My birthday mathom to you all, with special thanks to Tallis for her inspiration!
Gandalf sat by Frodo’s side as the Hobbit slept. How often he’d done this in the past few years!
The first time was in Rivendell, and Frodo had just arrived at the Last Homely House, carried in by Elves and with Aragorn and Arwen on either side of him while Glorfindel shepherded in his companions. How small and fragile he’d looked—nothing like the sturdy young Hobbit, as slender as he was for one of his race, he’d known as Bilbo’s young ward and heir, there in Bag End. At first he’d lain like one dead, his face bloodless and his lips blue, his left hand like ice under Gandalf’s. Only after Elrond had stripped him did Frodo show signs of life then, scrabbling at his side as if searching for something and whimpering as if he were in deadly pain.
Aragorn stood by the bed, pale himself with worry and exhaustion, supported by Arwen’s presence. “He’s not done that before,” he’d whispered.
Elrond looked up from his examination of the Hobbit to meet his fosterling’s eyes, then exchanged glances with the Wizard. Both recognized what was happening. Gandalf said, “Bilbo always carried It in his pocket, either his trousers or his waistcoat.”
“And you think that Frodo would do the same, then?” Elrond asked.
“He had It in the pocket of his waistcoat at the Prancing Pony, when It slipped Itself onto his finger,” Aragorn said. “Or at least that is what he insisted—that It slipped Itself onto his finger, of Its own volition.”
“And why would It do that?” Elrond had asked.
“To reveal Itself,” Gandalf answered him. “Were there some within the room who appeared to be agents of the Enemy?”
“Yes—and the Pony was attacked that night, the Hobbits’ room entered and the beds torn apart.”
“They were not in those beds, though,” Gandalf had commented. He knew that the apparent calm of his voice would not fool either Aragorn or Elrond, and that they recognized he was as worried as were they both by the evidence of the Enemy’s awareness of the movements of his Ring and the large number of enemies that seemed to be gathering along Its path.
“Well, I’m glad that he doesn’t have the Ring on him now,” Elrond said. “With a Morgul shard in his shoulder, young Frodo here does not need Its influence adding to the shard’s own malevolence.”
“Yet he’s fought the shard’s influence for two weeks with It in his pocket,” Aragorn noted.
“You perhaps should have taken It from him,” Elrond suggested.
The Man had straightened with shock. “Take It from him? Touch It—myself? And what would It have done to me, do you think? It would have loved that, and the chance of making Frodo my enemy.”
Elrond had withdrawn his attention from Frodo then, straightening himself to examine Aragorn’s eyes. “Then It is awake?”
Aragorn nodded, and looked down to the Hobbit’s face and scrabbling fingers. “Oh, yes—It is awake, and aware. It has been trying to capture my attention, and the more so since Frodo was stabbed. When he’s been fully awake and aware, Frodo has been lucid enough. But as he tires as the day draws near its end, then the Ring has called more insistently to me to reach for It, at which time Frodo’s looks have become anxious and suspicious. More than once I have seen him handling the pommel of that long knife he’s carried as a sword, eying me as if I were plotting to take It from him—until he has forced his hand away with a decided effort. Yes, It is seeking to cause problems between Frodo and me.”
“Then, when It leaves here It must be surrounded by several strong individuals so that It cannot focus on only one person,” Gandalf had advised. Elrond had nodded, and turned his attention back to Frodo’s shoulder once more.
The first probe on Frodo’s shoulder was not as total a disaster as it might have appeared. Yes, Aragorn had started to sway and collapse, his fatigue finally taking him, and Elrond had been forced to abort the procedure. But he’d found where the shard was and could see now what path it would most likely follow. Too dangerous now to remove it, but in a couple of days’ time there would come a moment as it approached the heart itself when it could be caught. And with that much rest and good food to sustain him, the Dúnadan was able to be there at his adar’s side, a presence Frodo could recognize and respond to in a positive manner, trust already having been established.
After the first attempt to remove the shard, Frodo had become more anxious about the absence of the Ring; but as he weakened he’d moved less and keened more. At last Gandalf had insisted that the Ring be returned to the Hobbit, and at Elrond’s direction a chain was forged and wound about with spells intended to dampen Its power. Once the chain was settled around Frodo’s neck and It rested against his skin, the Hobbit had calmed remarkably, and Gandalf was able to at last sort through his tangled thoughts and memories, finding that Frodo Baggins had a mind that easily responded to the Wizard’s probes.
“Remarkable,” he’d said to Elrond after the shard was at last removed and the two had retreated to Elrond’s private study to restore themselves with small glasses of miruvor. “It is as if Frodo were a natural for osanwë. I doubt I’ve seen more than a handful of mortals as responsive to my probing of his thoughts.” He’d told the Master of Imladris all that he’d learned from his searching of Frodo’s memories, including how he’d perceived the attempts by the Ring to take control of his body. “And Aragorn’s perceptions of the Ring seeking to drive a wedge between himself and Frodo were confirmed by what I’ve learned from Frodo himself. I’ve done my best to settle those memories well behind other more pertinent considerations, and to leave him feeling reassured so that when he wakens he will not know any overt anxiety. But apparently carrying the Ring for the last seventeen years has prepared him to accept communication mind to mind, heart to heart.”
Somehow he’d not been surprised when, during the Council, Frodo had stood up to claim the quest as his own. He’d noted the surprise in Frodo’s own mind to hear the words issuing from his mouth, but knew that on a deeper level the Hobbit had known all along that this would likely be required of him.
He missed Frodo’s natural light-heartedness as they left Rivendell, and noted the melancholy that was now a constant presence in the Hobbit’s heart. More than once he blessed the Powers for seeing to it that young Pippin was a part of the Fellowship, for the impetuous and seemingly irrepressible Took had a marked sensitivity to his companions’ moods, and was ever on the lookout to intervene with a joke or comic song or some apparent Tookish foolishness that would make Frodo laugh and step forward to accept his proper place as the eldest and most responsible of the four Hobbits in the party. More than once the Ring’s attempts to subvert Frodo to suspicion of the others was interrupted by some action by Pippin or, to a lesser extent, Merry or even Sam; and often when the Ring was focusing Its malevolence on one of the others in the party again they would find themselves being saved by that Fool of a Took. How he’d shaken his head over Pippin’s decisions and behavior at the same time he’d been glad to see the Ring foiled by the small Hobbit’s excellent timing.
He’d been aware of Gollum’s shadowing of the Fellowship from their first few hours within Moria, and had noted that the Ring had also recognized the presence of Its former bearer with Its usual mixture of antipathy and consideration as to how It could use the creature to reach Its own ends. But Frodo had also become aware of the new, unseen member of the Fellowship. He admitted to having heard Gollum’s footsteps, but what Gandalf himself noted was that Frodo was responding to a mind that was as responsive to the Ring’s considerations as his own had become.
How the anguish in Frodo’s mind at the sight of Gandalf’s fall had torn at the Wizard’s heart as he’d found himself plunging after the Balrog. He’d recognized that this was necessary—that Maia must fight Maia that there not be a second to Sauron in the final battles. Mortals could face the Wraiths, if they could be brought to work together in concert and mutual trust and compassion; but there was no other at hand of his own rank to face the Balrog, so he must do this, even if it removed him from Middle Earth. He could trust the Valar to send what aid they could to face Sauron in the end, and Radagast at least was true, if not at ease with facing Sauron directly.
In the wake of his return, Gandalf had learned from Galadriel Artanis that Frodo had reacted uniquely to her probing of his heart at their meeting. Aragorn, who’d been through such scrutiny before from both his Elven family and his hostess on earlier visits, had opened himself to her thoughts, seeking to hide nothing from her. She’d been amused by the other Hobbits’ reactions of shame at seeing their own concerns for what might be happening at home placed before their awareness; she’d been proud of Legolas’s defiance of her attempt to find Its possible means of assailing his integrity; and had been pleased at the openness of the Dwarf’s mind to this new experience, and his realization that her probe had been benign rather than malicious. She’d been rightly concerned for the integrity of Boromir; but it was Frodo who’d surprised her with his own counterprobe, seeking to assure himself that she was not already plotting to claim the Ring as her own. And how much more impressed she was when he openly offered It to her in the presence of her Mirror, and she’d seen that he had indeed grown wearied of Its constant attempts to destroy his own integrity.
On his own return, Gandalf had been able to sense Frodo and what he was feeling for a time. He knew when Frodo descended from the Emyn Muil to the level of the Dead Marshes, and was aware of Frodo’s horror at what they saw there on more than one occasion. He’d also been aware of Frodo’s relief when he and his companions entered into Ithilien. Only when they began the climb up the stairs to Cirith Ungol had he found he could no longer sense Frodo’s thoughts, and he was glad. If he could not do so, neither could the Enemy.
Frodo’s will had been broken by It at the end, and the loss of the Ring by Gollum’s violence had been the only catalyst that had been capable of keeping Frodo’s personality intact enough to allow healing afterwards. In the struggle he’d been able to focus enough on trying to keep possession of his precious treasure to avoid focusing on his failure in his quest—had that happened, Gandalf was not certain that Frodo would have been able to come back to himself. That and Sam’s presence….
He was aware of the struggle waged when Aragorn utilized the power of his birthright to seek after the Hobbits’ straying spirits, and that there was a debate at the Gates themselves before Frodo would agree to turn again and reenter his battered body. Afterwards he’d found it difficult during a good part of that two-week’s sleep to learn what had happened during their sojourn within the fences of Mordor—or at least difficult to learn from Frodo himself. Sam’s was now the easier mind to reach, for often Frodo shrank violently away from any attempt to touch on his thoughts. “What It did to you, child,” he murmured, reaching down to brush the backs of his fingers against Frodo’s cheek, “was beyond what any creature should endure.” He smiled as Frodo’s head turned softly in response to that touch, not away as it had usually done during the last stages of healing sleep then, but toward the hand brushing against him, trust once again restored. Only as Frodo neared waking had Gandalf been able to easily sense his thoughts and feelings again, but they were confused and, all too often, sharp edged, as it they were shards of a broken mirror that was slowly repiecing itself.
Afterwards Frodo’s responses were too often those of a chronic invalid, constantly being painfully reminded of what he could no longer do with ease. Certainly the Wizard could appreciate how Frodo, who ought to be looking toward a resumption of his life and perhaps even knowing the freedom now to love as he pleased, felt insulted by the loss of the competence and endurance he’d always entertained. The graceful dancer could not look forward to finishing a set; the one who used to walk across the Shire and still dance till dawn once he’d arrived at his destination was now exhausted by a walk of less than a mile, and the Hobbit could no longer eat until he felt full. How can one rejoice fully when one cannot count upon one’s body to cooperate in such simple tasks as eating a full meal or a walk down to the turning in the lane? As for returning to his accustomed place in Shire society----
Frodo’s keen mind had been sharpened by his interaction with Sauron’s abomination, however. He could and did shield his mind from others when he chose. But at the same time he was more aware of the thoughts of others. His hearing had been sharpened by the effects of the Morgul shard; now he was far more sensitive to the feelings and thoughts of others than he’d ever been. Gandalf remembered the realization that, as he watched the silent communion between Elrond, Galadriel, Celeborn, and Gandalf during the time they spent in the last camp before the denizens of Lothlórien turned east to cross over the Redhorn Pass, Frodo was increasingly aware of the flow of thoughts and considerations among the parties of great ones.
You are surprised, Olórin, Galadriel had asked him, that he is able to follow our communication? Think what it was he was forced to carry for so long. Of course he would become more sensitive, for he was forced increasingly to shield himself from Its attempts to manipulate him, and to hide his intentions from It as much as he could. Once such channels are opened, they will only grow more sensitive.
After they parted outside the Old Forest, Gandalf had frequently monitored Frodo’s feelings and sometimes his thoughts. Again and again he’d tried to ease the Hobbit’s way by—rearranging—priorities or memories; but he’d realized that he could not do this forever, and that he was doing Frodo no favors in the end. But the stubborn Baggins had become so dear to him—to them all! He realized that Frodo had known since near the beginning that he remained in Middle Earth on borrowed time; and when Frodo accepted that his remaining time was limited if he stayed the Wizard believed he felt the greater grief in the end. But then Frodo had chosen, and Gandalf had begun to hope for him to know full healing.
Had Frodo’s desire to shield Sam from the likelihood of his own death been, perhaps, too great a motivation for his decision to sail with Elrond and Bilbo? When Frodo had collapsed aboard the Grey Ship, once he was certain that the others would not see the starglass fail, Gandalf had been so afraid he would simply turn away from life completely. But Bilbo had recalled him in the end, and since his arrival here on Tol Eressëa Frodo had been slowly strengthening, day by day. Frodo was no longer afraid, however—no longer anxious or angry. What he was granted he’d now accept, whether it was the joy of a new beauty or the peace of that final rest. He’d faced the last of his fears and let them all go. And now his thoughts were peaceful, calm, and, the Maia realized, once again filled with hope. Hope! How that estel had managed to bring down the evil of two Dark Lords! And now once again it served to polish the fëa of this most special of Ilúvatar’s children! And he began singing one of Bilbo’s walking songs, of hidden roads and secret gates….
And Frodo began to waken, a smile on his lips.