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While the Ring Went South...: 20. January 11, 3019 (Day)
Yet again we have entered a section of the book in which Tolkien has graced us with some dialogue. And in keeping with the spirit of this particular fic, I have left all of his dialogue unchanged and intact. Nothing of my own (at least nothing that the characters express verbally) has been inserted between Tolkien’s lines so that the conversations he did give us may run intact. I have added additional dialogue before and after his own, but…well, this is my interpretation, after all. Anyway, if you want a source for all this, I’m getting it from pages 343 and 344 of The Fellowship of the Ring, Ballantine’s 50th Anniversary Paperback edition.
The crisp smell of athelas brought a cleansing feel to the camp, and as Aragorn crushed some of the precious leaves over the pot of boiling water, he felt much of the latent tension drain away. They had stopped at the base of the mountains in a small hollow that provided a bit of shelter, a term that Sam seemed to be coming to resent. Under cover of a few trees, Gimli had kindled a very small fire and Aragorn had boiled water as quickly as possible. The dwarf was now extinguishing the fire, taking care that it did not smolder, and Aragorn was preparing to tend to Pippin’s head wound.
The fact that the hobbit had been unconscious for so long deeply concerned Aragorn. Pippin had yet to show any damage to his mind and his sense of balance had recovered enough during the night so that he was now able to stand on his own, but the Ranger wished he knew more of hobbit physiology. Pippin claimed he was fine and in no need of further care, but such a thing was to be expected. Aragorn was rather unlucky when it came to patients, and rarely did he find one that admitted to being injured. If pressed, Aragorn would concede that he himself could also be described as an unruly patient—and had indeed been called that several times by various individuals—but it was still a frustrating thing to deal with when the tables were turned and he was the healer.
"Master Peregrin, if you will sit here for but a moment, then I shall—"
"I sat still for you four hours ago!" Pippin protested. "Aren’t you finished yet?"
Impatience and humor warred within the Ranger while he tried to decide how to respond. "Pippin, you took a hard blow to the head that rendered you unconscious for quite some time. It would be wise to take precautions. I will not be long, and it shall not interrupt your meal for any significant stretch of time."
"Go on, Pippin," Merry added through a mouthful of dried venison. "No sense in taking chances about this. You take enough chances on your own without adding to them. I’ll even watch your food if you like."
"You mean you’ll watch it disappear," Pippin scowled. "I don’t think I’ve ever seen you eat so much, Merry, and I’ve no idea where you’re putting it all. Someone must have hollowed your legs while I was away."
"Come, Pippin," Aragorn called firmly, deciding to interrupt the banter for a moment.
The hobbit gave a long-suffering sigh, picked up his plate with a baleful glare at Merry, and stomped over to the Ranger. He wobbled slightly on the way over, but he did not fall, which was a definite improvement over his earlier attempts to walk about on his own.
"You seem to be recovering quickly," Aragorn observed, taking a piece of material he’d torn from a spare tunic and dipping it in the warm water. Wringing it out, he then bathed Pippin’s brow, running it over the hobbit’s temples and back to the rather prominent bump along the side of his head.
"If I’m recovering so quickly, then why are you still worried about me?" Pippin demanded.
"It is a healer’s prerogative to worry," Aragorn said, ignoring the sudden laugh this elicited from Legolas.
"It sounds as though there’s a story in this," Merry observed, still speaking with his mouth full.
"The elf can sometimes be a difficult patient," Aragorn explained. "His kind requires much worry and close observation."
This brought an even harder laugh from Legolas, prompting Merry to beg for details. He was joined by Sam and Frodo, and much to Aragorn’s horror, the elf seemed amused by the audience and agreed to further elaboration.
"My friends, you look upon one of the most stubborn patients ever known to Middle Earth," the prince of Mirkwood said, gesturing toward Aragorn. "Never before have I seen one so obstinate while so sick. Some years ago, Lord Elrond’s sons made a trip to Mirkwood as emissaries for their father, and they brought Aragorn with them."
"Legolas, I don’t think that—"
"While there, they wished to hunt some of the spiders they’d heard so much about," Legolas continued, plowing right overtop of Aragorn. "My father readily agreed, for there had been much trouble with the creatures far away in the south, and I was asked to escort the party. Unfortunately, we underestimated the number of spiders to be had."
"We all survived the incident, but none of us escaped unscathed. However, Aragorn was hit harder than most, for we found that he was somewhat allergic to the spider’s venom."
Aragorn’s fierce glare finally managed to register with the elf, who returned the look with an ingratiating smile before taking up the narrative again. "I shall not burden you with the details, for I am certain that imagination shall prove far more entertaining, but Aragorn was forced to lie abed for several weeks under the care of my father’s healers. And not a day went by during that time that he did not orchestrate some elaborate escape attempt or another. None were successful, but they did display that Aragorn was a genius for creative innovation. I think the most interesting of these desperate attempts was the day when he somehow convinced my two sisters that—"
To Aragorn’s eternal relief, the elf laughed and fell silent. Merry, Sam, Pippin, and Frodo all began to protest, but Legolas shook his head and smiled. "My apologies, but I fear you must take this up with Aragorn himself. It is not my story to share, though my opinion is that it should be known in all of Middle Earth."
Squirming under Aragorn’s ministrations, Pippin looked up and fixed the Ranger with an inquiring gaze, his face innocent as only a hobbit can make it. "Will you tell us? I’ll hold still if you do."
Aragorn rolled his eyes and stood. "I am finished with you, Master Peregrin. Take care to move about slowly, and be wary of rising too quickly when you stand. I judge that your balance will return completely in time, but it may be a day or so yet."
"I could have told you that while eating," Pippin grumbled. "You didn’t need to delay my food."
The Ranger chuckled and shook his head. "My apologies for the inconvenience. I did not intend to burden you so."
"What about the rest of Legolas’s story?" Merry piped up. "Will you tell us, Strider?"
"Perhaps another time," Aragorn declined, putting away his healing supplies. "I would not wish to interfere with Master Peregrin’s meal."
Another round of pleas shot up, but Aragorn waved them off and moved away, quickly escaping the confines of camp and the demands of the hobbits. Once the commotion was behind him, the Ranger stopped to survey the mountains and turn his thoughts to the night’s journey. Pippin was recovering with remarkable speed, but he was still unsteady on his feet and that concerned Aragorn. Their next step in the journey, if they took the path that had originally been selected when they were all safe in Rivendell, would be the switchbacks up Caradhras that eventually led over the pass known as the Redhorn Gate. The trail could be treacherous at times, even for one whose feet did not falter. And with Pippin weaving as he was… Aragorn shook his head. Great care would be needed by all.
"You would hold to this course?"
The Ranger turned slightly as Gandalf joined him and sighed. "My counsel has not changed. Caradhras seems the safest option for us."
"Yet it is still fraught with peril," the wizard said. "If we do indeed choose this path, there is much that could yet hold us back. Winter deepens behind us. The heights away north are whiter than they were; snow is lying far down their shoulders. Tonight we shall be on our way high up towards the Redhorn Gate. We may well be seen by watchers on that narrow path, and waylaid by some evil; but the weather may prove a more deadly enemy than any." Gandalf grimaced slightly and turned probing eyes upon the Ranger. "What do you think of your course now, Aragorn?"
Aragorn glanced back toward the camp, searching specifically for Legolas. Fortunately, the elf was currently preoccupied with the hobbits, who were still attempting to hear some of the more dedecorous stories concerning Aragorn’s forced repose in Mirkwood. It was unlikely that he would be listening. The fear of eavesdropping now diminished, Aragorn turned back to the wizard and met the hard gaze with one of his own. "I think no good of our course from beginning to end, as you know well, Gandalf," he answered, his voice quiet. "And perils known and unknown will grow as we go on. But we must go on; and it is no good our delaying the passage of the mountains. Further south there are no passes, till one comes to the Gap of Rohan. I do not trust that way since your news of Saruman. Who knows which side now the marshals of the Horse-lords serve?" Aragorn hoped that by failing to mention Moria he would inform Gandalf in no uncertain terms that he was no longer considering it as an option.
"Who knows indeed!" the wizard murmured, with a sidelong look at the Ranger. "But there is another way, and not by the pass of Caradhras: the dark and secret way that we have spoken of."
"But let us not speak of it again!" Aragorn hissed with yet another glance back at Legolas. The hobbits were winding down their conversation with the elf, and in a few moments, attention would be turning their way for the matter of the watches. "Not yet," the Ranger continued softly. "Say nothing to the others, I beg, not until it is plain that there is no other way."
"We must decide before we go further," Gandalf warned.
"Then let us weigh the matter in our minds, while the others rest and sleep," Aragorn suggested.
"You are also in need of rest and sleep," Gandalf pointed out. "You kept watch for much of yesterday since the hobbits were…indisposed."
"Then let us speak again in the afternoon after we have rested," Aragorn said. "The company may eat while we take counsel."
The wizard was silent for a moment and Aragorn could see the debate within his eyes, but he eventually nodded. "Then I shall set the watches. You will sleep this day, as will Pippin, Legolas, and Gimli. To my mind, Merry could also use the rest. Frodo, Sam, Boromir, and I shall keep the watches."
"As you say, Gandalf," Aragorn said with a weary nod.
"Whenever you are around, it seems that things are very rarely as I say," the wizard snorted as he started back to camp.
With a smile, Aragorn turned and followed, but as his eyes swept over the Fellowship, he suddenly stopped. His heart cried out within him and he wondered how he could have missed this in his surreptitious glances back at the Fellowship while speaking with Gandalf. Frodo! Valar, why is it that I did not see you?! But there was no help for it now, and Aragorn groaned at the sight of both curiosity and apprehension on the Ring-bearer’s face as he watched Gandalf return to camp. Aragorn had kept looking to Legolas, wary of the elf’s sharp ears, but he had not considered just how close Frodo had been to the edge of camp. Neither had he remembered that hobbits also had a keen sense of hearing. At least, not until it was too late, for it was quite evident that Frodo had heard at least part of their hushed conversation.
Almost as if feeling the Ranger’s gaze, Frodo then shifted his eyes to Aragorn and started slightly upon finding himself watched. Aragorn searched his mind quickly for something to say, but before he could do aught, Frodo turned and joined Sam, who was setting up their beds for the day.
My apologies to you, Ring-bearer, Aragorn thought with a weary sigh. I wish your guides had more knowledge. And I wish our path was more certain. He shook his head and glanced up at Caradhras with its gleaming mantle of snow. I wish that I was more certain.
* * * *
Though the sun was directly overhead, it was dim and gave very little light to the land below. Frodo’s breath was frosty on the air, and a sharp chill was creeping down from the mountains, borne on a breeze that seemed to worm its way through even the thickest covering. Rubbing his hands together, Frodo stood and paced back and forth, trying to warm himself. At the moment, he greatly envied the rest of the Fellowship. They all slept quite soundly, heedless of the dropping temperatures that were beginning to vex Frodo.
"Still, I suppose that some of them need more sleep than I do," Frodo murmured, glancing at the forms of Legolas, Gimli, Pippin, and Merry. He’d wondered, though, if it was safe for Pippin to sleep with the head injury he’d acquired. He’d always been taught that you should wake someone periodically in case of a concussion. Aragorn, on the other hand, had deemed that the danger had passed and Pippin could sleep without being roused. Frodo had accepted his counsel, knowing him to be far more knowledgeable in the healing arts, but now he wondered if he couldn’t wake Pippin on the pretense of health concerns so that he could have some company. "And company would be very welcome right now," he muttered. "Because at the moment, I don’t even have Bill."
Bill was also asleep, though his sleep was rather light. He stood hobbled to one side of the camp, his head down, his eyes closed, and his ears drooping slightly. Occasionally he would jerk when Gimli’s snores rose in volume, but for the most part he slept on, oblivious of the cold that smelled strongly of snow.
Stomping his feet and rubbing his arms, Frodo shivered with a forlorn melancholy and glanced at the mountains that loomed above the Fellowship. It was now easy to tell which one was Caradhras. The meager sunlight that hit the sides of this high mountain showed them to be a rather disturbing red in color. Snow covered much of the Redhorn’s peak, but there were still several places devoid of snow and these places seemed stained with blood. It was not a particularly bright red, but it was certainly a contrast to the surrounding mountains and Frodo could easily see how Caradhras had earned its name.
But there were other names for this mountain. Gimli had called it something else when the Fellowship first reached Hollin. What had that been again? Cruel, Frodo reminded himself after a moment of thought. Gimli called it "cruel Caradhras." I wonder why. From where he stood, the mountain did look rather cruel with its jagged peaks and red sides, but Frodo had sensed something more in the dwarf’s voice. And now almost on the mountain itself, Frodo felt something again. It was not an evil quite as tangible as the one felt when in the presence of the Nine, but there was certainly malice in the air. Malice and watchfulness…
"Steady, Frodo," he told himself aloud with a shake of his head. "Steady or you’ll work yourself into a fit of paranoia. I should find something to do, seeing as I still have close to an hour left of my watch."
The hobbit deliberately turned his back on Caradhras and thought for a bit, wondering what needed doing in the camp that hadn’t already been done. But his mind was greatly hampered, for the cold seemed to increase. His right hand was turning numb, and his left shoulder was beginning to throb. It was strange, actually. In a way, it reminded Frodo of Weathertop and the desperate flight after that for Rivendell. But his wound hadn’t bothered him recently. He didn’t even think of it anymore, unless someone happened to remind him about the…
Frodo frowned, glanced down at his right hand, and gasped. His hand was wrapped around the ring, which had somehow escaped the confines of his shirt. Hastily dropping it back underneath his tunic, he wiped his hand off on his trousers as though somehow it was now soiled. I don’t need something to do with my mind; I need something to do with my hands!
Thinking quickly and closely watching his traitorous hand out of the corner of his eye, Frodo eventually came up with an idea. It was a simple idea, but it involved a rather dull task and hopefully this would keep his mind—and hands—away from darker things. Now armed with a purpose, Frodo slipped quietly over toward Legolas and silently opened the elf’s pack. It was easy to find the thing he sought, for the elf was obsessively organized. Now armed with the prince’s whetstone, Frodo crept away, found a comfortable place to sit, and drew Sting from its scabbard. Legolas had let him use his whetstone before, and the hobbit didn’t think that the elf would mind now. He could have gone looking for his own whetstone, of course, but it was buried somewhere in Sam’s bags and finding it would have probably taken the remainder of Frodo’s watch. There were all sorts of strange things in the gardener’s packs, and rummaging through them was an adventure best left to Sam.
Drawing Sting across the whetstone with a firm, smooth stroke, Frodo quickly settled into the motion of sharpening his blade. Sting wasn’t really in need of sharpening, but it had been a while since Frodo had tended to it. Besides, if he sharpened it now, he wouldn’t have to worry about it later if it did happen to dull. Early into the journey, only two or three days out from Rivendell, Boromir had given Frodo some advice about caring for Sting and had pointed out that one couldn’t sharpen one’s sword in the middle of a battle. Taking this counsel to heart, Frodo had tried to ensure that he cared for his blade if there was even the slightest hint that it might be losing its razor sharp edge. Legolas had once laughingly told him that Sting was an elven blade, and as an elven blade, it did not require such constant sharpening. But Frodo found the rhythm of the strokes upon the whetstone to be soothing, and aside from keeping Sting ready for battle, it also kept Frodo sane.
But this particular day seemed cursed, and even his current methodical, mind-numbing task was not quite enough to ward off unwanted thoughts. Frodo’s mind kept returning to the partially overheard conversation between Gandalf and Aragorn, and after a struggle he was doomed to lose, the hobbit eventually gave in and started to dissect the dialogue he had heard.
It was obvious that Aragorn and Gandalf were keeping something from the rest of the company, and whatever that something was, they didn’t want it known. Something about a change in travel plans. But what kind of a change did this entail? Gandalf had said something about a darker path, but what did that mean? Aragorn certainly hadn’t liked the thought, but he hadn’t immediately denounced the idea, either. What was going on? Still, if there’s a path out there that Aragorn fears to tread, it must be a very dangerous road. Frodo sighed and grimaced. He didn’t want to make any early judgements because who knew what way the debate would turn, but he couldn’t help hoping that they would stick to the original plan and cross the mountains.
Yet with this thought, Frodo again turned his mind to Gimli and his words of "cruel Caradhras." What had he meant by that? For the dwarf seemed to think of the Redhorn Gate as more than a hard climb. After all, a dwarf wouldn’t name something cruel if it only involved a strenuous hike. Dwarves were much too hardy for that. And Legolas didn’t say anything disparaging when Gimli said "cruel Caradhras," which meant that he probably thought it was a cruel mountain, too. But why would they both think that? Is it cursed? It feels…alert, I guess, but I really don’t know how to interpret that.
The hobbit sighed and set the whetstone and Sting down as he rubbed his temples. He wasn’t about to solve this mystery without more information, and he certainly wasn’t going to let Aragorn and Gandalf know that he’d been eavesdropping, though Aragorn seemed to know that already. He supposed he could ask Gimli if there was any history behind Caradhras that involved some dwarven mishap. Or he could ask Legolas about elves and Caradhras. But since both of them were asleep and both of them probably needed that sleep, Frodo couldn’t ask them anything until later. It didn’t solve his problem now.
So I’m back where I started. I need something to do. Something to keep my mind and my hands from going where they don’t belong. Frodo ran a hand through the rather unruly mop that had become his hair, and finally decided to have a good smoke. He’d been hoarding his pipe-weed since he didn’t have very much, but it seemed that now would be a good time to indulge. The hobbit had a strange feeling that another chance to smoke wouldn’t come for quite some time.
* * * *
Long ago, Gandalf had resigned himself to the fact that he would never truly understand hobbits. They were far too unpredictable.
The current situation was a perfect example. Samwise Gamgee insisted on calling the afternoon meal breakfast-supper. He said it was a compromise name. They were eating a meal after sleeping, which usually implied breakfast, but the time of day was better suited for supper. And thus came the term breakfast-supper. But Pippin, probably to be obstinate, now insisted on calling it lunch. And he had been quite liberal in the use of this word. After a few initial protests, Sam had eventually kept quiet and said nothing in response to the younger hobbit, but his hands would periodically clench at his sides. Pippin was definitely getting on Sam’s nerves.
And then Merry joined the fray, deciding to call the meal supper-breakfast (the name of the morning meal) which was more consistent with Sam’s original idea but changed the word order. It also changed which word took priority. According to Sam, breakfast was only describing the word supper, which was what the meal was really about. The reason that the term breakfast-supper was used as opposed to supper-breakfast was because the time of day was the most important thing in determining the type of meal one ate. But by changing it to supper-breakfast, Merry was implying that the schedule was the important thing, not the time of day. He was using supper to describe breakfast. Frodo was now trying to get both Merry and Pippin to stop talking about the meal, but whenever Frodo slipped up and called it anything, he called it dinner.
Gandalf shook his head and chuckled slightly as he rose and began moving away from camp. Only hobbits would spend so much time parsing the fine lines of words describing food, and only hobbits would then argue about it. No, Gandalf would never understand hobbits, but he would always be fascinated by them.
Unfortunately, he could not allow himself to watch this strange debate unfold, for Aragorn had already left camp and was undoubtedly waiting for the wizard. Gandalf really didn’t want to discuss this any more than did Aragorn, but his conscience and his instincts would not allow him to put the matter aside. He did not want to go to Moria, yet something kept telling him that they could not cross Caradhras.
Gandalf found the Ranger just out of earshot for most of the Fellowship. Legolas was a concern, but the elf was usually very courteous and didn’t attempt to eavesdrop on his companions. Well, he was courteous so long as he felt that others were not talking about him. But Legolas seemed to be in a rather good mood this morning despite the fact that he’d just spent a day and two nights down in a ravine with a dwarf, and Gandalf was reasonably confident that the elf would take it upon himself to ignore the ensuing conversation.
"Good evening," Aragorn murmured, turning slightly as the wizard reached his side.
"The sky is clouded," Gandalf said, deciding to skip the preliminaries. Both he and Aragorn were too weary to be bothered by them.
"It was clouded all throughout the day, and yet no snow fell."
"Still, it is something of a warning," Gandalf pointed out.
Aragorn sighed and turned, meeting the wizard’s eyes with an expression that somehow disturbed Gandalf. "I have no wish to tread the darker paths. I have walked them once before and there is in me no desire to repeat the experience. Beyond that, I sense great danger in that way, and I would avoid it if I could."
"As would I," Gandalf said quietly. "I have no more desire than you, Aragorn, to enter the darkened halls of Moria. But the pass between Caradhras and Celebdil is open to all who might even casually glance our direction. We shall be open targets upon those barren slopes, and the spies of the enemy press us hard enough already. Tempting fate is a dangerous game and one that we can ill afford to lose."
"And walking into Moria is somehow safer than crossing the mountains by way of the Redhorn Gate?" Aragorn demanded.
"Nay, I said not so, but remember the purpose of our quest. We are to move silently and secretly. We are not an army that can push aside advancing foes. Rather, we must seek to avoid our enemies, and I know of no better way to avoid them than to take Frodo somewhere completely unexpected."
"Unexpected as well as terribly perilous," Aragorn argued with a shake of his head. "You say you do not wish to walk these roads, and yet you argue for them as though they were the better choice. Speak plainly, I beseech you! Surely you see something that would make you suggest a change in paths."
Gandalf grimaced and looked at Caradhras, trying to read the intent of the frosty mountain but only catching a slight glimpse of its heart. "It seems to me that the Redhorn Gate shall be blocked. I know not the origin of this feeling, nor do I know precisely what it means. But I fear that we shall be greatly delayed if we attempt to cross the mountains using our planned course. And delay is something we cannot have. For that reason have I suggested Moria. Caradhras would not need to be tried. We could travel under the mountains instead."
"There is no guarantee that we would emerge from such a path," Aragorn shot back. "You and I alone of this Fellowship have walked within those shadowed halls, which used to be filled with glory and grandeur. You and I alone have seen the darkness that now covers the ancient dwarven realm. Let us keep it that way, for I would not share such evil and such sorrow with the others."
"But if I insist upon Moria, would you follow?" Gandalf challenged, his voice quiet but laced with steel.
"I would follow you under the towers of Thangorodrim and into Angband itself if you asked me to," Aragorn sighed. "And you know that well, so do not think to test me! If you are set upon Moria, then that shall be my path. But I beg you to reconsider! The perils of spies and delay seems to me to be lesser perils when compared with the darkness of Moria."
Gandalf fell silent and turned his eyes once more to the mountains. His instincts were still clamoring about the possibility of discovery as well as the possibility that they might not even make it over the pass. But Aragorn was very much set against Moria, and though he would go if asked, he would do so with great reluctance. How am I to judge this? Gandalf wondered wearily For in truth, my feelings keep company with Aragorn’s. Neither he nor I wish to go through Moria. And yet…And yet what?
The wizard shook his head. Perhaps he was overcompensating. Ever since missing the warning signals that should have alerted him on their first morning in Hollin, Gandalf had almost been going out of his way to seek for signs and forebodings. Aragorn, though, seemed to maintain a good balance, and if he felt no ominous feelings associated with attempting the Redhorn Gate, then perhaps he was right. Perhaps now was the time to trust to the instincts of a Ranger rather than to the intuition of a wizard.
"You choose Caradhras over Moria?" Gandalf asked with a quick glance at Aragorn.
"I would be tempted to choose the Gap of Rohan over Moria," Aragorn answered.
"Let us hope it does not come to that!" Gandalf said. "Saruman has more power than you think. It would be well for us to avoid bringing Frodo anywhere near Isengard." The wizard fell silent again, still considering his possibilities, and then sighed. "Very well. I fear we shall regret this, but your counsel will be our guide. Tonight we will take the road over Caradhras."
"Your decision gives me great relief," Aragorn murmured, his voice so quiet that it was difficult to hear.
"Let us see if that relief is deserved after tonight," Gandalf answered.
"Perhaps our worry is for nothing," Aragorn said with something of a wry smile. "Merry reminded us the other day that our crebain might not be evil. They might be good, or they might have nothing to do with us."
The wizard snorted despite himself. "Hobbits are eternally optimistic. It seems to be one of their few consistent characteristics." He sighed, then, and shook his head. "Come. We should tell the others of our plans. Some of the Fellowship, I believe, know that there was something of a debate concerning our road. It will do them good to hear that we have decided."
"And we must also get ourselves underway, for the path we shall take is not an easy one," Aragorn added. "The hobbits are not used to such altitude, and the climb shall require much from them."
"It shall require much from all of us," Gandalf predicted grimly as yet another feeling of warning clutched his heart. "And I pray that we are up to the task."
* * * *
Boromir was at something of a loss.
This actually wasn’t an unusual occurrence, though some might be surprised to learn that. But Boromir was a man of action and battles who had a father and a younger brother with an interest in finer things. Some of their conversations—when they weren’t barbed and laced with subtle insults, that is—went completely over Boromir’s head. Denethor and Faramir had once spent an entire evening discussing a painting that hung in the main hall of Dol Amroth. It was one of the few ways that steward and youngest son could pass the time without entering into a verbal sparring match that left them either frustrated, enraged, unapproachable, or a combination of all three. But their conversations concerning art in all its various incarnations was beyond Boromir, who shared not their love for it. His was a world of swords, and while he had been duly trained in other things, he saw no profit for Gondor in those pursuits, especially when the might of the Enemy grew daily.
And so Boromir had become accustomed to feeling confused during the rare times when Denethor was not patronizing Faramir and Faramir was not out attempting to prove himself. But it was a very unusual occurrence when Boromir felt lost upon the trail with a group of fellow warriors. Yet this very thing was now happening, and Boromir definitely did not enjoy it.
Like the others, he had been relieved when Legolas and Gimli returned with Pippin. The strength and power of Gimli’s axe was not to be underestimated while Legolas carried the only long-distance weapon in the group—unless one counted Gandalf’s magic and that which Frodo carried… Boromir shook his head, dislodging the Ring from his thoughts. They did not apply, and he was still trying to unravel his true feelings. He was glad that elf and dwarf were back. And in a strange way, he had missed Pippin’s company. Prudence had demanded that he speak his peace and urge them all to move on, but in his heart, he had not wanted to leave without knowing the fates of his companions. And yet…what exactly was wrong with him? Having finished his meal—he currently had no idea what the appropriate name for this meal might be—he had sat back to watch the rest of the camp. Aragorn and Gandalf had disappeared, something that bothered him slightly, but the rest were still around and seemed not to care, so Boromir had decided that he would not care either. But something else had then entered his mind, and he was troubled.
What exactly had happened down in the ravine? Gimli and Legolas were not quite the same dwarf and elf. They were not exactly civil to one another, but they were both more or less avoiding open confrontations, and this puzzled Boromir greatly. It also bothered him. Boromir’s strength as a commander of men came from personally knowing the soldiers who served beneath him. They trusted in his military mind and his natural grasp of strategy because they knew him. They knew his capabilities. In turn, he trusted in their strength and skills because he trained and worked with them. There was no room for secrets upon the field of battle, for such secrets might prove to be the undoing of an entire battalion. There were too many uncertainties already in the world to have them infect the inner workings of an army. If a warrior did not know the strength of his comrades, then how could they be relied upon during battle?
And yet, here in the Fellowship, Boromir had no idea of his companions’ strength. He had heard that Aragorn was accounted a good swordsman by the elves of Rivendell. He had heard that many considered the archers of Mirkwood to be unequaled in skill with the bow. He had heard that a dwarf could force his axe through both steel and stone if the need pressed. But save for the wolf and the few sparring rounds against Aragorn in Imladris, Boromir had no evidence of any of these things. He did not truly know what his companions were capable of. This was enough to set his nerves on edge, particularly since he’d been trained to work with and compliment the strengths of others in a coherent battle unit. But now it seemed that elf and dwarf had come to some kind of unspoken agreement, and when this was added to the growing list of unknowns, Boromir felt himself drowning in a sea of uncertainty.
Beyond that, there was Aragorn to consider. The night before, the Ranger had been willing to abandon the Fellowship and wait for his comrades. Boromir could understand Merry’s reasoning in this. The hobbit did not think with a mind bent on strategy as did Boromir, and waiting around for a dear friend seemed a logical move in the eyes of Merry. Boromir, on the other hand, saw the wait for of three comrades as a costly delay in a war that had become a life and death struggle for his people. Every day that passed was a day when more of Gondor’s soldiers died. And Aragorn, especially as Isildur’s heir, should have seen this. He should have also been pressing to move on. But he had not. He had not acted for the good of Middle Earth. He had acted out of a desire to see that three companions were safe. It might have been a noble gesture to some, but it was wholly selfish from Boromir’s point of view. All of Gondor lay bare before the might of Mordor with the peoples of Rohan, Belfalas, Lebennin, Dol Amroth, Dale, and a host of others sheltered behind her. Should she fall, Middle Earth would also fall. And yet Aragorn had seen fit to wait for an elf, a dwarf, and a hobbit when every minute took them closer to doom! Denethor’s son sighed and clutched his head. It seemed that none truly understood Gondor’s plight. Nor did they understand just how closely their own fates were related to the success or failure of Minas Tirith.
Minute shifts in the tone of the conversation around him informed Boromir that Gandalf and Aragorn were returning. Drawing himself out of his thoughts, he caught the last of Pippin’s growing tale about his adventures in the ravine. This story had started tamely enough while on the trail the night before, but when Gimli and Legolas became reluctant to speak of it, Pippin had taken over and the embellishments had begun. By the time they had made camp for the day, Pippin had single-handedly saved both Legolas and Gimli from five different rockslides as well as climbing three mountains and battling a regiment of goblins. Boromir was rather surprised that a dragon had yet to appear in the story and decided that it would probably be the next addition.
"I hope you are all feeling well rested," Gandalf said when Pippin had finished his tale. "Tonight will find us making for the Redhorn Gate. Pippin, stay close to Merry and make certain that your balance is sure. One misstep on some of these trails will spell disaster. Merry, if Pippin begins to slip, anchor yourself and steady him."
Boromir wasn’t certain, but he thought he heard a sigh of relief behind him. Glancing back, he caught a look of hope upon Frodo’s face and wondered at what that might mean. He himself saw very little hope in the mountain passes. They were too far north for Boromir’s comfort, and snow lay far down many of the surrounding slopes. Beyond that, the weather looked rather threatening. If caught during the night, even a minor storm might prove to be a great danger, for flying snow would block sight and the mountain paths were sure to be thin and treacherous.
"From what signs we have seen lately, I fear that the Redhorn Gate may be watched; and also I have doubts of the weather that is coming up behind. Snow may come," Gandalf continued, apparently sharing Boromir’s concerns about the ominous clouds. "We must go with all the speed that we can. Even so it will take us more than two marches before we reach the top of the pass. Dark will come early this evening. We must leave as soon as you can get ready.
"I will add a word of advice, if I may," Boromir spoke up before any action could be taken. "I was born under the shadow of the White Mountains and know something of journeys in the high places. We shall meet bitter cold, if no worse, before we come down on the other side. It will not help us to keep so secret that we are frozen to death. When we leave here, where there are still a few trees and bushes, each of us should carry a faggot of wood, as large as he can bear."
"And Bill could take a bit more, couldn’t you, lad?" Sam said quietly with a pat on the pony’s side. To Boromir’s eyes, it did not look as though Bill agreed.
"Very well," Gandalf sighed, seeming to do so with reluctance. "But we must not use the wood—not unless it is a choice between fire and death."
"Journeys in the high places often meet with such choices," Boromir answered. "I learned long ago that if one is able, one must always be prepared to deal with inclement weather in the mountains. I would not consider embarking on tonight’s journey without at least some wood for use in case of emergencies."
"Boromir speaks wisely," Aragorn said, causing Boromir to look at him in surprise. Ever since their disagreement on what to do concerning the lost comrades in the ravine, Boromir and Aragorn had said very little to one another, and their conversations had become terse and brusque. Boromir was startled that Aragorn would choose to support him here, and a small feeling of gratitude sparked in his heart. Perhaps Aragorn might learn to respect his own kind after all. "I have also journeyed in the mountains, and know well their dangers," the Ranger continued. "A faggot of wood for each of us is not too great a burden, and should there come a choice between life and death, we must be prepared to meet that choice with options."
"Then gather the wood," Gandalf directed, but his voice still held a note of reluctance. "Aragorn, Boromir, Legolas, and Gimli shall be tasked with that. The hobbits and I shall see to the baggage. But make haste, all of you. We must leave soon."
Camp broke apart as each went off to complete his own assignment. Boromir silently followed Aragorn into the trees, thinking that a coordinated group effort would yield faster results, and it seemed that the Ranger had the same idea for he stopped to wait for Boromir. Then they continued on in silence, and it seemed to Boromir that there was a sense of companionship, albeit it was a rather tense feeling. Still, it was better than the muted animosity that stood between them earlier, and Boromir hoped that such animosity would vanish with time. For of all the Fellowship, he was still most comfortable in Aragorn’s presence. Legolas was too lofty, Gimli was too gruff, the hobbits were too fanciful, and Gandalf was too…Gandalf was hard to explain. Suffice to say that Boromir was uneasy in his presence and always had been. Aragorn, for all his heritage and his elven airs, was still a man, and that was an endless source of comfort for Boromir.
"Let us start here," Aragorn said, breaking the silence and indicating a dead tree off to their side. "The branches still upon the tree are driest and will make the best fire. Choose them first and then move to those most recently fallen."
"You are not the only one here who has a knowledge of woodcraft," Boromir said quietly. "I also know how to gather wood for a fire. Think not that my training as a youth was with the sword and shield alone."
Aragorn frowned and then a hint of a smile crept over his face. "My apologies, Boromir. I have become accustomed to instructing the hobbits."
"In that case, all is forgiven," Boromir said, his words applying to more than just Aragorn’s earlier statement. "Let us put it behind us and concentrate on the task at hand."
"Your counsel is good counsel," Aragorn said with a knowing gleam in his eye. "The past shall stay in the past, and we shall concern ourselves with the present."
"And the future," Boromir murmured, breaking off several branches and jumping back as splintering pieces of bark rained down upon him.
"And the future," Aragorn echoed, glancing up at the sky.
Boromir followed his eyes, and a shiver crept up his spine. The clouds were growing darker and the wind was beginning to pick up. It would be an interesting night, and Boromir could only hope that the coming storm held off long enough for them to cross the Redhorn Gate. If not… Denethor’s son shuddered. If the storm did catch them upon the mountain’s open slopes, then it would take an act of the Valar to save them.
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