Written for the June 2011 “Mid-summer Night’s Dream” LOTR Gen Fic Community Challenge. My element was “My heart is true as steel.”
Frodo started having darker dreams once Bilbo left. This particular summer night he found himself far from the Shire in a black night devoid of stars. Sharp stones cut his feet. The wind blew harsh against his skin. In the far distance, he could see a wheel of fire burning. He shivered in an air that was chill in a way that he knew somehow unrelated to the actual temperature, a chill that went into his heart and even deeper. He wished to be away, but he could not move. At first he was glad he could not, for if he could not go backward as he desired, he also could not move forward, toward that terrible wheel that burned bright and large that he knew he must go, toward his doom.
It was in this alien land that Frodo heard a clear voice, though he sensed no other presence. "My heart is true as steel." He marveled to realize it was his own and wondered what it meant.
And as strong, came another voice he heard only within his heart.
What does it mean? Frodo asked.
You will know when the time comes.
With those words, a single star shone bright above him. Frodo stared at it for a long time, comforted by it until his otherwise disturbing and puzzling dream fled as the dawn came.
* * *
It was many years later that the hobbit saw the nightmare landscape with his waking eyes, saw the bloody footprints his steps left behind him, felt the wind pull at his curls and orc rags, felt the ash in his parched mouth and throat. The reality was far worse than his dream, but he was not alone this time as his faithful Sam trudged along beside him, leaving his own bloody prints. Frodo looked at them and would have wept if he could have.
"Remember that dream you told me about, Mr. Frodo?" his gardener and guardian asked. "That one about you saying your heart being as true and strong as steel?"
The Ring-bearer nodded, his head bowed toward the earth by the terrible weight of his burden. "Only because of you, dear Sam," he croaked out. "Only because of you," he repeated softer and more wearily.
Sam knew that was both true and false so was not going to argue, only watched his master struggle to take one step, then another, clutching at his clothing where the Ring lay underneath. The younger hobbit stared blackly at where that fell object was, tearing apart the most true of all hearts. He muttered something under his breath that Frodo smiled slightly at. The Ring-bearer wanted to tease his beloved friend for using such a word, but he had not the strength. He took one more step before he collapsed face down and moved no further.
Sam carefully turned his master over and placed his hand gently over that beloved, laboring heart, and listened to the ragged breathing.
"As true as steel," he murmured, kissing Frodo's filthy forehead. He took his treasure fully into his arms then to wait out the true night.
* * *
After the Ring was destroyed, the words in Frodo's dream came back to torment him.
"I did not remain true," he said softly.
"And why do you think you did not, my dear hobbit?" came another voice just as soft.
Frodo startled and looked up at his smiling visitor, unaware he was no longer alone or that he had spoken aloud. He looked away again.
"I did not remain true," the Ring-bearer repeated.
He paused for a long time, but Gandalf knew his friend well enough that all he had to do was be patient enough until Frodo was ready to continue.
"I had a dream about Mordor long before I came there. I heard myself say 'My heart is true as steel', but it wasn't. Not at the end. Not when it had to be the most. Sam's heart was far truer than mine."
Gandalf smiled further, though Frodo did not see it. "And where do you think he got his strength to be so? Your fidelity to your task was his inspiration to be true to his - and that was to be true to you as you kept faith with all Middle-earth. You kept that as far as your will and strength could carry you."
"Not far enough. It failed when it was most needed."
"No, it went exactly as far as was needed." Gandalf gently brought Frodo's chin up so the Ring-bearer looked up at him with tormented eyes. The hidden Maia smiled once more. "You must understand, my most beloved and stubborn hobbit, that no created heart could have withstood what you could not then. I fear we placed an impossible burden upon you when we thought you were to be both Ring-bearer and Ring-destroyer. But you were not, and because you had remained true to the one who was to be that destroyer, you and he were able to accomplish what you were both chosen to do. Do not blame yourself, my dear friend. You did more than we almost dared to hope. You did remain true. Do not ever think you did not."
Frodo looked into his friend's warm and loving eyes for a long time, wanting to believe. He was silent, then looked away again. "All I can hear is the words I said at the Fire, what Sam told me I said. He would not lie."
"No, he would not. And neither am I now."
Frodo remained silent, thoughtfully considering his friend’s words.
* * *
The first night Frodo stood on the deck of the ship bearing him to his new home. The warm wind played through his curls and the light of the setting sun sparkled in the water. He thought again of his dream, tormented still by his failure in fidelity and unable as yet to understand the other words in the dream about being strong as steel.
"But I wasn't," he murmured to himself. "I am as broken by Sauron's might as Narsil was, useless to anyone now."
Narsil was still treasured even in its brokenness, came the same Voice Frodo had heard in his dream. And it was remade even stronger.
Frodo looked up from the water. The sky was ablaze with colors. Its beauty took his breath away and slowly settled deep within him. "Flame of the West," he murmured, trying to put words to the magnificent scene before him.
Just so, and it will be the West that will smother the flame of the East that still burns within you.
Frodo remained on deck as the sunset continued to deepen, then faded. For the first time he truly believed the same could happen to him. The burning that continued to consume him would one day no longer.