll go the distance, also.” He looked about at the rest of them. “Although I do ask that if I fall into a crack you wait to fish me out--I do not particularly like small spaces.”

Master Faralion laughed as he held out his hand to assist his fellow artist across the crevice. “Nonsense,” he said. “If I know you, you will only pull out one of your chisels and pick up a stone to hammer it with, and soon carve yourself steps out. And I would wager they would be beautiful things to see once you were done!”

Ruvemir’s laugh was a bit breathless as he found his balance on the other side. He unstrapped his water bottle and drank deeply. The stream still ran alongside of them through a deep groove in the black surface of the crust of cooled lava, but it was difficult to approach, considering the nature of the ground.

One of the scouts returned with Legolas, who’d gone ahead. “There is an area on the other side of that rise, my Lord King, where we might camp for the night. The ground is clear of the rougher flow, and the stones smoother. There is even some plain ground to be seen there, and a few plants. And the air seems cooler there as well. It is, we think, the most suitable place we have found to spend the night.”

The Lady Arwen nodded, shifting the sling in which young Idril rode on her back slightly to ease her shoulders. “You have done well,” she told him. “And the children appear to be doing well enough.”

Elboron and Eldarion helped Elanor and Melian across the gap, then walked slightly ahead of the rest of the group, having taken it on themselves to test the stability of the ground on which they traveled. Soon enough all were finding places in the somewhat clearer area on the other side of the ridge, and Gimli was preparing a cooking hearth. They had to ration their firewood, brought with them from the camp just within Ithilien, but all were glad of the small blaze as it was used to heat water for drinks.

Elanor and Melian sat on either side of Sam, a distance away from the flames where they might look up at the stars. “They are beautiful,” Melian sighed. “It is as if the air were clearer here, so far from the city and people, and the obscurity of trees.”

Sam nodded, a slight smile on his face. “He used to look from the balcony of our house, there in Minas Tirith, out at the clear skies over the Mountains of Shadow and be glad as there wasn’t no darkness now. If’n him was here with us I suspect as he’d be that much the happier, seein’ the stars so close and bright, almost as if we could touch them.”

Aragorn nodded as he filled his pipe and lit it. “You are right there, Sam. It must seem quite a different place altogether to you, having the skies overhead so clear.

Eldarion had fetched water and was bathing Estella’s feet, checking to see they were not injured. Aragorn gave his son an approving smile before accepting Idril from his wife. Faramir was assisting Gimli and Merry to prepare the meal, and several of the guards were carefully removing such stones as they could, making the site as comfortable as possible for those who would sleep there. Ruvemir sat nearby on a lower stone, and Elboron was preparing to rub his hip with a scented oil to ease it from the stress of the day’s walk. Meanwhile Faralion was tuning his lap harp, then began picking out idle notes as he often did when he knew not what to play.

As Arwen fetched fresh garments in which to clothe her youngest, she began to sing a hymn to Elbereth under her breath, now and then glancing up to enjoy the stars. Almost immediately the minstrel began to follow the tune sung by the Queen, and soon many of the others were joining in the song. Idril turned in her father’s arms to look about at the others, her eyes darting from one to the next, and settling in time on Gimli, who had learned the hymn from Legolas and had added his rich bass to the voices of the Men and Hobbits already singing.

Oh, Frodo, the King thought in his heart, if only you, Gandalf, and Boromir were here, also--how wonderful it would be to share this evening with all of you! His eyes alit on Faramir, sitting back after having set a fresh pot of water on to boil and singing with the rest, and smiled, relieved that if Boromir could not be here in person, at least his brother was here and delighting in the company. Yes, Frodo--this is now a peaceful land, if still spare. But I think you would approve.

Long after the rest had taken to their bedrolls, he and Arwen lay side by side, Idril between them, together watching the stars and murmuring quietly between them of their wishes for those they loved who were not with them.

*******


They began climbing the slopes of Orodruin’s ruined form not long after midmorning. Aragorn and Eldarion were climbing not far below Ruvemir, watching the mannikin sculptor to see to it his weak hip did not give way on him, ready to assist him should it become obvious he needed it. Merry and Estella again were at his side, also to aid as might be needed. Elboron was at the back, Idril now on his back as they climbed, his eyes flitting from one to another of those in the party, watching for any signs of flagging.

Legolas and one of the two scouts were well up the slope, and the guards had fanned out, watching for any signs of ambush or danger of any sort. Gimli, who had paused to lean on the heft of his axe, commented, “This is no cinder cone as such things often are. No, it was formed from lava bubbling up and cooling, again and again over much time. Had Sauron not taken it and forced it to blast forth ash and cinders for his own purposes, this could have been a beautiful sight to look upon, tall and majestic. Instead, it has lost what little majesty it had.”

Sam nodded, but didn’t respond, having no breath for speaking. Elanor accepted Faramir’s hand while Faralion watched after Farry and Pippin.

“This way,” Legolas called down. “There is what appears to be the remains of a carved path here!”

Pippin paused as he worked his way toward the Elf, smiling down near his feet. “Look! There’s what appears to be a small tree here--it looks like a plum tree from the leaves!”

Arwen and Farry examined it. Gondor’s Queen turned to smile at her husband. “He is right--apparently a bird dropped a plum pit here! It can’t be more than a year old as yet.”

Even the guards were exchanging pleased looks at the news. Soon all were standing more steadily on the remains of the road, and Sam paused to wipe his brow as he looked back downwards. “It was much the same afore, when I carried him up here,” he said. “Crawled up the side so far, and then found the road. But if’n this is the same road, chances are it’ll be cut as we go forward--there was the fiery river comin’ right at us, you see.”

His words proved true, but now they had not much further to go to reach the top of the ridge looking down into the crater left when the top of the mountain had blown off. Once all had rested they set off again--and soon they stood, side by side, at the top, looking down into what they’d expected to be a scene of devastation----

----Only it was anything but that!

Below them, there lay a lake, almost the full width of the crater; and about it were fruit trees ranging from small saplings to tall young trees with trunks several inches in thickness, all blooming. In the center rose a small island, on which a single tree filled with white blossoms could be seen growing.

Sam looked down, his face a study in amazement. “But, how----” he began.

There was a sweet scent to the air, and all found themselves breathing it in with pleasure. Farry was smiling broadly. “It must have been birds, Da,” he said, looking back at his father. “Birds carrying seeds from fruit trees, bringing them here, here where the lake formed in the middle!”

Aragorn was the first to recover enough to begin working his way downward toward the banks of the lake in the one area near them where it could be reached. “It must have sealed itself, that last time,” he breathed. “One last eruption, and it sealed itself, and then each time it has rained since, it has trapped the waters here, making of it a lake.”

All were silent, looking at the great lake before them, until Pippin suddenly began to laugh with heart’s ease. “Sam,” he called out, looking sideways at the Mayor of the Shire, “didn’t you say you’d wished for water and light as you came through Mordor? Well, it appears your wish has been granted, and more so than you’d ever dreamed! Look at that! Now, how’s that for a sign of what the Powers thought of Sauron?”

And all were laughing save Sam, whose face was fairly shining. “You’re right there,” he finally said, his eyes alight with pleasure. “I’d say as Lord Ulmo and Lady Yavanna were right there alongside Lord Aulë in wishin’ to reclaim this for themselves! What d’you think, Gimli, Legolas?”

Pippin began to sing, and the others turned to listen as his clear Hobbit voice lifted in the song that he’d heard the Elves singing so many years since as they went aboard the Grey Ship that had borne away the Ringbearers. Then Sam joined him, and Legolas, and the King and Queen, and those others who could follow the words, while the eight guards and the scouts stood proudly to listen.

When the hymn, one to Ulmo, was over, the Lord King Aragorn Elessar and his Queen Arwen Undómiel together knelt, placing their hands within the water. “Let this lake from henceforth be known as Nuru Lahta, for here Death has passed over, and life sprung from out of the ashes of the pain and blood shed by Samwise Gamgee, Sméagol, and Frodo Baggins. And here indeed have the Valar made it plain they have reclaimed the land itself for the living!”

As the King spoke, he appeared not a dusty wanderer through the wilderness, but a Lord of Power himself, and the green stone he wore on his breast shone in emerald radiance, and a silver light seemed gathered about his queen as well.

Aragorn gestured, and Sam stepped forward to kneel between King and Queen, and placed his own callused hand in the water as well. “I know as his touch is here, too, for his finger was lost here, in the Fire. Well, it’s plain as the Fire’s now quenched, and the healin’s begun. For my Master, for Frodo Baggins, the Ringbearer, I give thanks--thanks as Death passed over us, and now new life is come here once more.”

A golden glow seemed gathered about him, and the Elessar again shone out on Aragorn’s breast, its light even brighter.

From a nearby tree they heard a single bird begin to sing; then suddenly the trees were filled with song, and the sky filled with birds of all sorts. And it seemed the scent of the blossoming trees was magnified, and laughter and joy seemed to surround them.

“Vána is here!” whispered Legolas, his face alight with awe. “She, too, is here for the renewal of the land!”

As Aragorn rose to his full height, he was nodding. “And Estë as well--I am certain of it.”

Sam merely nodded, and soon they all, without further speech, turned to leave the place, Eldarion following last, once all others had gone.

But before he turned his eyes from the lake, he seemed to see several great shining forms gathered about the blossoming tree that grew upon the island rising from the center of the expanse of water. And there in the midst of the greater forms there appeared to be one smaller one, like a small column of silver light.

Yet one last memorial of sorts to the Ringbearers? he wondered, taking care not to crush strawberry blossoms under his feet as he ducked under the limbs of a young cherry tree.

And as he followed the others back down the side of the mountain, a fine trickle of water followed after him, the birth of a second singing stream to quench the thirst of a land long bereft of refreshment.

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