The Council assembled in one of the many atriums of Imladris; those of us who considered the movements of the Shadow would do so in the light. For the elves, we had myself, Beren, and my father; Elrond, who was master of the proceedings. Also Erestor, his counselor and acting scribe, and Galdor of the Gray Havens, who had come on an errand of Cirdan the Shipwright. Legolas stood in the stead of his father and lord, Thranduil of the Wood Elves. No kind words were exchanged between him and Beren.
For the dwarves there was Gloin of Erebor and his son Gimli. They were alike in manner and dress, studded as if for battle and of stern mien. Gimli was distinguished by his youth, a beard without silver or grey, and by the deference he showed his father which was a testament to the manners of their line. They greeted Gandalf warmly, and it appeared that Gloin and Bilbo had shared a heartfelt reunion, for the only affection he displayed was for the hobbits. Frodo and Sam withdrew as well they could, overshadowed by all these kings and princes.
All knew Aragorn, and welcomed him, and he remained close to my side. The only true stranger among us was Boromir, first son of the steward of Gondor. He was tall and fair, with hard grey eyes and a haughty mouth that betrayed all his opinions before he spoke them. His gold brown hair was shorn at his shoulder, where it met a silver collar in which a white stone was set. This was the only sign of his station, for his cloak was raw and travel stained, except for his baldric and the horn settled in it, tipped as it was with silver, heavy with age and meaning.
Elrond made a motion for Erestor that we were to begin. "I thank you all for your swift answers to my summons, and welcome you again to Imladris, by some called the Last Homely House East of the Sea. All of you have some idea of why we are here, carrying some piece of our puzzle with you, but I know none of you possess all the pieces. It is necessary for me to present you with an outline before Gandalf and the others tell their tales."
There were murmurs of agreement, and Elrond went on.
"Dark tidings from the south, the north, the east; everywhere that the voice of Sauron once was heard, it has been heard again. This is not the first such stirring, for the Dark Lord rarely sleeps and is always plotting since his great failure in the last age, but there is an urgency in these doings that we have never known before. For the Dark Lord senses, and we now know, that the object he has long desired is found again. His greatest treasure, his Ring, is among us here."
This caused a great reaction and required further explanation, for the understanding of the Rings of Power was one thing for Elves and another for mortals, both humans and dwarves. Elrond patiently answered the questions of Boromir and Gimli in regards to the Rings, for such things were little more than rumor and myth to them who had not yet lived a century. The whole tale was told, for our kind does not hurry and errs on the side of completeness. From the seduction of the Elves of Eregion to the corruption of mortal kings and the deaths of dwarven lords in the gullets of dragons, and finally to the battle of the Dagorlad, where Isildur cut the Ring from the hand of Sauron and took it as his prize rather than see it destroyed, our history was retold.
Boromir was overwhelmed with wonder to hear these things from one who had born witness, for my father had played his own part in those times, born as he was before the fall of Morgoth, whose dread power had made Sauron appear a mincing imp. Long had he fought the Shadow before my birth, and before my mother went to the West. Those were different days.
Though I had heard the tale before, and read the old scrolls myself, I listened with different ears this time. Why was it that Celebrimor had preserved only the Elven rings from Sauron's touch, if he so suspected him? Why was it that no Dwarf Lords, in their halls of stone, had risen as wraiths in service to the Shadow? Why, knowing the danger and power of the rings, had we forged no wonders to rival them since the death of Celebrimor? Surely, there had been other smiths since his time. Why did our race refuse to advance, and instead only faded with the passing of years?
When everyone understood the significance of our meeting, Gloin added to the narrative with the doings of his own realm.
"A rider came to us not long ago, black cloak upon a black horse, speaking in a fell voice over the rampart. He spoke of a trinket that his master desired as a token of friendship from us, a sign that there was no ill will between Erebor and Mordor. A ring he asked for, and we did not know it for the One. But he came to us because he had heard of the part a little person played in the reclaiming of our kingdom, and it was a little person who had been in possession of the trinket."
"We sent him away, saying we needed to discuss it among ourselves. When he returned he hissed threats at us, and we begged off again. So he left, but his third visit was the final one, and when we did not agree to aid him in the search, he swore the enmity of Angmar was ours henceforth, as if it had not always been.
"That was the work of Gollum," Aragorn said. "Whatever half truths they managed to pry from that piteous beast sent them to your door."
This led to talk of all that Aragorn had already shared with me, with one addition. Gollum had escaped the dungeons of Thranduil. Legolas was clearly embarrassed by the episode, but there were no recriminations. I had to wonder whether this was the same jail Bilbo and his companions had broken free of on their quest for the Lonely Mountain, and if so, perhaps the Wood Elves needed to reconsider their methods of confinement. They hadn't succeeded in recapturing Gollum, and his whereabouts were unknown.
"It is not the last we will see of that creature," Mithrandir said, "for his doom is tied up with the Ring, and so with all of us."
"This is all strange to me," Boromir said, "for I came here knowing nothing of this Gollum, or of the Ring, but I say to you now that in Gondor we have never stopped fighting, and we need your help. That is why I am here. Swords and spears are needed against the forces of Mordor, for they are on the move."
"Such help as we can give," Elrond said, "I do not know if you would welcome it."
"Nonsense," Mithrandir tapped the ground with his staff to forestall more questions. "It is time, Aragorn Son of Arathorn, after all these long years, for you to come in from the wilds. A crown awaits you."
"A crown?" Sam asked, perhaps thinking of the ranger who had betrayed us. "For him?"
"What are you on about?" Boromir didn't like that his plea had been deflected. "Who is this man to me?"
Aragorn had a way of standing, of hiding himself from the eyes of other men, though never my eyes. With hardly a shrug he transformed from a ranger, an outcast, into the last of the line of the Dunedain, the men who had mingled with elves. His gaze was not arrogant, but magnanimous. He did not despise Boromir for his ignorance.
"I carry Narsil, the sword that was broken," he said, "passed down from son to son since the time of the Last Alliance of Elves and Men. Isildur and Elendil were my forefathers, and if the Grey Wanderer says it is the hour of my birthright, and Elrond agrees, then I will take up my own name again. Long I have walked in the woods as Strider, a ranger only, but soon no more."
"There was a prophecy about reforging of the blade," Bilbo said, musing as if to himself. "Reforged, the sword that was broken, and the crownless again shall be king..."
"The Ringbearer is here among us," Mithrandir said. "No need for the song as well. The time has indeed come for the reforging of the sword."
"I did not come here for legends or a king," Boromir said flatly, "but for spears and shields upon our walls."
"No number of swords or shields will avail you when the Dark Lord comes from out Mount Doom," Mithrandir said. "The Ring must be dealt with."
"It is just a ring," Boromor was exasperated.
"How do we know that it is the One?" Legolas asked. Galdor, speaking for the first time, joined him in the question.
At this, Elrond had a brazier brought into the atrium. After some urging, Frodo produced the Ring and held it by its chain among the orange red coals.
"What's this," Boromir said, "a parlor trick?"
"No trick," Mithrandir replied, "a terror."
In short order the Ring began to glow, not from heat, but from the elvish script that appeared along its round surface. The script was phonetic, the rhyme itself being orcish. Gandalf spoke the words first in that harsh tongue, and then in the common one.
"One ring to rule them all,
one ring to find them,
one ring to bring them all,
and in the darkness, bind them."
Almost inaudible, Bilbo gave a litany. "In the land of Mordor, where shadows lie." His face was strained when he looked upon the Ring, and finally he covered his eyes with his hands so he would not have to see his companion of old. Frodo held it out for all to observe until the lettering ceased to burn and he returned it to around his neck. Through all of this, I was observing myself more closely than the Ring. It did draw the eye as a marvel, but I felt no tug of dominion. My heart beat faster, but not as fast as it would beat for Aragorn. I was struck again by how little the Wise understood of this thing. It was not as dangerous as they thought, at least not out of the hands of the Dark Lord.
"I spent many months searching for answers among crumbling scrolls," Mithrandir said. "For I did not want to believe, and in believing, required confirmation. The words I have just uttered were written in the hand of Isildur, in the records of old Gondor I found them. He spoke of how the Ring had glowed upon the hand of Sauron, which was always burning, and all else is in a line. It is a Ring of Power, but it is unadorned. Thus it can only be the Great Ring, or one of the lesser attempts that were made in Eregion before the art was mastered. Bu only the Great Ring was so inscribed, and so we are here, as the age turns."
"If it is so great," Boromir said, "then it should be used in the defense of Gondor. We should use the weapons of the darkness against the darkness."
"No," Elrond said, "that cannot be."
"It is too tempting," I said, seeing the gleam of imagination in Boromir's eye. "You have not ever touched it, and already it presents itself to you as a solution. Remember the fate of the Nine when you think of taking up the Ring, or allowing another to do so." The thought of it set upon the finger of a man like Boromir kindled anger in my gut. It was not for the likes of him
"Then what can be done with it?" Gloin said. "I hate to look on the thing, for it reminds me of the dragon sickness I have seen with my own eyes. Why don't you put it to the anvil? Surely, you elves have hammer and tongs hidden somewhere in this bright house?"
"It cannot be destroyed that way," Beren said. "Not by the hand of Elf or man. Not by the wisdom of Elrond, or the strength of Gloin. It can only be destroyed by the fires that made it, those that hunger in the heart of Mount Doom."
My father looked upon Beren with respect, and nodding to him, took up the narrative. "It is true, we have no art here sufficient to unmake the prize of Sauron. We must either hide it, or keep it, or take it back to the fires of its creation."
Boromir struggled with his own tongue here, but remained silent.
"Why don't we keep it here?" Frodo asked. "Where could it be safer?"
My father shook his head, the circlet he wore as heavy as an iron. "We could keep it, for a time, but Sauron already knows that it is with us, and he has ringed the forest with winged spies to carry news should it be moved. The war that is coming would lead to a great siege, and such power as I have would soon be overrun if the whole world was not ranged against him on our side. With axe and fire would they attack the wood..." Here he faltered, as if it were too painful a thing to think upon.
"What if the whole world was arrayed?" Boromir asked, hope bright upon his brow. "Gondor would surely come to your defense against the Enemy, and Rohan too."
"Rohan is not what it once was," Aragorn said, and I saw a glance from Mithrandir in agreement. What had happened among the people of the horse?
"Then bring the Ring to Gondor, and let us face his ire!"
"It would not be safe there," Mithrandir said. "It is a burden, not a boon. If you believe it can be used against the Enemy, then the Enemy has already won the battle for your soul."
I felt a brush of cold, like a breeze, upon my shoulder, and against my wrist where my secret lay hidden.
"If men cannot be trusted," Gloin said slowly, "why not other races? Dwarves are not as fickle as men?"
"What is that?" Boromir's hand stetched unconsciously for his sword.
Mithrandir tapped his staff again, louder. "No. We cannot go that way. Dwarves were taken by their rings, they did not take them freely, just as men were taken. Whosoever takes up the Ring will be taken in accordance with the weakness native to their kind. The dwarven rings were used to amass vast treasures that founded the seven families, but those treasures were lost amid betrayal and strife. Each ring appears as a gift, but it is a gift harboring far greater tragedy, and the One Ring is the most terrible of all, not least because it makes itself appear the greatest gift."
"If we cannot keep it, can it not be hidden?" I asked. "Centuries have passed since Isildur lost the Ring, and the Dark Lord has been no closer to finding it than he is in this moment. It seems he cannot scry it unless it is used, and otherwise he must search like the rest of us."
"To hide it," Gandalf said, "I'm afraid we would have to forget. Even if only one of us knew where it was hidden, that one would be a chink in the armor of ignorance for the Enemy to pierce."
"More than that," Elrond added, "the Ring would not want to be hidden. Now that its master is awake, it would seek itself to be found."
"What if we dropped it in the ocean?" Sam said, and then immediately regretted it, for the eyes of the Wise were upon him.
Mithrandir laughed gently. "A fair question, young hobbit, and deserving of an answer. If we could ferry the Ring to the waters of the West, and sink it in such a manner that we were sure it would never wash upon the shore, my mind would still not rest easy on the matter. There are monsters and kingdoms underneath the waves that mortals know not, and will never see. It is my fear that should the Ring be disposed of that way then by the power of Sauron we would come to see things strange and dreadful lifted from the waves in time."
"Oh," Sam said, and sank back as best he could.
I wondered at the explanation, for had not one of the precious Silmarils been tossed into the western waters? Of course, the Silmarils were not evil by their nature, so perhaps it was not a fair comparison.
"Cannot be hidden," Bilbo whispered, "cannot be kept. Under the rug, it cannot be swept. We have ourselves a riddle."
"A riddle indeed," Mithrandir said, "and with no simple answer. For if all we can do is destroy the Ring, that is no easy thing to agree, and less to accomplish. It must be cast into the fires of Mount Doom."
"Into the hands of the enemy!" Boromir could not restrain himself.
Legolas looked at the man of Gondor askance, but agreed with him in the main. "Of the three tests that have been offered, each has risks. It seems that the last offered is the most dangerous of all."
"There are not three choices," Beren said, “but only one, for only by one can the war be ended; all others are delays."
Boromir spun on him, "More riddles?"
Legolas looked interested. His eye had often been on Beren since the meeting began. "How do you mean?" he asked.
Beren touched the patch that covered a third of his face. "The wounds of the Enemy do not properly heal, and age onto age we sustain them. Then the Shadow rises again. We fight, we are wounded. Then the Shadow rises again. We can win a thousand years or a day, but one day we will lose, and Shadow will cover the world, unless the Ring is destroyed."
Mithrandir struck the ground with his staff a third time, and there was a higher note behind it like a chime. "I could not have said it better. Yes, my honorable friends, there is only one solution to the problem of the Ring, and all else is a delay. Either the Ring is destroyed, or we are, even should the war carry on another thousand years."
“I am of a mind with Beren,” Elrond said. “So the question becomes, how and whom do we send?"
It was clear from Boromir's expression that he knew he had been trapped. He was the only representative from the realms of men aside from Aragorn, who had always lived apart. His opinion had been heard and passed over. From the beginning, the Council had been more a presentation by Elrond and Gandalf than a debate. They had decided between them that the Ring must be destroyed. Though he was in no way their equal, they had played Boromir as a foil to defeat an argument they viewed as untenable. Boromir would not likely understand how neatly he had been maneuvered, but he saw victory was impossible.
"You don't just walk into Mordor," Boromoir said.
"Who among us," Gandalf intoned, "who not among us, would take up this burden, and our fear?"
This led to a debate where voices overran each other. Gloin was of the position that the Ring should be carried by a dwarf, for even if their own seven had brought their owners to greed they were still obviously more resilient of spirit than any human. Aragorn did not offer to carry it, but he suggested that he could were it properly wrapped and concealed. Boromir claimed he would not be swayed by any voice of Shadow, and insisted the Ring should be brought before the Steward of Gondor who should have rightfully served on this Council of the Wise.
Legolas did not want to hold the Ring, nor the other elves. Vilya, on my father's finger, was visible only to those of a sensitive nature. We had long had a respect for the Rings of Power that other races did not understand. Gandalf seemed to argue against everyone and everything, though the journey itself was at his urging, and I knew I would not volunteer to bear it myself. Because of what I had lived already, my father would not trust me with it. The version of Frodo's rescue I had shared with this council omitted the moment I wore the Ring, but those that mattered already imagined I could not be trusted. They might have been right.
"I will take it." Frodo's voice was as small as he was, and at first the argument continued.
"I will take the Ring!" He stepped forward, and his voice broke into shards that cut through the debate.
This is what Gandalf had been waiting for. "I will not ask you to face further danger than you already have."
Frodo steeled himself. "I will take it."
"Wait," Bilbo said. "You are too young. Let good old Bilbo carry it again. I had it for longer than anyone, and it will be no great loss if I am ruined by it now."
Elrond and Gandalf had a tremendous fondness for Bilbo, and this fondness was the only reason he was present at the council. Mithrandir shook his hoary head and laughed.
"There and Back Again," he said, "still needs an ending. You have had your journey already, my friend, and now the choice is beyond you."
"I will take it," Frodo repeated. "I think I am the only one who can."
"Halfling," Boromir said, disbelieving. I smiled.
Mithrandir was really quite transparent. "This will be a journey into danger," he said.
"From what I have heard here, we are all in danger."
Frodo really was the perfect pawn.
"How many should go with him?" I asked.
My father considered this, and we all waited. "Nine are those that pursued him here, so nine shall be the number that set out."
"My duty is to Gondor," Boromir said, "and I am needed in its defense, but I would accompany him as far as I am able."
"Then my sword as well," Aragorn said, "as it was carried by my forefathers. Narsil will sing at the side of a hobbit."
"And my bow," Legolas said.
"And my axe," Gimli volunteered after being kicked by his father.
Frodo looked to Mithrandir, surrounded as he was by strangers. "Won't you come with me, Gandalf."
"I will," the old man said, "for you will need a guide as well as mighty blades."
"And a friend!" Sam, overcoming his shyness, nearly leapt upon Frodo, seizing one arm and seemingly unwilling to let go, which brought laughter all around.
"That is seven," Elrond said, satisfied. "So I will send my sons, Elledan and Elrohir to complete the fellowship."
"You will not," I said.
The assembly regarded me with varying levels of surprise, for I had directly contradicted the lord of the house.
"I began this journey," I said, "and I will finish it, even should you forbid me."
Beren's gaze was cool, as was his voice. "As I watched her on that road, so would I watch on this one."
Elrond was silent a long moment, no doubt thinking on how well he knew me, and whether I would make good my threat to go alone. Considering the precedent, he had no choice but to assent.
"Very well, my daughter, you and Beren will go."
I turned to Aragorn, expecting happiness, but his noble features were grave and deeply absorbed. He had not wanted me to come.
Okay, so I'm just going to go into the whole thing.
I dropped out of high school, and a couple of years later I was in prison for robbing banks. It wasn't until I was in my twenties that I was diagnosed as bipolar and started seeking and participating in treatment and taking medication. After nearly 13 years in prison, I was granted a conditional pardon by the Governor of Virginia, and my sentence was reduced to time served.
While I was incarcerated, I was published by REED Magazine, CURA, and the Carolinian. My work appeared in several PEN Anthologies, and I was awarded seven different prizes in various categories by the PEN Prison Writing and Justice Program.
I'm currently working with Shadow Alley Press to publish my Gamelit novels, and I one day hope to be able to support myself through my writing. Until then, I work at Subway.