Chapter XXV: Mount Doom

Part One

In that moment, several things happened at once. Something struck Sam violently in the back, his legs were knocked from under him and he was flung aside, striking his head against the stony floor, as a dark shape sprang over him. He lay still and for a moment all went black.

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And far away, as Frodo put on the Ring and claimed it for his own, even in Sammath Naur the very heart of his realm, the Power in Barad-dur was shaken, and the Tower trembled from its foundations to its proud and bitter crown. The Dark Lord was suddenly aware of him, and his Eye piercing all shadows looked across the plain to the door that he had made; and the magnitude of his own folly was revealed to him in a blinding flash, and all the devices of his enemies were at last laid bare. Then his wrath blazed in consuming flame, but his fear rose like a vast black smoke to choke him. For he knew his deadly peril and the thread upon which his doom now hung.

From all his policies and webs of fear and treachery, from all his stratagems and wars his mind shook free; and throughout his realm a tremor ran, his slaves quailed, and his armies halted, and his captains suddenly steerless, bereft of will, wavered and despaired. For they were forgotten. The whole mind and purpose of the Power that wielded them was now bent with overwhelming force upon the Mountain. At his summons, wheeling with a rending cry, in a last desperate race there flew, faster than the winds, the last remaining Nazgul, the Ringwraiths, and with a storm of wings they hurtled southwards to Mount Doom.

And Gollum grappled with Frodo on the edge of the abyss, fighting like a mad thing with an unseen foe. To and fro he swayed, now so near the brink that almost he tumbled in, now dragging back, falling to the ground, rising, and falling again. And all the while he hissed but spoke no words.

The fires below awoke in anger, the red light blazed, and all the cavern was filled with a great glare and heat. And then Gollum was cast down, and a voice rang out in that cavern, and spake words of dominion, swollen with a power beyond their natural state.

“Be still, you who are vile and accursed! Did I not say that if you laid hands on me again that you yourself should be cast into the fires of Orodruin? See now, base and worthless wretch, that thy doom is at hand!”

And Gollum crawled backward in fear, his face wet with tears, and as he went his hand slipped upon the edge of the precipice. Silent he fell, down into the flames he went, and uttered not a cry, and was no more.

Still wearing the Ring Frodo left that place, seeing not the fallen body of his faithful servant, and stepped out through the door of the Sammath Naur and beheld the land of Mordor beneath him. Looking up he saw the cloud of gloom dissipating, and through it on swift wings came Gwaihir, strongest and swiftest of all the Eagles of the Mountains, and the Lord of his kind. But even as he flew he was assailed, for behind came a brace of Ringwraiths on their fell steeds, and with tooth and claw and sword they came upon the great bird, and they smote him and cast him down in ruin. Then with haste they came unto Mount Doom, and alighting from their mounts they bowed themselves low before him.

“Hail Master,” they hissed, and Frodo perceived their true forms. Clad in pale armour they were, and with pale crowns upon their brows and white swords girt at their sides. Then kneeling before him, they removed their crowns and placed them on the ground before him. “Hail Lord of the Ring. We are glad to see you before us, wise one. See now your domain, this land before you that is yours to command as you will, and all therein. For you need only but say the word and it shall be so done according to your purposes.”

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And the son of Drogo looked over the plain of Gorgoroth, and as he looked he saw instead Lothtaleth, the Plain of Flowers, and it was lush and green and fertile, with many farms and pastures and townships. And there instead of Barad-dur he beheld Minas Sael, the Tower of Wisdom. For a wise lord would he be, kind in mercy and generous in justice. And he would take counsellors to guide him, Bilbo and Gandalf, whom he could trust. Aragorn would be his stalwart ally upon the throne of Gondor, and together they would bring peace and order to all the lands of Middle-Earth. And if not, then the armies of justice he would summon to the Banner of Frodo the Wise, and Aragorn would be corrected of his error. But even in victory he would be just toward his old friend and guide, still holding him in a place of high honour, though he would not be permitted to roam about the land, for dissent might he sow, and discontent among his citizens. Even Elrond Halfelven would see the wisdom of his course, for the Lord of Imladris was one of far vision and sight, and would surely see that this was for the betterment of Middle-Earth. As for Sam, his most loyal and faithful servant, his place would be high indeed, a chief among the members of his court, and highest among the Companions of Frodo the Wise. Ever would he be generous to those most loyal to him, as most certainly Samwise ever had been..

“Sam…” Even as his thoughts turned to his friend, Frodo turned and beheld one of the Nazgul at the door of the Sammath Naur, and even as he looked, by some foul art the Wraith brought down the mantle thereof and the entrance to the Chamber was destroyed.

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In wrath Frodo turned, eyes blazing and with a wheel of fire upon his finger he pointed at the Nazgul, and spake unto him, “Already you betray thy Lord! You, who but moments before laid down thine crown at my feet! Accursed are you for an Oathbreaker. I shall have naught of thee! Begone, and trouble my land no more.”

Then speaking to the other who yet stood by him, Frodo commanded and the Ringwraith drew his pale sword and smote the one that had destroyed the door. And the Wraith who had wrought the destruction upon the door resisted not, nor drew his own sword, but fell upon his knees and received the blow. And Frodo saw the spirit of that Wraith depart his body, and rising as a mist sped east, and drew nigh unto the Tower of Barad-dur.

In that moment, seeing once again the Dark Tower, Frodo understood the weight of his folly at last. For he could now feel the presence of the Master of the Ring drawing near, and Frodo knew there could be no escape. Nevertheless he summoned the remaining Nazgul, the last of the Nine who yet held physical form upon Middle-Earth and had not been reduced to impotency, and together they went upon the hell-hawk of the Wraith. But even as it was about to stretch forth its wings, Frodo felt in his mind a command whispered: “Be still.” And he could not move.

For the red light in the pinnacle of Barad-dur had gone out, and the dread of the Dark Lord had departed that place. The fell banners atop the battlements of that Tower rustled and gusted in the force of a great wind, and the mountain of Orodruin shook as though its very foundations were being broken and torn asunder. And the sunlight that had begun to shine through the gloom of that day withered and died as flowers on an old branch cut off and cast aside. But the heart of Frodo steeled itself and he found himself stiffening, as if for a final spring; for he was no helpless prey that would go quietly into the night with nary a whimper to mark its passing. He was Frodo Baggins of Bag End; Leader of the Fellowship of the Free Peoples; Chief Elf-Friend; Truest of Kind-hearted Folk; and Lord of the RIng; and he would not relinquish that which was his by right and bow to this fallen spirit, however mighty they may be, for defiance now sprung forth in his heart, and valiance also, and the wheel of fire glowed brightly upon his finger, and from his eyes there seemed to shine a pale light, as fierce and radiant as the starlight in the dark night above the shore of Cuevienin at the wakening of the Eldar, and Frodo was not afraid of any that may oppose him, be they bird or beast; Man or Elf; fell Demon or high Maiar; he would face them all and prevail.

And Sauron came.

Part Two

With a great effort and at the cost of many lives Aragorn broke the encirclement to the west. And then having gathered together all the horses that yet remained on the hill, forth rode Glorfindel and Boromir and Gandalf, and as many who could yet ride, two upon each horse they went, for their need was great. But they did not turn to face the hosts of Mordor, but rode away west, out of the Morannon they fled.

For at the behest of Aragorn they went, that they might rally together as many of Middle-Earth that could yet bear a sword, and draw as one the strength of Men and the Eldar, and the sons of Aule, the Dwarves, if they yet lived in their halls of stone. And if not by the strength of Elves and Men, then out of the West must they look to for such hope as may yet remain. So Gandalf yielded to the requests of Aragorn, and Glorfindel went also to make beseechments before the Eldar, and likewise Boromir for Men, and Merry went with him. Then they gathered all as yet could be saved, such Rohirrim and Knights of the White Tower as could ride well and hard, but the Dunedain refused to leave, swearing then an oath that they should live and die by the side of their King.

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And so with great haste went those four south, and with them came three score horses bearing with them twice as many men, who even as they rode cast off armour and gear to ride all the lighter and swifter. And they did not stop until they reached the garrison of Cair Andros, resting only to save the horses from utter exhaustion. But by fortune or fate, or some other grace, they were preserved, all that number that rode from Morannon, and all their horses with them.

But as for them that remained, backwards were the Men of the West driven, past the reeking moat that marked the boundary of the slag heaps before the Towers of Teeth, and there they held back their foes for a time, and stood. Then all the hosts of Mordor swarmed against them, and they bridged the waters with their dead, and encircled the remnant of the West as a gathering tide about a rock. And there as the sun began to sink on that day, Legolas was pierced by an arrow and died. All the valiant men there on that hill were overcome, until at last Aragorn stood alone, surrounded by the bodies of the Dunedain, and by his side had fallen Elladan and Elrohir last of all, the sons of Elrond Halfelven, for they has cast themselves between Elessar and blows that otherwise would surely have seen his death.

And it is sung that as Aragorn stood last he took the broken sword of Anduril, and with it he hewed at all who came near. And each time he slew he uttered the words of his far-kinsman: “Aure entuluva! Day shall come again!” But the men of the Easterlings would not draw near him, such was the nobility with which he bore himself, and the honour with which he still fought, and the ferocity of his strokes, but the Orcs ever renewed in number until at last they overbore him and fell upon him, and he was slain.

Then by great labour of the Orcs, all the bodies and gear of the Host of the West were heaped in a pile before the Black Gate. And the bodies of their Captains they hung from the ramparts thereof, elevated by rope and spear in cruel mockery of their station.

But it is also sung that such was not the fate of Elessar, last King of Gondor. For by stealth the men of the Easterlings came and slew the guards who stood by his body, and they bare it away in secrecy and haste. And that night swift riders of their own Lord took him east and Aragorn was buried among the princes of the East, with every honour they could grant bestowed upon him.

And the Elf-stone that lay upon his breast was taken to the eastern shores of a distant sea that was on the far reaches of the land of Rhun. On the banks of a bay in that sea it was brought, where the stars sing upon that silent mere. There it was taken by the Lord of Rhun himself, and he buried it in that place, and there it remained forever under the starlight of that land, until the renewing of the world.

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