Back to Middle-Earth Part 17 - Back to the Future...believe it or not...
Recap: Ainariel's secret was revealed to Frodo and Sam minutes before she became stunned with Shelob's poison. Here we continue....
The darkness enveloped me in its deathlike essence. I shivered my clammy skin beginning to crawl and gain feeling. How long had I lain there? Hours? Days? Years? I would not doubt it. If all time was relative, I had gained centuries to my name. My bones felt brittle and my joints creaked. The fact that my hair had not turned white was a miracle. I stretched, feeling pain shook through my nerves like acid. I moaned aloud, but was struck over the head, and fell.
Was this it? Was this my end? I felt my heart quiver in my chest, my gut flopping like I was going to hurl. It hurt to breathe. Was I going to die here, alone in the darkness? God forbid it! Not while I could still breathe. But breathing came rasping and painfully.
God, please, don't let me die. I'm only sixteen.
At times in my life, I had often wondered what I should do if I knew I was dying. Would I cry out to God? Would I scream and fight it as long as I could? But now here I was, simply asking. Not even begging! Just a simple "Please."
Not now, God. Please....please.....
Tears began spilling out of my closed eyes, spilling out silently, for I hardly dared to cry out. I heard the crack of a whip, the searing, tearing upon my back, but I couldn't cry out. The sounds of chains clanked around me, the essence of metal and burning iron working its way to my nostrils, but all my mind was bent on this one thought of "Please."
Finally, with a creak and a clank, the door of my new abode closed. I had been taken into the hands of the Morgoth people, and had survived their torment. Taking a moment to thank my God, I gathered my broken body up into a little huddle, the rags of my clothes slipping off my bloodied shoulders, and began to cry. Cry simply out of pain, because there were too many other things to cry about, that if I tried to think of them all, I would cry my life away. So I cried out of my pain. My wretched, mangled, physical pain that now wrenched at my being and tore me apart. How could I ever be whole again, with so much flesh and blood now spilling out onto the cold stone floor?
The metallic taste of my own blood finally brought me around to my senses. Perhaps it was something about the little things that brought the reality back to the scenes around me. There was blood dribbling out of my mouth, and it had begun to tickle my chin. I raised my head to wipe it away, and noticed something shining by the door.
I had already begun to hyperventilate from sobbing so badly, but, despite my pain, I pulled myself to the door, and drew in an astonished gasp. By some chance or supernatural miracle, my revolver lay in the spray of light that dabbled on the stone floor!
Gingerly, I picked it up and looked it over. It still had three bullets. That may be all I needed. Wiping my eyes, I carefully pulled myself up to the door, and then up on my feet, shakily at first, but after I moved around a bit, I began to feel a little more like myself. God knew I had gotten that far; it would be a shameful pity to give up then!
I gave myself a quite check over. My clothes were torn terribly in all directions, but I was still decent. I took a moment to gather what wits I had left, and think about what I was up against.
The past hours had been nothing but a continuous living nightmare. Beatings, darkness, monsters, the grinding of wheels, the cracking of whips...but it was all a blur. Perhaps it was due to the poison that I remembered so little, or maybe by the grace of God that I was spared the haunting memory.
Weakly, I pulled myself over to the barred window of the door. Just outside, two Easterling guards talked among themselves in their tongue. Silently, I cocked my revolver....
Just think of it as a game. A game of survival. Survival of the fittest. Just do it...
....and shot the nearest guard in the back. The cry he gave was horrible, but it was over in a moment, and in the next moment he was on the ground. I turned the barrel to the other guard.
"Open this door, punk," I demanded, and surprised myself at how cold and grey and hard my voice had gotten. The sudden death of his companion by the strange gleaming tube terrified the guard, and he shakily, took the keys and opened the door. I stepped out, limping, and without giving it a second thought, shot the second guard, quite simply because "dead men tell no tales..."
I gave two quick glances, up and down the hall, and decided to take the staircase that let upwards. Moving very slowly, for my broken skin was quite opposed to moving fast, I staggered up the staircase, trying to assure myself that this place was large so no one would hear of the gunshots for awhile. I was looking for my hobbits, that was all that mattered.
Several minutes passed and I began to wonder if maybe the staircase led to nowhere and I was going to climb for the rest of my life, but then I heard something that made me stop and listen. A long, mournful wail issued out from a wall to my right, like someone was in deep agony and suffered alone. So, slowly, I turned and faltered my way back down the steps, listening to sobbing and guiding myself by it.
Presently, it led me to a cell door, locked and barred. The keys hung next to it, so I unlocked it and lifted the latch, throwing open the door and letting light into the dark room. The sight within brought me to my knees.
Frodo sat alone, sobbing to himself, dressed only in his trousers, his back beaten and bruised. And, to my horror, nothing hung from his neck. No chain. No Ring. It was gone.
It came as a blow to my stomach and I was no longer to hold myself upright. I had been ready for almost anything else. But not this. Definitely not this. So much pain, suffering, terror, sleepless nights had been suffered for this mere trinket, and we had failed. The nights of long talks and the days of long journeys all came flashing back to my mind, and I realized that they were all in vain. The tears, the injuries, the lies, the feeble hopes---none of it mattered. We were all going to die. I couldn't bring myself to even ask "Please" for it was hopeless. There was nothing left to do but drop to my knees right there in the doorway, and sob into my hands. It was over.
A few moments passed, and I felt an arm around my head. Gently, Frodo embraced me, pressing my head to his shoulder and crying with me. It was as though the tables had been turned: for so many hours, I had labored to tend to him and Sam, to make them happy in their trials, and now, he was returning the favor. I could find no strength to hold him, and so he held me, tiny halfling though he was. That alone brought more tears.
"I just did not mean for it to end this way," I finally was able to choke out, "It wasn't supposed to be this way I'm so sorry. So very sorry...."
"It has been done; there's nothing more that we can do," Frodo said, sobbing as well.
"I'm sick about it, I'm absolutely sick!" I wailed, "This wasn't the way it was supposed to be!"
I let myself succumb to my tears, and the two of us sat in the doorway of the dank cell and sobbed with broken hearts. To die then would have caused me little pain, but that wasn't the way it was supposed to be, either.
Finally, Frodo confessed to me:
"Ainariel, I don't want to die here. Must we really die as prisoners in the house of Morgul?"
I shook my head, wiping away my tears, and helped him stand to his feet.
"I agree, Frodo. Let's go outside once more, or at least die trying."
And so, with this new thought in mind, we gathered ourselves together and began to make our way to descend the staircase. We had gone but a little ways when something in another room caught my eye. It was a mere gleam of dim silver, but when I looked again, my jaw hit the ground.
"Oh, my---" I grabbed Frodo's arm and pulled him into the room, my heart beginning to swell to twice its normal size. There, battered and beaten and graffittied upon in Morian letters, was.....
The time machine.
A thousand and one words could not possibly describe my utter joy and even confusion at this! The time machine was there, within our grasp! Time and Fate were once again at my fingertips! All was not lost! What was wrong could be rectified!
In a sudden rapture of ecstasy, I hugged Frodo, spinning in him around in a circle so that his feet left the ground and he gave a cry of pain.
"What?! What is it?!" he repeated over and over again.
"Do you have any idea what this is?!" I exclaimed, and he shook his head.
"It's the time machine, Frodo! This is how Thalinar and I came to Middle Earth!! In this machine that my grandfather built!!"
"How did it get here, I wonder?" Frodo said, aloud, looking at it's battered frame, then looked up at me to add, "I believe some of His Morian spies brought it here. See all of the marks upon it? They must have thought it strange and brought it for His inspection."
"You know what, I'll bet that is why it's here," I agreed, and opened the driver's side door, peering into the back. The canister of uranium still lay in the back seat. I felt as though a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders and I was able to breathe properly again.
"Do you know what this means, Frodo?" I asked him, smiling a mile wide. He shook his head.
"It is a wonder, but I must confess that I'm confused."
"It means, Frodo Baggins, that we can change history! We'll go back and fix what we did wrong and destroy this Ring and Sauron! We don't have much time, hurry!"
I threw open the doors, motioning for him to get in, and I loaded in the last canister of uranium. It wasn't until I had jumped into the driver's side when something dawned on me: that was our last canister. After this time travel, we would be out.
Thinking fast, I typed in our destination time: Tuesday evening of the 23rd of October in the year 2003 A.D. The place: my home. I ignored the questioning looks from Frodo and opened the time throttle. I would explain when we got there....
I remember very vividly the relief I felt from looking out of the front window and seeing a familiar wall ahead of me. It was simply stone, but it was my basement wall.
"What is this?" asked Frodo. I unbuckled my seat belt.
"Hop out, I'll explain," I told him.
There was something that didn't seem right in the air. I couldn't put my finger on it, yet, but something wasn't right....
"Ok, so when my grandfather built this time machine, he made it so that the only way it could break the time/space continuum was by powering it with a material called uranium," I explained, as I looked around, "We were given only three canisters of it, and, I won't go into how now, but we're now out, because that was the last one. So, I've brought us to my time, 2003 A.D., so we could get some more uranium from my grandfather, and then we'll go back and get the Ring back and it'll be like nothing ever happened. Ok? Everything's fine and good now....." my voice trailed off, for I suddenly put my finger on what was wrong. The smell. It smelled different. It didn't smell like sulfuric acid and herbs. It smelled like....burning laundry detergent. Or something steamingly clean.
Then I started, for I took in my surroundings. We weren't in a study. We were in a plain, cold basement room. Stumbling over my own trembling feet, I poked my head out the door. It wasn't my basement. It wasn't my basement! Instead of the woodstove and carpeted, plaid floor, it was a room where hung linens and clothes across a clothesline.
I darted out of the room, running up the stairs in a frenzy, and tried to open the basement door. It was locked! We never locked our basement door!
Cold dread sinking fast into the pit of my stomach, I raced back to where I had left Frodo, pale and dazed, in the room that should have been Prof's study.
"What is it?" he asked, seeing my distressed look.
"This isn't my house!" I exclaimed, "I mean, it's my house, like the building is, but it isn't my home! I don't know what this is, but it isn't my home!"
"Wait! Stop! I am too confused as it is!" cried Frodo, sitting down on the hood of the time machine and rubbing his head, "What in Arda's name is going on?! How are you not from the Ainur?! How did you come from the future?! How did you go through three canisters of your fuel?! How do you know my uncle?!"
I sat myself down next to him, and began my story, starting with Merry's arrival in my time, all the way down to the present, including the fiasco in Moria. Occasionally, he would interject with a question or two, but when we finally finished, we sat in silence, listening to the droning of crickets outside the basement windows.
"Frodo?" I asked, finally. He looked up at me.
"Are you mad at me?" I continued.
"I'm disappointed. I thought much better of you," he admitted. I lowered my head.
"I know. I'm sure it isn't too encouraging to know that you've trusted your life to a sixteen year old," I said.
"But you have brought us this far, haven't you?" he said.
"You would have made it on your own," I replied, then a thought came to me and I smacked my forehead.
"Oh, shoot, we forgot Sam!"
Frodo's shoulders slumped, and he risked a glance up at me through eyes of hurt.
"Ainariel, I wasn't sure how to tell you this when you were crying in my cell, but--"
My heart flopped, and my voice faltered as I spoke:
"What did they do to him, Frodo?"
His eyes watered as he looked away from me.
"They...they killed him."
Somehow I knew it. I buried my head in my head, starting to sob again.
"Don't tell me that!" I cried, "Don't tell me that!"
"But we can fix it, can we not?" said Frodo, shaking my shoulder, "We have your machine. We can go back and save him and all will be well again!"
That brought back a little hope, and I raised my head.
"I hope so," and I wiped my eyes, "Why did they do that to him?"
"We were afraid, Ainariel. We did not want to leave you, and lingered too long. We heard the Orcs coming, and Sam begged of me to give him the Ring, so that the worse may fall on him. I struggled, Ainariel, believe me, I did. But he bore it at last, and when they found It on him, they killed him."
I reached over, still shedding tears, and hugged Frodo, closely.
"I'm so sorry," I cried, "I didn't mean for this--I didn't mean for you to see that--I'm so sorry, Frodo."
"I know you are, but, please, please, can we just figure out how---wait! Half a moment!" he sprung to his feet, in an excited frenzy.
"What is it?" I asked, watching as he suddenly began pacing up and down the floor.
"Did you tell me that Sam and I would have made it without you?" he asked. I nodded.
"That's it, then! That is why this isn't your home! Because the Ring was not destroyed, the past was changed and now the future is affected. Look here:" he bent and began drawing in the dust something that looked like this:
"This is time, right? 'Then' was before the war of the Ring began, 'Now' is where you are from. Now--"
He added to his drawing:
Then Ring Destroyed Now
"This is what would have happened in time, if you had not come. No, Ainariel, I did not mean to offend you, I'm sorry. Try to follow me. If what I gather from your story is true, that it is possible to change history with this machine, then what happened back Then with you, when the Ring was not destroyed, made something like this happen:"
Then Sauron Takes Ring Now
| Now with Sauron Ruling
"An alternative Now!" I exclaimed, catching on, "So....we're in the Now with Sauron ruling?"
Frodo dusted the dirt from his fingers, sighing.
"I think so," he admitted, his voice getting low and fearful. He looked up at me, his shoulders slumping with the weight of this suddenly falling on him.
"That doesn't explain why my family isn't here," I said. Frodo looked at me, sadly.
"Ainariel, with Sauron ruling, any number of things could have happened to your family," he said. That was very unsettling.
"And without uranium, we won't be able to get back to save Sam...."
"Or destroy the Ring," added Frodo, nervously rubbing his hands together.
I drew in a deep breath, then climbed up to one of the windows and pried it open.
"I guess we better start looking, then, buddy."
Years in the past, Patrick sat, alone, by a window in the palace of Denethor. It had been a trying day. Denethor was stern and cold towards him, and Pippin, who was ever in the height of health, had gone off to enjoy himself. Patrick, however, was ordered by Gandalf to stay behind and have his wounds and injuries seen to. Most were cuts that could easily be bandaged, but he had dislocated his shoulder during the battle of Helm's Deep and no one had done anything until now. He had managed to be brave when the healer popped it back into place, gritting his teeth and bearing it out like a man, but when he was finally left alone, he shamefully sobbed into his hands. It ached so badly, and he felt so alone.
When he finally found the strength to return to his room, he found that no one had left any orders for him, for he hadn't become of man of Gondor like Pippin had, because of his hurts, and he was very much forgotten. He was left to entertain himself by his own devices, which consisted mainly of sleeping and eating. He despised the view from his window. It overlooked the fiery mountains of Mordor, making him think of his sister, who was plodding away through those mountains alone...or was she?
Night fell, and it seemed like only two hours had passed when Gandalf popped his head in the door, telling him to wake up.
"I thought you had forgotten about me," said Patrick, bitterly.
"No, I had not. There were more important matters at hand," replied Gandalf.
"In other words...I was forgotten," Patrick said, frowning. Gandalf heaved a sigh.
"If that's what you wish to think," he said, "Come, get up and make yourself presentable. There is food for you."
"What am I supposed to do today?" Patrick called after him, as he began to leave, "I can't just sit around and do nothing all the time! There must have been a reason why you brought me!"
"I brought you to keep you out of trouble, and that is exactly what I wish for you to do!" Gandalf shouted back. The pressing times had made him very short-tempered and impatient.
Patrick groaned, in hot temper, and threw his hard bread up against the wall.
"If you're trying to drive me crazy, it's working!!" he shouted, but no one was there to hear.
This is not what it's supposed to be like, he thought, I'm not supposed to be shoved aside on my adventure of a lifetime. This totally sucks. If they thought that I was from the Ainur, they would be asking my advice. Why? Why did Legolas have to figure it out? Now, when it comes down to the nitty gritty of high action, I'm pushed aside. I hate this! I hate it!
This surprised him completely. He wasn't supposed to hate Lord of the Rings! But he found that he did, and bitterly hating it as well. He had had enough. He wanted to go home. The box!
It immediately popped into his brain to use the box that Galadriel had given them, for it was supposed to help them get home. Patrick picked up his pack, fishing through it, and pulled out the ornate little box, holding it into the candlelight. The paint on it glimmered attractively, and the detailed green leaves seemed to come alive as he turned it this way and that. But something caught his eye that he hadn't noticed before: a tiny gold lock held the top firmly against the bottom, so as to keep out any unwanted eyes. Patrick sighed, replacing it into his pack. Figures.
He fingered the necklace around his neck and looked out the window at the stewing mountains. Darkness had fallen over that land; there would be no way to see that it was dawn. There was little left to do but put on his shirt, strap on his weapon, and find something to occupy him for the day. And keep him out of trouble. But, then again, it's so very difficult to please everybody....
He emerged from his room, and found Pippin, who was walking very quickly up to the Tower. Well, quickly by hobbit standards, but Patrick had no difficulty catching up with him.
"Hey, Pip! I didn't see you at all yesterday, man, I hope you enjoyed yourself without me." It came out a little more antagonistic than he intended it to be.
"Well, I'm a man of Gondor now, Thalinar," said Pippin, though he looked a little hurt, "I have new duties to see to. I am very sorry if it upset you."
"Yeah, that didn't come out quite right, Pip," Patrick replied, "I'm sorry, too. Can I follow you?"
Pippin looked him over quickly, and nodded.
"I suppose you look man enough," and laughed to himself. There was something infectious about that hearty laugh that put a smile on Patrick's face.
They walked together up to the armory, where Pippin was fitted into a miniature version on the Gondorian armor. It was terribly too funny to see, that little halfling with bushy hair fitted into manly armor, but somehow Patrick managed to keep a straight face.
"Who is this?" one of the men asked Pippin, gesturing to Patrick, "He is not one of us."
"He is a veteran of this war, a soldier who has stood by us since the very beginnings of our journeys," Pippin replied, looking up at Patrick, "I wouldn't dare go anywhere in times of trouble without him."
The man gave Patrick a glance, then admitted him into the Tower of the Guard.
"You wouldn't dare go anywhere without me?" Patrick whispered to Pippin, once they were out of earshot, "I didn't know you trusted me that much."
"Well, it was a little bending of the truth," Pippin admitted, "but, mark you, Gandalf told us to stay out of trouble. He never said to keep away from each other." Patrick stifled a laugh.
"Yeah, but we're the notorious two who looked into the Palantir," he said, "You'd think 'trouble' would follow us."
"Shh! For heaven's sake, do you want to be here or not?!" Pippin exclaimed, but grinning all the same.
It became a tedious day. They ate and talked of nothing important, watching the dim, angry clouds pass overhead and boil and bubble as a stew as a cauldron might. Evil was approaching, Patrick knew that very well. And he knew that nothing would prepare him for it. Though, he was longing to see Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, Merry, and Èowyn again. Merry, at least, he would be seeing soon. There was some perks in knowing the future, even though, at times, it was aggravating. Especially with this "they may not take the same roads" warning that hung about him. How was Shannon faring with that? She didn't know the stories. He prayed that she was reading.
After awhile, the gloom and doom that hung about him wore at his nerves and he decided to take leave. Not being a man of Gondor, he could do that sort of thing. So, bidding Pippin farewell, he returned to his rooms and lay down to sleep. And to dream....
It was an eerie world that surrounded him in his sleep....visions of home, but blackened as though they had been burned, and smog hung about. He could not see his family, nor could he see his friends. The smoke blotted them out, and if he tried to call, his voice wouldn't work. Trapped in another dimension and unable to warn them of what was coming....
Then something surprising came: his sister, and a hobbit, running....running as though they did not want to be seen....huddling in corners, taking several glances before they crossed a lane....darting to and fro in alleyways, even though it would take longer, it was certainly safer....what was this place? Why were they there?
A hiss and a growl trembled the very base of the earth, and his eyes looked skyward. It was the Eye. That lidless Eye, wreathed in flame, the pupil dilating, the flame raging! He backed away, but found that he was cornered. Where had his sister gone? Where was that hobbit? Were they trapped, too? How would they get out?! How would they....
A scream and a crash brought him to his senses, and he sat up in a cold sweat. That was really weird.
He looked out over the blackened mountains. Where were they?
Another crash came, like tens of thousands of pants ripping down the seams, and Patrick realized that it had come. The siege had begun.
To Be Continued...
Author's Notes: I would really like to thank Ms_Gamgee_89 for looking over and editing this for me. It would have sucked without you! Thank you so much! I would also like to make an honorable mention of Maer-Manadh, who supplied me with the idea for this new plot twist. If you're mad, squish him, not me. I hope you all enjoyed this! Thanks!