He stands surrounded by elemental red, the red of fire, blood, and destruction, the chaos from which all came and to which, it appears, all will return. And it will return now, for at the last he cannot fight against It further, the red gold of the Ring which has burned in his consciousness as a wheel of Fire. He has fought it all he can, just getting to this place. He has red weals across his back where the whips of the Eye’s servants cut into him while trying to learn why he, a weak creature, would think to enter Mordor; and more on his legs and buttocks, the mark of the slave driver who forced him onwards along the road, thinking him a deserter from Sauron’s army and demanding to know why he would think to flee this place. He has red, weeping sores where the poison of Shelob still drains from his neck. Red darkened to almost black flakes from countless cuts, abrasions, and wounds on his arms, legs, torso; more from where the weight of the Ring has dragged the chain deep into his neck and shoulders, cutting deep into his flesh as into his soul. A brilliant red burn can be seen on his chest where It has lain. Red finger marks still mark his throat where Gollum tried to throttle him.
The Eye, red with wrath, red with fury, red with bloodlust and malice, no longer peers toward him as it did as he struggled up the Mountain, when the mere awareness of it was like a butcher’s hammer, striking him down to the ground, thinking it was over at last, that his spirit was seeping from him as blood. But the Eye will look in a moment, and this time will see him clearly, when It claims Its desire, when It claims him at last, claims the destruction of his soul as a fitting sacrifice to Its Master and delivers him up, his spirit slain and bleeding. He closes his eyes against the horror as It takes his hand and draws it up, up to meet the other hand, up to place Itself on his finger!
“I do not choose to do what I came to do. The Ring is mine!”
And he opens his eyes, looks to see the horror of his own soul mirrored in the eyes of his friend, sees the despair which is taking him....
It touches his finger, claims him at last, and a brilliant red flame flashes through his body and mind, turning light to dark, dark to light, reversing the polarity. The agony of his body is now seen as exquisite pleasure; the agony of his soul as desire fulfilled. His friend is now his enemy; the Enemy is merely a rival. And his last glance at Sam shows a flower of red blossoming from his temple....
And then he is struggling, barely seeing the pale, wizened creature which, closer than the Red of the Eye, seeks to supplant him in Its favor, seeks to take It from him, seeks to remove this pain which now is his deepest delight....
Agony! Every nerve throughout his body screams as teeth bite between knuckles, rob him of It, leave him groveling in weakness as the lifeblood of his spirit pours out the hole left by the loss of a finger, the loss of It. His body arcs and spasms. Why could he not have done what was needed, leapt into the abyss, taken it with him, replaced the red of blood with the red of flame, the red of the fires of Orodruin! The red starts to fade to black....
Red blood falling on his breast from Sam’s forehead and temple, calling him back to life--briefly at least. Red blood pumping from the gaping wound where the tainted finger once was. Red fire staining the Enemy’s black clouds in which He hid Himself for so long, red fire rending the very mountain on which they stand.
Oh, Sam, that you should have to be here. Yet you came from love of me, sacrificing all you might have had that I not be alone.
He is the proper sacrifice, the unstained one, the one untainted. Oh, Creator, take him for the world, and let me go to the doom of my soul. I know I will burn, and that is right and proper; but let him pass through the fire, come before you shining with the glory of his Love, the Love that sought to ease my way. Oh, Creator! For his soul is not red with the rotten blood of taint, but shining and clear, as once mine was....
The walls before him are white, the gates shining like mithril. The price of their opening he knows--blood and pain. And he has paid that price, drags slowly toward them, dazed and lost, knowing he does not merit this respite, for he failed. But the burden has been lifted from him, and all he seeks now is a quiet place to hide away. Will he be granted a corner in which to cower and rest? Please, gracious Valar, allow him that rest, that small corner in the dark....
Once he knew Light, was filled by it, delighted in it--the Light of sun, moon, stars, lantern lights, candle flames, Yule bonfires. Once he knew the Light of love--love of parents, love of family, love of Merry and Pippin and Sam and Fredegar and Folco and...and Bilbo and Aragorn and Gandalf. Once he knew that Love might come to him from one with whom he could share his body and the fullness of his own Love, bring forth new life, new souls to carry on the Light of Life, lent to them by the One whose Light had filled his heart and soul. He once knew the Light of knowledge, of words, of wisdom shared, of discovery. But all that Light he has been robbed of, by water, by flight, by abandonment, by the shadow and flame of the Balrog, by betrayal, by the demands of the Enemy’s Ring.
He once glowed with that elemental white Light of Life; but that pure flame of his soul has been all but extinguished by the dark Flames, the Red fiery Eye of the Enemy, the Wheel of the Dark Fire. He cannot see his own Light any more, does not feel worthy to even seek it.
Beside him is a golden flame, lingering before the Gates, begging him not to hurry them that way. The golden flame hears the call, turns back, shines in recognition, seeks to make him turn, turn and see what follows them from behind. He does not wish to see--the horror of what he has been through and what he has done is more than he can deal with.
The call is louder now, and the stench of blood is washed away by the overwhelming scent of the Sea. Ah, at least this is what he deserves--to have the weight of the Sea itself fall upon him to obliterate him, let the last stubborn white flame of what had been his soul be put out by the pure waves and the power of Ulmo. He stops just short of the open gate, turns to receive that weight, to give himself to it....
But he sees not the glitter of light on water, but instead the twin to the flame that he once knew inside himself, white and pure, a Light to guide the way, a Light to cleanse dark corners of the dark fears that congregate there.
No, Frodo--don’t go that way yet. Let your Light go not away from us!
Light? I have none left!
I could not have sought you if that were true. It wavers, is ready, perhaps, to give over; but it is not vanquished yet.
I am not worthy.
My own Light was fired by yours. You are worthy--more than worthy. Come back that it may rekindle!
Please, let me go!
Would you have me deny the Light I have known, deny the Light of the brother of my soul?
He wants to close his eyes to the lure of that pure, white Light. He wants to turn back, find his corner....
But he finds he cannot turn away, cannot deny what he was. Could he be that again, have the Light shine within him so clearly once more?
Oh, Aragorn, why do you do this? I am almost free....
Because I love you, my brother, because I would protect that Light you still bear, I would cherish it, would see it again shining before the World, would see you rejoice to find it within yourself once more!
And then the golden flame joins its voice to the white Light.
You’re still there, the Light of you is still shining. Let go of the Enemy’s darkness, and it will shine again.
But I’m alone in the darkness.
Only until you let it go are you in darkness--but you’re not alone. I’ll stay by you no matter what you choose; don’t fool yourself it would be different.
But you have a life to live. Your Light is clear and bright.
But your Light set this blaze burning, as it helped quicken his as well.
And the white Light of the King, emboldened by the arguments of the golden flame, comes nearer.
Come away with me, Frodo. Come back so you can shine once more. Come with us. Give yourself the chance to rekindle fully.
And he looks into the white Light of his friend, is drawn forward in spite of himself, sees the reflection of what he once was--then finds himself hurrying to come to it, to find himself by its Light....
He looks out the window into shades of blue--blue, cerulean, indigo, turquoise, navy, aquamarine. A blue sky can be seen overhead, for the moment, at least. And he thinks, It is so long since I delighted in blue. And he shivers. His Light has recovered some, but not his body. And he finds still pockets of red and darkness here and there in his soul, pockets that horrify him. He’d thought the red was gone with the Ring, gone into the elemental heat at the heart of the world of Arda. But he finds rage can fill him at times, rage and despair and contempt. And there is still pain, pain that is not limited to the scars left by the Ring--physical and spiritual pain.
The window is at the stern of the grey ship, looking back eastward, back to where he left Sam and Sam’s golden light, warm and comforting. He fingers the Phial of Galadriel he carries in his hand. He fingers the white gem given to him by Arwen that he wears in place of--of what he wore before. He has been surrounded by the odor of the Sea for a long time, since before he rode to the Havens. For that is the scent of athelas to him--the odor of the Sea. Was that the sign by which he could know from whence could come at last the true healing he so desired?
A blue wave rises up behind the ship like a great moving hill the color of delphiniums, sparkling with silver, even a glint of gold. He smiles to see it. He is no longer overwhelmed, but is still awed by the power of Ulmo’s realm.
A blue Light approaches, embraces the still fragile Light of his own spirit.
“Oh, it’s not as fragile as you would like to think, Iorhael.”
He looks up into Gandalf’s face--no, not Gandalf where they are going...Olórin, that is what he is known as where they go. And in the glow of that blue flame his own Light is strengthened. He looks out again, and down, sees in the blue depths the long form of a great fish, shining dark blue, almost black one moment, silver the next.
“Olórin, I’m finding blue once more, I think.”
He does not need to look at his companion to know he smiles.
And as the light before the ship gives way to sunset, the eastern sky behind the Ship deepens its blueness, goes velvety. And stars can begin to be seen there, sparkling against the deep blue sky. And he finds that blue to be healing as well. A level of tightness in his chest begins to give way as he delights in it.
“Blue can be the color of the Lady Varda’s mantle as she scatters the stars,” murmurs Olórin.
“And the robes of the Lord Ulmo,” whispers the Hobbit who stands at the window. A hand, shining blue, embraces his shoulder. And in the growing dark both Phial and star Gem glow faintly with blue, the blue of clean water.
“The healing is begun, Frodo.”
Blue eyes close briefly with acceptance. “Yes, Gandalf, I know. And I am grateful.”