Author's Note: Sorry I haven't updated in so long. I'm in school and extremely busy. Frodo will probably be getting out of Barad-dûr (as promised in the summary) in the next chapter.

If you've reviewed, thank you once again. I really appreciate it! Feedback is always great. I'd also like to thank dorandsugar, the person I share this account with, for helping me with the medical/anatomical facts behind my torture scenes in this chapter.

Chapter Warning: Some (possibly) disturbing stuff, and the usual torture/violence. There will be some implied things depending on how you look at it. Frodo has it especially bad in this chapter. Also, lots of strange stuff that will make more sense later in the story. This is quite AU.

Chapter 6

The Fruit of Doubt

In Barad-dûr, Frodo lay in a limp heap on the ground, watching as dark shapes moved outside his cell. They were orcs, no doubt, but surprisingly, they hadn't bothered him, at least not yet. They were talking amongst themselves in some foul tongue that Frodo could not understand, which made him all the more nervous.

He shifted to one side, trying to find a somewhat comfortable position. This was difficult since, in addition to his other bruises and scratches, he now had deep gashes in his back and chest from the last questioning a day or so ago. Célebriän had managed to slow the bleeding down enough that it had now stopped completely, but these new wounds still hurt awfully, and he couldn't ignore the sore gaps in his mouth where the left molars should have been. He groaned a little, wishing that he could somehow ignore the pain.

"Quiet, you maggot!" one of the orcs growled. Frodo cringed at the sound and immediately fell silent.

"Don't bother with that one," came the voice of another orc. "It ain't worth the trouble the elf will give us over how he 'must be left alone to recover'. Besides, we'll have lots of fun later with the other prisoners."

Other prisoners? Frodo listened more intently.

"Do you think they'll want us to keep them alive like this wretch?" said the first orc, gesturing to Frodo.

"Doubt it," said the second. "These ones will be useless once they tell us what we want. Whereas with the Halfling, the Dark Lord has his reasons for keeping him… and he's rather fun to play with when no one gets in our way."

"Well, the elf's not here to 'get in our way', is she? A few little cuts won't do that much harm…"

The orc leaned over and peered into the cell.

"Would you like to play a game?" he said, grinning malevolently at Frodo, who shrank back although he had no real place to hide.

The hobbit heard a terribly familiar creaking noise and gasped as a clawed hand wrapped tightly around his leg, dragging him out of his corner. A moment later, he found himself being dangled by one leg a little off the ground. He cried out a little from the agony of the weight and pressure on the broken bones.

"Put him down," came a gruff voice from the staircase. "Now's not the time for that."

Frodo turned and saw an Uruk-hai standing in the hallway. It was the same one he had seen at the last questioning. The Uruk was not alone; a few orcs were coming down behind him, dragging a man with them. Frodo only got a brief glimpse of the man, for he was soon dropped back into his cell. Luckily, he managed to twist himself in a way that he did not land on his head, although he received a few more scrapes.

"What'd' you want us to do now?" asked the orc who had just let go of Frodo.

"Lock this one up," said the Uruk, pointing to the man. "Just until I come down and get him for interrogation. He's to be left untouched while I'm gone."

"And why's that?"

"Orders!"

"Fine then. Leave him here."

Frodo heard footsteps, shuffling and then a new, cracked voice.

"Get off me," someone said faintly.

The orcs laughed, talking to each other in their own language. Then, someone was pushed into the cell across from Frodo's.

"Enjoy the company while it lasts," one of the orcs called before slamming both doors shut. With that, the foul creatures headed for the stairs and the captives were left alone.

Once he was sure that all the orcs were gone, Frodo inched back towards the iron bars and peered out. The man could be seen more clearly now. He wasn't very old and there was an air of respectability about him despite his miserable state.

The two stared at each other for what seemed like a long while, and Frodo couldn't help but notice the appalled look on the other prisoner's face. He knew that he must look very battered and probably quite pitiful, but was it really that shocking? The man seemed unsure what to say to him, or whether to speak at all. Finally, he asked quietly, "Who are you?"

Frodo opened his mouth to introduce himself, but did not speak when he remembered the numerous occasions when he had been beaten or whipped for talking when he wasn't told to by one of the guards. He didn't know whether there were still any within earshot. He used to speak to himself often, due to the strange images that constantly assailed him, but he had learned now to control this tendency when he could.

The man waited for a reply and when none came, he repeated the question a little louder. Once again there was no answer.

"Do you understand me?" asked the man.

Frodo lifted up his head and nodded almost imperceptibly, casting a nervous glance at the staircase. No one seemed to have noticed the noise, so he got a little braver.

"My name's Frodo," he said, his voice quavering slightly. "What is yours?"

"Elphros," said the man.

"Where did you come from?" Frodo asked, meekly.

"I am a soldier of Gondor," said Elphros. "I was sent as a scout to the borders of my country, but my company was attacked. What are you?"

"A Halfling," Frodo replied.

Elphros paused for a moment and considered this.

"A Halfling," he said. "There has been much talk of Halflings in Gondor these days, but how did you get here?"

Frodo gulped. He didn't want to think about it, but he couldn't forget the failure and the betrayal. As soon as Elphros heard about this, he would surely hate him, just like the others.

Sometimes, Frodo saw them suffering because of his failure; in his dreams, he could hear screams of anger and distress. He was condemned to helplessly watch their trials, wishing that he could have prevented everything.

He retreated further back into his cell, fearing that they would return to him. Crouching against the wall he said hoarsely, "I'm sorry, Sam… Strider… Gandalf…"

"The task was nearly done when you stumbled."

It was a cold voice, both irritated and scornful. Frodo didn't see the speaker, but he had a feeling it was one of his old companions. The voice continued.

"You were so close to being rid of it. Everything could have been prevented, Frodo."

"I couldn't fight against Him," Frodo said. "Please."

"And I suppose you're only thinking of your own troubles. So selfish…"

"No, that's not how it is!"

"But wasn't it a selfish desire that got us all into this mess? You tried to take It, Frodo. That was how you got caught. Don't make me laugh by saying you were merely trying to save your mission. Never mind you though. What about the innocent ones?"

"No!" Frodo cried, a little too loudly. He shut his eyes tightly, but he knew that this would do nothing about what he would soon witness. Elphros watched the hobbit, alarmed and confused. The man did not get a chance to say anything about it, though; the Uruk-hai who had brought him to the cells had returned. Frodo didn't notice until he was shouted at.

"Decided to get a little chatty down here?" the Uruk-hai hollered, making Frodo jump. "You know you're not supposed to, but I'll send someone down to deal out the consequences later. Let's take care of your friend first."

Frodo could do nothing but watch as Elphros was dragged out of his small prison and upstairs to whatever torment had been prepared. The man tried to resist, but he was too weakened to win any fight. The sounds of struggle and protest grew fainter until Frodo could no longer hear them.

He was alone for now. The solitude was a slight relief to him, but he knew it wouldn't last. He could not forget the threat of punishment. He didn't want to think of what it would involve.

Huddled up against the wall, he waited the way he always did in between his ordeals in the dark tower. He felt ill and fatigued, not that there was anything unusual about that anymore. Such things were facts of life and there was no use in dwelling on things that could not be changed. Yes, there was a place where the aspects of existence weren't so miserable, but Frodo didn't want to think about that. It hurt him to think about paradise.

He usually tried to keep it out of his mind now. The small sense of bliss that came from visualizing those verdant hills underneath a warm blue sky was not worth the renewed despondency when reality returned. He would always come back to his prison.

It was after a few more minutes of stiff silence that Frodo heard something moving. Shaking a little from fear of who he might see, he turned his head towards the aisle of the dungeons. He couldn't see anyone there, yet he sensed that he was no longer alone. In fact, he felt as though someone had been watching him for quite a long time and had only just chosen to make their presence known.

Frodo heard a faint hiss, shrill almost like the whistle of a kettle, but with a menacing air. He felt cold hands clutching at his left shoulder, which suddenly began to sting as though needles were being slowly pushed into an open wound. Wincing, he squirmed trying to free himself from the grasp of the still unseen assailant, but to no avail.

The hissing turned into a murmur, a lifeless voice: "You cannot fight me, little one."

Each word uttered was filled with sadistic satisfaction. The sharp pain in Frodo's shoulder worsened. "Who are you and why are you here?" he said in an anguished gasp.

"You ought to remain silent," came the reply. "You have not the right to speak freely here… but I believe the consequences for such defiance are soon to be carried out by others. Still, if you for some foolish reason aren't content with simple oblivion, I can reveal to you some of the horrors. I am a Servant of the Nine, one who fell to a fate you believed you escaped all those months ago. Such fortune shouldn't have come. You should have joined me. By chance, it may have been easier for you, but that is in the past now. All that matters is that it is all set right in the end."

Terrified and baffled, Frodo continued to struggle against the icy grip, but to no avail. He could hear The Servant laughing quietly, but no sense of true amusement or happiness came with it. All of this merely pleased him because it pleased his masters, and most importantly, the one who ruled over all of them.

"You ask what I come for," The Servant spoke again, making Frodo flinch. "And the answer is simple. I am here to be sure that fate is set right once again. None can escape the Dark Power, much less a Halfling. In time, all will fall. You should have succumbed to it long before now, but some strange strength protected you. You are not so lucky anymore and that is a great comfort to me."

More ghostly laughter followed, making a chill run through Frodo's blood. This was a different sort of trepidation, for he knew that this foe's intentions went beyond merely inflicting physical pain. As mad as it all was, he felt inexplicably sorry for the Servant.

"No one can help you now, Halfling," whispered the Servant. "They will not come. No one cares about that which is already lost. I know, and soon you will also. You're already worse than me; you're already more pitiful."

This was especially terrible to hear, although Frodo didn't know why. He soon found that he could not block out that dreadful voice. Feeling especially helpless, he longed for someone to come, anyone who could save him from this new malice.

Frodo would not be able to recall how long he stayed crouched in his cell, cowering against the unseen enemy. In a way, it seemed like a long while. Yet, it felt as though a great number of things happened, and the time seemed too short for all of them to occur. The dungeons melted away, and he came to realize terrors that did not involve blades or blood; terrors that soon would not be contained in Barad-dûr.

Frodo would have continued in this state of obliviousness if the Servant hadn't been called away. His dealings with the Halfling were not yet over, but there were other things that could not wait. Almost reluctantly, he released the hobbit from his grasp.

As the pain in his shoulder subsided and the cryptic tension ceased, a sense of relief came over Frodo, but this quickly faded when he heard the harsh voices of orcs drawing near. He remembered the promise of punishment that was undoubtedly an excuse for "sport". He could do nothing but hope that whatever he'd be put through would be quick. He closed his eyes, repeating in his mind words that once comforted him, but were now no defense against the inevitable distress.

"Wake up!"

Trembling, Frodo raised his head to face the orcs around him. Many of them lingered in the shadows, so he didn't know exactly how many there were. One orc, who appeared to be the leader was one bending over him, clutching a whip of leather ropes. Frodo eyed it fearfully, and the orc grinned.

"That's something to look forward to later," he said. "First, I have something new. How about that, rat?"

The other orcs sneered, malicious eyes glinting in the dark. Frodo gulped, but remained silent.

"You're not very talkative now," said the lead orc. "Perhaps you've learned from the last time, but that's not going to spare you."

More jeering came from behind him.

"Come on!" someone called. "Get on with it!"

The laughter subsided. Frodo could feel his heart beating rapidly, and the apprehension grew with every second. They were arguing amongst themselves now, discussing what was to be done first. Frodo didn't bother to listen. He already knew that they would find some gruesome way to hurt him. He only wished that they would start and let it be done with.

Someone grabbed his right leg tightly and pulled him out of the cell. Frodo cringed as soft flesh pressed against splintered bones. Rough fingers seized his bound hands, lifting it up as though they were being examined. He now realized what they had planned and it was not something he wanted to see. He turned his head away from his tormentors, hiding his tears of agony as a sharp tool dug into the tender root of a finger nail, tearing out the rest of the nail bit by bit.

It was a slow, messy process, which was carried out on both hands. Yet, out of all Frodo had been through in the dark Tower, this was not the worst. He knew how the minds of orcs worked well enough by now. Such "minor injuries" were always accompanied by something else, although he already wanted to swoon from exhaustion and anguish. He didn't have the strength to scream when the stream of whiplashes came, tearing more skin on his back apart.

His tormentors were dissatisfied by the lack of response. Frodo didn't have time to turn away before something moving very fast struck him across the face, barely missing his eye, followed by searing agony. He let out a choked wail. Blood trickled down his cheeks, mixed with the tears. He could hear the orcs yelling at each other, something about "being careful". Then, the blows to his back resumed.

He could heard shouting echoing from the floors above him and the last cries of a man meeting a horrific end, a man whom Frodo had just spoken to moments ago. He didn't think he could bare to see what was happening up there. The guilt of more things that could have been prevented was already returning.

The racket above, the jeers of the orcs and the crack of the whip were muddled together into one sickening racket. Frodo felt the pain and weakness overcoming him, but there was no reason to resist. The darkness seemed to swallow him up, as he slowly fell into oblivion. Strange memories replayed in his mind. He heard the lapping of water against the hooves of a horse, and nine terrible voices calling him. Then, weariness took him completely, and there was nothing but blackness.

-x-X-x-

It was near dusk when Célebriän returned to the Barad-dûr. She had reported that the man she had followed was dead, and had bloodied her knives with the corpses of those the armies of Mordor had slaughtered, so it appeared that she had slain him. That part of the plan had gone well.

The errand had, however, taken a significant amount of time, during which she was reluctant to leave Frodo in the "care" of the dungeon guards. At first she'd hoped that she would be able to reach the Dark Tower before the orcs and men, but she soon found that it was not so. She could hear voices echoing from the halls leading to the Pits.

As she hurried off to the prison cells, something caught her eyes: a cadaver left by the doorway to one of the chambers. There was not much left other than the skeleton and some blood. Célebriän had overheard a few conversations about captives. It appeared that a few orcs had had a little feast once the questioning was done.

There was no time to mourn the unidentified dead, however. She reached the winding staircase and descended it swiftly. She heard someone moving about below, and another moaning faintly. Well, what had she expected? To find the little Halfling curled up against the wall, sleeping peacefully, left untouched by further harm?

When she reached the row of cells at last, she found Hyarmur, kneeling next to a trembling hobbit on the floor. The man lifted his head and looked at Célebriän with a sort of nonchalant smile, making the elf even more enraged.

"Leave him be," she said, every word threatening like a hidden dagger.

"I was only cleaning the wounds, Célebriän," Hyarmur said. "Just making sure that the poor, little thing doesn't get sick from an infection."

Célebriän tried to ignore the last mocking remark. She needed for him to leave, and a dispute would only hinder this, but she couldn't bring herself to condone what had happened.

"But you've certainly done much more than that," she said. "You and the other sick slime we have here."

"'Sick slime'," said Hyarmur. "Is that what we are now for merely doing our jobs? We do not have your excessive softness and pity… traits that have not served you well in the past."

Célebriän fell silent, taking a moment to calm herself.

"You judge too quickly," she said at last. "Be silent, and leave me alone to deal with whatever more damage you've caused."

"We've dealt out what was deserved," said Hyarmur, rising to leave. "You would take care to remember that that is what the Dark Lord wishes, and if you counter that with your mercy, you won't be seeing your pet anymore."

With that, he slunk off to meet the rest of the men. Célebriän rushed over to Frodo, and quickly surveyed the injuries. Most of the skin on his back was torn with whip-wealds, as well as one across his right cheek, and his hands were covered in dried blood. There were a few bruises also. Célebriän reached to feel the hobbit's temperature, and he shrank back at the touch. The elf hushed him.

"They're gone now," she said. "You need not fear."

Frodo relaxed, relieved to hear a kind voice. He had woken up an hour or so ago to yet another form of torment, and now felt as though he was either going to be sick or faint again. His face throbbed with burning pain, his back still stung terribly and the rest of his body ached. Hyarmur certainly had not been gentle when he cleaned the wounds.

Drawing in a shuddering breath, Frodo felt another chill come over him, making him shiver. He felt Célebriän cradling his head like she always did, as if comforting a child awoken by a violent storm. In a way, Frodo wanted to demand that she stop, yet he knew that it would be ridiculous to do so. He was dependent on the mercy of others, no matter how much he hated it.

"I've found help, Frodo," the elf whispered. "There are people who will come to our aid."

Frodo stared at her, confusedly for a moment, wondering if this was another effect of his delirium.

"No," he said, his voice nearly inaudible. "They won't."

"Your friends are loyal to you," Célebriän insisted.

Frodo shook his head slightly and turned away.

"They haven't forgotten their Ring-bearer," Célebriän continued.

The hobbit made no response, but his heart lightened a little (although he tried to suppress such hope). He was once again clinging to the distant thought of freedom and reclaiming the life that felt as if it were part of another world. He smiled faintly.

Célebriän noticed this, but made no comment. She wondered whether everything was indeed merely a matter of time now, whether the second phase of the plan would succeed. This was not the only thing that worried her, however.

She knew that Frodo would soon recover from whatever illness plagued him, which was a blessing, of course. However, once this happened, she would no longer be permitted to see him. Hyarmur spoke a certain amount of truth. Although the Enemy did not yet know of her scheme to assist Frodo's rescue, Sauron knew of her kindness to the captive. Such actions would interfere with the long punishment the Dark Lord had planned.

Nonetheless, there was no use in falling to despair over a grim future when the last thing they needed was more misery.

Miles away from the Pits of Barad-dûr, doubt stirred in Minas Tirith, doubt that would lead to error, and many long dark months would be laid ahead as a result.

-x-X-x-

The new plan seemed to be an improvement. The first step would be to recover the One Ring before the Enemy laid hands on it. Then, a new appointed Ring-bearer would set out with a small party, while the rest of Mordor's armies were distracted by another attack. Many thought that this would have a higher chance of success than the original course, yet, Aragorn still found it cold-blooded.

Yes, he had agreed to the idea; it seemed only logical. The thought of trying to move an army into Mordor in an attempt to infiltrate Barad-dûr just to free one prisoner seemed to most lik a mad suicide mission, and a waste of many lives. It wouldn't work. It was best to move on.

Gandalf wasn't in favor of the plan, and part of Aragorn still felt that it was extremely foolish to go against the wizard's thoughts. This certainly hadn't made the decision any easier. Gimli seemed to have begrudgingly given into the new turn of events; he had been no happier than Aragorn about approving the idea. Legolas had given few comments on the issue, and was quite hard to read as most elves were. He had brought up the message from Célebriän a few times, but such prophecy wasn't much trusted by most.

The hobbits were devastated and there had been a great deal of arguing when the plan was proposed to them. Aragorn didn't know how anyone would be able to convince one of them to be the new Ring-bearer. Pippin refused to speak to him anymore, a drastic change from the formally chirpy and loquacious hobbit. However, before the silent streak had started, Pippin had reminded Aragorn of his vow to protect Frodo.

That was one of the worse things about the situation. Aragorn indeed recalled his promises made far away in Rivendell, and the sense of betrayal pained him. Sometimes, he tried not to think of Frodo, locked in some cruel prison, but it felt like a crime to put the Ring-bearer out of his mind. He knew that the whole Fellowship wondered what the poor hobbit was being put through, while they were in the comforts (or whatever comforts there could be in such times) of the White City.

None of them could say it was right to abandon Frodo, but they couldn't force whole armies to march off to certain death with the miniscule hope of saving a single, little Halfling, companion or not.

One question still plagued them: had they ever expected the Ring-bearer to live when they set out to Rivendell? Even if the mission succeeded, what had they expected to become of him?

Perhaps Frodo hadn't known what he had volunteered for at the Council. He had lived his life away from such perils and couldn't have fully understood them. He had barely been able to comprehend the danger he was in when he received the wound from the Morgul Blade, but they had still allowed him to wander towards Mordor. He'd had Sam with him, but his servant was no more experienced with such dire circumstances.

I should have pursued him, Aragorn thought, wandering around the Citadel of Minas Tirith. Legolas and Gimli ought to have gone after Merry and Pippin, and I ought to have taken a different road.

He spotted Legolas by one of the balconies, singing quietly to himself in Sindarin. The elf turned and beckoned to him.

"I thought you were asleep," Legolas called. "What do you ponder tonight?"

Aragorn came to stand beside him. It was a clear night, with the exception of the usual storm clouds over Mordor, its distant fires blazing. The two watched the flickering light.

"We shouldn't have let them go," said Aragorn slowly. "We should have followed Frodo and Sam, at least one of us ought to have gone with them. They needed aid."

"Frodo chose to go alone," replied Legolas. "He almost left Sam behind also."

"Frodo did not know the outcome of his choice," sighed Aragorn. "Neither of them had the slightest idea how to carry out the rest of the mission or what troubles were laid ahead of them."

"Sometimes blind choices lead to great events," said Legolas. "For they are not constrained by wisdom, which is weary of uncertain paths."

"And so we are weary of the risks," said Aragorn. "And whatever outcomes Frodo's 'blind choices' may have had are not to be."

Legolas did not respond. The flames of Mordor raged on over the mountains, a constant sign of Sauron's growing power and wrath.

"He suffers as we speak," Aragorn muttered. "We need to find a way to free him."

"The men will not take to your motives," said Legolas. "They are content with the current mission."

"The current plan won't work," Aragorn said at length, a little louder.

His voice seemed to echo in the still night. He cast a glance over his shoulder to see if anyone had come to investigate, but there was no one other than the guards in the courtyard, who had resumed their mute vigil.

"I doubt it also," Legolas said quietly. "But if it is quick to fail, we will have time yet to propose other tactics, and perhaps our true will shall gain more support then."

"It shall all take time," Aragorn muttered to himself. "Sweet Elbereth, help Frodo while he waits."

-x-X-x-

1 Month Later

Frodo cowered in the back of his small prison, breathing heavily.

He saw meadows ablaze and heard a chorus of frenzied cries. There was a village of little homes built under hills. It was burning too. Dark figures moved amidst the flames, Halflings and men, cruel men with sharpened weapons.

He tried to run to them, but tripped and fell to the ground. The grass beneath him was withered and dead. It rubbed abrasively against his skin as he stumbled. He looked back to see what he had tripped on. There was a corpse on the ground. Dreading what he was to see, but unable to hold back his curiosity, Frodo inched towards it. He could see the face now.

He was shaking, curled up into a ball. He choked back a cry, whimpering a name to himself:

"Pippin, Pippin…"

His cousin's face was blanched, his dead eyes half open. He was still draped in a very familiar grey cloak, with a clasp in the shape of a leaf. The clasp was bent and crooked now, stained with a dark red liquid. As Frodo wept, he noticed that his own hands were dripping with the same crimson.

Another vision flashed by, and he saw a hobbit wandering in the dreary mountains, calling his name.

"Sam!" Frodo tried to call back, but his words were muted.

A taller figure was approaching. Frodo couldn't see who it was but the voice sounded familiar. They stood by Sam, telling him to search no longer, saying that his Master had failed and was lost to whatever punishment he met. Sam nodded and the two parted.

The rocky landscape began to fade from view, and Frodo found himself surrounded by darkness once more.

Spectral hands were coming out from the shadows. They groped at his neck, trying to choke him, but his own hands were bound, so he could not defend himself.

Frodo was nearly convulsing now. Tears were streaming down his face. He was muttering something incoherent. Someone lifted him off the ground and shook him roughly, but he did not hear the threats shouted at him. He began to sob only to receive a hard slap across his already bruised and scarred right cheek. His lower lip began to bleed. He was then pushed to the ground and kicked.

His eyes red from crying, Frodo lay on the familiar coarse, cold stones. He wailed for help and was kicked again in the lower ribs.

"Shut up!" he heard someone yell. "Who are you squealing for anyway?"

The question repeated in Frodo's head, and he realized he had no answer. Célebriän never came anymore; he hadn't seen her in weeks. Whatever old companions he once had did not care for him now, as he was constantly reminded. Célebriän had been wrong, they'd left him to the Enemy.

Naked, weakened and injured, Frodo wept, longing for one of the guards to have enough mercy to kill him.

But there was no such escape from the nightmare for his mind or body.