Sage, part III - a glass half-filled with light

The poisoned channel was rising within...

III.

He wasn't there. Though his limbs trembled against the dirty floor, though the cold of it bit into his skin painfully, he would not believe he was there. He would not believe he was unclothed, though his hands felt the chill damp of his skin instead of the soft folds of cloth he knew were covering him. He tried not to feel the dizzying height and the endless stairs between him and freedom, because it was all just an illusion. His eyes remained fixed on the stained, dank darkness of the stone before him, but he listened intently to something far beyond.

"The sun dapples the rosebuds,
drowns the daisies in the springtime.
She withers hard the wheat stalks,
dries the corn in summertime.
She fades and dances in the wind
among the leaves come autumntime,
She's hiding-fair in misty climes
Worn wan by wintertime."

Rosie was singing in the kitchen, where he had a vague memory of eating dinner there some time ago. Hadn't it been a draining affair, with him hiding his illness from Rosie the entire time, waiting unendingly for Sam to return as she clucked at him for looking so peaked? Seems like it must have been so; it was always more difficult without Sam. Now he must drink in every note of that blessed song she was singing. She was his lifeline, the fine thread of reality that held him from the abyss opening up beneath him. Were he there, she would not be singing. He hadn't known she sang like a lark back then; he wouldn't have thought to imagine her thus. This, what he was seeing, was far distant in the past. He knew that, only he couldn't stop trembling so--
Frodo jumped as there was a crash and a horrible shriek in the passage underneath him, no-- somewhere outside the door. He sat up, catching his weight on one arm, the room swirling around him. Rosie wasn't singing anymore.
Rosie?
"Gar your ugly hide! I'll knock every tooth from your bloody mouth if you don't tell me what you're hidin'." Frodo looked around the empty room blearily. They weren't talking to him. The orcs had someone else. Someone was crying, begging. Rosie? Sam? Frodo pushed himself to his feet and swayed unsteadily in the darkness. The room whirled again and Frodo's mind lost the anchor he had held to thus far. What had he been trying to remember?
He rubbed a shaking hand across his face, feeling the burn from the wound in his shoulder. Everyone was in danger because of him. He should never have allowed Sam to come. And Rosie? Somehow they'd gotten to her, through Frodo.
No-- it cannot be possible!
His mind tried to clear itself desperately. But the great, wooden trap door was there, so heavy that he could never hope to lift it. And somewhere down below it, she-- she was sobbing. "Rosie?" he whispered.
"What's that, you dunghill rat?" Suddenly a dark figure towered over him, blocking his view. "I told you to stay down!" Frodo dodged the swinging fist but could not keep his feet under him. The hard stone came up to meet him and his head knocked against the floor. A swift kick caught him painfully in the side. "One more noise out of you and you'll not have to wait to see which torture we'll use first!" Frodo rolled into a ball and stayed still, letting the pain roll over him. Then the heavy breathing of the orc was gone, but the shivering, breathless crying went on and on. It no longer sounded familiar. He closed his eyes, feeling the world tilt under him. If only it would stop, then maybe-- wait...he'd almost had a thought--

The world stopped moving. Frodo opened his eyes to see the narrow confines of the torture chamber steadying around him. Here? Frodo gasped in a shuddering breath and cowered against the floor. "No," he choked out. The flickering torchlight threw an orange glow over the spikes and gears of dozens of cast-iron machines rising to tremendous heights above him. The walls beyond held a horrific collection of restraints of all sizes, dangling like the legs of a lifeless spider. They were all made for dealing with creatures bigger and harder than he. He stared at the closest machine with morbid fascination. He could see where his arms would be held, but it was far too long to hold his legs in the iron manacles at the bottom. And what would those big gears do once the orcs figured out how to strap a hobbit in them? It seemed worse not knowing.
Why was he here again? Were they still questioning him? Hadn't they done yet? Frodo shook his head to clear it, feeling a feverish dizziness slide over him. The draught had cured that. So why was he ill? Where was Sam? Hadn't Rosie just--
"Where did you come from, filthy little rat?" A blade shot out in front of Frodo so close that he barely stifled a shriek. "Groveling in the dirt won't save you. Stand up like an orc." A clawed hand reached out to grab him and pull him to his feet. Frodo's legs gave way. "Oh, you won't last one day here." The hand dropped him. "Tell us your name and maybe...we'll be gentle," he sneered.
"Or maybe we won't," spoke out another guttural voice that Frodo barely understood. The face was too far away to make out in the half-light. "What's your name, filth?" Their dark shapes swam before his eyes. Frodo tried not to look at them. Bile rose up in his throat. "How did you get here? Who cut loose your bindings?" As the horrible voice echoed around the chamber, Frodo buried his head in his hands. Always more questions... endless threats...and the pressure to give in, to tell them anything, something to make them go away. Would he give in this time?
NO! They mustn't know Sam is out there. They mustn't know about the Ring. I can't say a word. Not even Baggins, which they surely know by now. They will use anything I say against me, and against Sam-- anything!
Time rolled over him blearily as they kept at him. He tried to disappear. He was quiet for so long that he would forget...until they made him remember. The blade somehow always surprised him. No rest, no sleep. Fear and curses. So many questions, over and over again. The blades, the eyes and their cursing and threatening. He tried to let the words slide over him, but they stuck somehow, and cut into his imagination, forcing him to see the terrible future they planned for him-- bones sliced from flesh, skin peeled away, screams layered in the air like blankets on a sleeping child in winter...sleeping--

--like Sam's Elanor. Frodo felt his mind drifting. No, not now. She's a baby now. Later. He smiled light-headedly at the image of a beautiful, blue-eyed hobbit child tucked in her warm bed, glossy golden-hair spilling over the pillow. How old will she be then? Four. She was asking her dad about him. "Fwodo of the Wing," she called him--


Frodo closed his eyes and rested his head against the cold stone, feeling better for the brief vision. Let the orcs do their worst; he was done with it. It was better for everyone if he just disappeared; somehow it would all go on without him. He breathed in deep, slow breaths. Everything was so quiet. Had the orcs given up so soon?
Relief seeped into him and brought a curious weightlessness with it. I'm done with the questioning. Now I just have to wait for Sam again. He opened his eyes to see the night settled around him. The red glow of the Eye filled the stone chamber, washing him with a bloody tint that somehow looked right on his skin. He wanted to give up, but he knew Sam was coming. How did he know that? A puzzled frown settled between his eyebrows. He'd been here before. How many times? His mind was a cloudy vacuum with no answers. His eyes slowly closed. He must just wait. Wait for Sam. Again. Oh, how many times must I wait--

Now Frodo opened his eyes to see grayness and little else. The world had moved under him again. Fog hovered in the air, infused with a glow of light that seemed...familiar somehow. He was on a dock, standing and looking out on the misty ocean. The rolling, dark blue water seemed to stretch on forever ahead, like the road that Bilbo always sang about. It ran up on the shoreline behind him, then pulled back into the deep, always rolling back in, always taking more as it pulled out. But soon, it would give. Soon, his Sam would come, and the part of his heart that had stood empty for so long would be filled again. A smile lit his face, even as he sighed deeply.
He was always waiting for Sam. He would go on standing vigil until nightfall, until Gandalf came to guide him away with the kind words, "Hope is a balm for any wound, Frodo, and in your case, it is needful. He will come." How peaceful it seemed. Frodo took a deep breath and the world twisted violently--

Then it was still. Frodo's eyes were again closed and he screwed them up tighter, gasping for another breath. Agony-- oh, agonizing fire searing his shoulder! He curled into a knot, slowly realizing that he was being poisoned again. It crept through him, shockingly icy now, locking his muscles as it flowed until he was rigid with pain. He could hear her huge mass dragging closer, breathing with a hiss. There was a bubbling sound and horrible, hot saliva fell on his neck. She. He could feel the venom in her thoughts invading his mind, spewing hatred and darkness. The Ring crowed malevolently in return. They batted his mind back and forth until Frodo was drowned in a current of hatred, completely at the mercy of their poisonous streams of thought. He went to scream, but he could no more scream than he could stop the horrible legs from feeling him, from scratching over his hair, mauling his clothing, tearing away at the evil around his neck. He sucked sand into his mouth and blew it out one last time, realizing as they told him that this...was his last breath as Ringbearer. Immediately, Frodo's muscles failed him in a rolling faint. His eyes closed just before his head dropped to the sand. His lungs were still. The thud of his racing heart quieted. But he could still feel them hating, triumphing over him, over his dying body.
He heard yelling, from somewhere far away, stretching out of meaning...
Her breathing over him...
Death came silently, slowly. If only he could see Sam one last time-- but he was so dizzy again--


"Why are you here, little rat?" Frodo jerked and his head hit stone. He was sitting up. The dark, shapeless orcs towered above him. He was alive, but he was worse off than dead. Frodo hunched his naked form over and kept silent. His neck was still throbbing. How long had he been here? Had he said anything? Was this real?
"Still nothing to say?"
"He needs his tongue loosened."
"There's a nice pick over there with teeth the size of his fingers. We could run him through real slow. Shred off his hands." Frodo clenched his eyes shut.
"And his feet. Don't need those anymore."
"Gar! And then try to watch him slide away from us. He wouldn't get far. And wouldn't he be funny-- more like a little maggoty worm than a rat, you might say."
"How does that sound, little rat?" Frodo couldn't prevent a miserable whimper from escaping. "Then answer the question!" The roar was so close to his ear that he flinched and covered his head. Hands grabbed at him, jerking him up. He kicked and struck out madly at the hands. The machine-- they were heading for the machine! He was thrown in the seat, and his hands seized roughly. They laid him back and tightened the manacles to hold his hands out to the side. Frodo stopped fighting. This was madness--
"I said ANSWER THE QUESTION!" Tears of pain gathered in Frodo's eyes. His eardrums spasmed as a numbness stole away the small sounds around him. What had he been thinking of earlier, to drive away the fear?
Sam. Ah yes, Sam.
"Who set you free?" Frodo inclined his head away slightly. "Her majesty did a fair number on you but you were cut free. Who did the cuttin'?" Sam. Don't tell them about Sam. "I said WHO?"
A clawed hand slammed down on Frodo's bare chest. His breath left him. A knife slid up to his throat, surprising him again. "We have days for pain, little one. Long days of endless screams and blood-letting ahead of us. We'll just leave you and let you think about it." Long nails scratched at the thin skin on his chest. Frodo finally managed a painful breath.
"Tomorrow we'll start here. Break the bones one by one. You won't even want to be breathing then, if you don't tell us what we want to know." Horrible eyes leered down at him. Frodo did his best to shut them out. These orcs would learn nothing from him. He was too weak to take much. Death would come quickly. The thought seemed a blessing to him.
They left him there for some indeterminate amount of time, stretched on the machine, helpless. The darkness came early and slowly wiped away the vision of his dirty, bruised body. He spent long hours drifting on waves of sleep and poisoned dreams...

Slowly Frodo began to stir on his bed. His bed? Poisoned dreams. Yes. It was the only answer. The only answer to why there were three worlds open to him at once. Frodo opened his eyes. In his mind, the past, the present and the future all blurred together in one seamless, drifting consciousness. He could see starlight shining in the window, glowing brightly through the outline of a glaring orc brandishing a knife. No sound came from his gaping mouth.
The throbbing on Frodo's neck intensified as he turned his head slightly, but yes-- there it was, the sound of the waves lapping on the shore, a distant shore he had never been to before. A vision given, perhaps for hope, as Gandalf had said, something to ease the dark hours.
Beneath the covers, his hand was also aching. He brought it out and rubbed it thoroughly, wishing Sam were here to ease it. But he must be safely in bed now. Looking down, Frodo saw the way the scar had formed over where his finger had been, a clean, smooth nub now. As he held the hand up, the starlight seemed to make it glow. Then the pain flared in his shoulder and icy numbness stole over him. He rolled over on his side, dread clenching his stomach.
The orc strode forward, every step pounding that world into being around Frodo until he saw only dank darkness and felt cold stone underneath his bare skin again. The orc found his voice and screamed at him words that slurred together unendingly. Somewhere beyond the red glare of the window, the sound of waves slowly faded, and Frodo's tears fell as silent as the tomb.

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