Author: Citrine

Nominator: Larner

2011 Award Category: Alternate Universe: Angst - First Place

Story Type: Story  ✧  Length: Short Story

Rating: Teen  ✧  Reason for Rating: Disturbing Imagery/Themes

Summary: This is the reason Frodo wanted to go alone into the Black Land: A dark, very unhappy AU one-shot, where Sam wanders, alone and lost, through the Emyn Muil, remembering absent friends, and learning the last, hardest lesson his Master ever taught him.

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Reviewed by: Kara's Aunty  ✧  Score: 10

Gosh, that was ... that was ... That was bleak, harsh and stunning. Honestly, it quite robbed me of breath, this supposition of what may have happened had Merry and Pippin accompanied Frodo and Sam into the Emyn Muil, instead of being captured by Saruman's orcs. What a difference their comapny may have made! When you killed off Pippin, I was stunned, but then Frodo, too - and at the Ring-addled Merry's hands! *shivers* I was completely speechless. The entire tone of this gritty fic was every bit as dark as the foreword alluded to. Poor Merry, losing his dearest friend. No wonder he was such an easy target for the Ring! Stricken with grief and seduced into believing the Ring could actually resurrect his dead cousin, it was heartbreaking to read of his rapid descent from privilige into madness, the climax of which (Frodo's death) was positively horrifying. At least he still retained some sense of self directly afterwards - enough to abandon the Ring which had robbed him of two of his kin (directly & indirectly). Not that it could possibly be any comfort to him. What impressed me most, though, was your handling of Sam throughout this. Dear, stalwart Sam. transformed from loyal friend and humble gardener to a careworn leader, a bitter tool of the Big Folk, determined to complete the Quest because his master would have expected it ... I say 'bitter' because Sam's resentment of Gandalf and all the Big Folk is apparent throughout the story (and not at all without cause). Gosh, I wouldn't like to be in Gandalf's shoes if Sam and Merry make it through the Quest and back to Minas Tirith. That Balrog would have nothing on Sam ... Yet ss anguished as he must have been at the loss of his master, Sam still found it in his heart to comfort the very person who had taken Frodo from him - or rather, from them both. And he did it because he knew Frodo would have wanted him too. And probably because, as the Ringbearer himself now, Sam finally understood the pity Frodo felt for Gollum because he finally understood the lure of the Ring, and what it had done to Merry. Anyway, I'm rambling now. What I really wanted to say was that this fic was powerful and very, very moving. By changing one small event in the Ring-War (Merry & Pippin eluding capture) you changed the whole outcome of the Quest. And the complete change in dynamic between Sam and Merry was no less breathtaking. Brilliant characterisation of all four hobbits, but especially the latter two. I thoroughly enjoyed this fic, dark though it was, and I would love to think you'd do a sequel. It would be fascinating to know how the Quest turned out from this point, if Sam and (what was left of) Merry managed to destroy the Ring, or if the Quest failed sans Frodo and Gollum. Excellently done, Kara's Aunty

Author response: My apologies for taking so long to get around to this, but thanks for this review! It's very flattering to me that you think it deserves a sequel...but the amount of angst and despair I'd have to muster all over again at this late date would probably kill me. If Tolkien's ghost didn't manifest and beat the snot out of me first.

Reviewed by: Larner  ✧  Score: 10

In many ways this is an AU story intended to tear at the heart. What would have happened if only not only Sam but also Merry and Pippin had divined where it was that Frodo would go after the struggle with Boromir at Amon Hen? If they, too, had seen the Elven boat begin to slip out into the water of the lake above Rauros, and included themselves in the party heading east to the Emyn Muil? What happens is the height of tragedy, as Gollum takes advantage of the doze he who was supposed to be on guard slips into and bites the guard’s shoulder. Gollum receives what is perhaps his due, and too soon after the worst happens—only to be followed by even worse still. How does Sam feel as he leads his remaining companion on, searching for a safe way down off the ledge where the two of them find themselves apparently stuck, grieving for all that has been lost due to that lying bit of gold whose treachery he’s now seen fully at work? And how will all unroll if they find their way down to the Dead Marshes below? A horrifyingly fascinating might-have-been, and one that could so easily have come to be. Citrene was surprised that I chose to nominate it, but I do believe that this is one that truly deserves to be recognized for its insight and emotional impact. Definitely a story that should be read by all, and with a box of tissues to hand.

Author response: Thank you so much for this very kind review, and for nominating 'Worth' in the first place. When I wrote it so long ago, I never expected for anyone to give it a second look, much less nominate it for anything. So, really, truly...thanks:-)

Reviewed by: The Lauderdale  ✧  Score: 10

[Warning: Short, dark, ugly, sad. Bad things happen to good Hobbits. Not for the soft-hearted.] That's the warning, but it isn't enough. I'm not sure any warning really could be. This story is not graphic in any way, shape, or form - but it is absolutely devastating, combining heartbreak and horror in equal measure. And it begins so quietly, so ominously, with Sam alone and listening to someone out there in the dark. Someone, it becomes clear, who ISN'T Gollum: [He's following me, Master Frodo. I know it, I can hear the pat and slap of his feet on the stones, stealthy as old Sneaker ever was, and the sound stops when I stop. ... He don't dare show his face to me. But I'll catch him tonight, see if I don't.] And so Sam tells the story again to his absent Master, a strange exercise born of a mind that cannot forget and must keep going, told in the fits and starts between walking and rest, but not sleep. Never sleep... It seems like it would have been some help, surely. The Fellowship may not have been fated to enter Mordor together, but four hobbits instead of two? Surely Merry and Pippin would have been a help and a comfort to Frodo and Sam, in the Emyn Muil and after. But the encounter with Gollum went horribly wrong - more wrong even than this sad AU's Sam can know, for he can never have imagined Gollum as a companion or guide. It is, perhaps, one small note of mercy in this story, that Sam does not know how it was "supposed" to be. A circle of dear friends, heroes all...their story becomes instead like Pippin's wound, an inexorable ruin. The summary is misleading, because while it may have started out that way, Sam isn't alone at the end. But his progress and that of his companion is pitiable. Where are they? They don't know, but we do: just sniffing distance from the Dead Marshes, some twenty-five days' journey from Orodruin. And there is no way they are going to make it. None. The best we can hope is that they find rest at the end, and that it is not a servant of the Enemy who finds their bodies.

Author response: I just want to thank you for leaving this review. I was really unsure about particpating this year (and felt unreasonably guilty for submitting something so dark,) and I'm sincerely grateful. I only hope it didn't traumatize you too much;-)

Reviewed by: Antane  ✧  Score: 5

This is a powerful, very dark, AU that is very well written. Thank God it didn't happen! It chillingly tells how drastically the hobbits were changed by their ordeal, but also how they also remained the same in their innermost nature even when that part was touched as well by evil and tragedy in what had happened and what they had done. Still they are not so changed that they have lost what is central to them - Pippin's cheer despite pain, Sam telling the tale in the first person to his beloved master as though he were still alive and acting throughout as he knew his Frodo would wish him to, especially touching in his forgiveness and care for Merry. I really wish this would be continued!

Author response: I'm slow on the draw, but I finally want to thank you for this review (and for your determination to hunt me down somehow and nominate me, even though my username was misspelled.) I appreciate your efforts very much, especially since I had a low opinion of this story after I wrote it and left it to gather dust for so long. So, sincerely, thank you.

Reviewed by: Nath  ✧  Score: 1

This is a wonderfully dark little AU - well done!

Author response: Sorry I'm so late in getting around to this, but I just wanted to give you a huge thank you for taking time out of your life to review this story:-)