Written for the LOTR Community "March of Power" challenge. For Lavender Took for her birthday.
The day had grown darker and darker as the brownish clouds, augmented with ash from beyond the Mountains of Shadow, grew steadily thicker. And Frodo found his own spirit increasingly oppressed as the light decreased. He found himself stooping as he walked, his eyes avoiding the darkness overhead and before him. He could barely discern the green of the grasses and ferns and brambles, much less of the leaves of the surrounding trees. Mostly there was earth underfoot, and leaf mould obscuring the pavement that had once marked the road they now followed.
“Oh, but my!” Sam breathed, and Frodo finally looked up. They were approaching a cross-roads, in the midst of which on a scarred plinth carved into the likeness of a great throne sat the powerful statue of what must have been one of the former Kings of Gondor. The length of leg to the knee was greater than Frodo’s own height, and even without the curls that were common to the Hobbit’s own folk he could tell that the foot in the straps of the sandal it wore was shapely and the leg well muscled. The left hand was spread upon the arm of the great chair, while the right rested on the hilts of a long sword, similar in style to Andúril although not precisely the same, its point against the ground by the leg of the throne.
But the head of the statue had been struck from its shoulders and lay nearby, vines that appeared grey in the pervading gloom wound about the carved curls. He found the sight of it filled him with grief for what the land of Gondor had once been but was no longer. As he’d seen when in the company of Faramir’s soldiers, these woods and the roads through them were no longer safe or secure, and enemies came unheeding, sure that they were under the protection of the lord of that dark land behind the mountains. The thought made him quail, and the Ring on Its chain about his neck felt even heavier than usual.
He looked up at the statue again, at the atrocity set there in place of the original visage of a long-dead King. Was that indeed how his creatures saw Sauron to be? he wondered. Was the great Enemy truly a monster with but a single eye in the center of his face? Or had those who’d defaced the statue, who’d sought to cast down this symbol of the might of the Sea Kings and who’d replaced the fallen head with this horror, merely imagined Sauron thusly? Would mere orcs have looked into Sauron’s own face? Did he actually have a face? After he returned to Middle Earth following the drowning of Númenor, Sauron had no longer been able to take on a shape pleasing to Elves or Men—Gandalf had told him that so long ago, in that now fabled time when Frodo had known the comfort and safety of a home, a time he now found almost impossible to believe had been real. Could a spirit capable of surviving the drowning of as great a land as Númenor was said to have been truly have a body that ate and drank and needed rest, and all of the other things that living beings must do? If the wraiths must wrap themselves to give their nothingness a shape that could be discerned by the living, was it not likely that Sauron must do the same?
Frodo felt a shudder of horror as such a thought took him, and he had to stop there by the fallen head from the statue and take deep breaths to overcome it.
“Master? Are you all right, Frodo?” Sam asked, his expression concerned. Beyond him Gollum looked back over his bony shoulder, hissing with his distress at this pause in their forward movement.
But there was a reflection of golden light to be discerned in the gardener’s face. Frodo had noted it at times, had realized that Samwise Gamgee’s form hid a far nobler spirit than his mere bodily appearance could show forth. But then he realized that true light was being reflected this time from another source, so he turned westward to see that the lowering Sun as it neared the horizon had finally come below the level of the spreading pall of darkness. He felt a single flame of hope rise in his heart, and he was warmed by it as he’d not felt since they’d left the company of the Gondorian Rangers. “Light!” he whispered to himself. There was still Light in the world, although Sauron sought to blot it out with his clouds. But could even Sauron overcome all good? All he could do was to veil the Sun, not obliterate her Light!
He felt his burden lightened as he began to turn back to their road. He might never walk in the sunlight again, but that did not mean that the whole world should lie ever under Mordor’s shadow. Aragorn was out there somewhere, a shining sword at his hip that he would use ever to beat back the shadows, to protect the innocent. Frodo might not be of any help as an ally or fellow soldier, but he could do this—keep going, even if it meant going into the heart of Darkness Itself, to aid the Man intended to be the King Returned. Perhaps he might never look into Aragorn’s face again and see the honor there, but others at least could.
As he turned, his eyes were drawn again to the fallen head from the statue, and he realized with awe that it, too, was reflecting the sunlight, that it was wreathed with gold and white and living green, as if it were crowned with a bridegroom’s coronet of living leaves and more. His practical mind recognized white blossoms and stonecrop amongst the vines of wild blackberries and white clematis; his artist’s soul saw the truth of it, however.
“Look, Sam!” he cried, startled into speech. “Look! The King has got a crown again!”
And he felt his resolve renew itself. No, he might never see Aragorn come to the crown and throne and sceptre he deserved, but he would do his best to see to it that there was a chance for the King to return at last, to see that darkness felled, even if it must cost him his own life. It would be a worthy sacrifice, he knew.