The River Flows Ever On
The First Day
The surface of the Anduin River looks still at first glance. The peaceful appearance of the silent surface belies the swift current that lurks underneath, a siren singing sweetly with darker purpose for those who do not respect her. The river has watched the tides of history ebb and flow for too long to care about the fate of those who dare to use her. Three more small boats venturing to follow her path impress her little.
Frodo closed his eyes against the brightness of the morning sun. To this fair land never shall I return, he thought, and knew it deep within himself to be true. His eyes glistened with tears, but he sat stoically in the bow of the boat listening to the final pure words of the song Galadriel sang. Though until long afterward he knew not the meaning of the words, they remained engraved on his heart, and he felt more than knew that she sang of sorrow and loss and bitter partings.
Long they drifted on the swift current of the mighty Anduin that day, borne ever southward, the world silent around them. The river herself spoke not, but flowed with swift and certain purpose, rushing her way past lands fair and fell to the Sea. The cold and emptiness of winter stifled life. No birds sang of coming spring; no leaves came near to bud in the bare and groping trees that lined both shores. The brightness of the Lorien dawn soon dimmed and the sun but palely shimmered through the misty clouds that dulled the day as it drew on.
In the first boat Frodo sat motionless, huddled against the dreary cold inside the warmth and protection of his elven cloak. But the cold within his heart could find no relief. Already he felt the healing of his time in Lothlorien fading as the river bore him inexorably toward the decision he must make, had already made. It was in the execution of the decision that he was
hesitating. Others may bemoan the length of the journey to Parth Galen, but it was that very length that brought relief to Frodo. Time given to delay action. Yet of itself that time also felt ill gained to him, a further cause of torment.
The boats cautiously hugged the western shore, isolated from the world by the dense growth of lurking trees that guarded knowledge of the land beyond. Closer to the bank Frodo could hear the gurgle of the river as she slapped at the tree roots in her way. His companions were silent, as if obeying the river’s unspoken expectation. He drifted into an uneasy sleep.
Bilbo stood on a table surrounded with the remnants of a feast in front of his gross of guests, fingering the ring and looking upward with delight as a grand firework exploded over his head. All gasped as a mountain spewing fire and smoke formed and a red-gold dragon emerged from the summit. It flew high in the air and then plunged toward the party guests. Frodo felt a sense of apprehension and then a chill grasp his heart as he saw it was not a dragon but a large black shadow which soared again upward and then turned toward him. It triumphantly pinned him with its red, glowing eyes that merged into one that grew larger, fiery, lidless, as he faded, faded.
Frodo awoke with a start and looked back at Sam to see if he had noticed anything. Sam leaned forward and patted him on the arm. “It won’t be much longer, Mr. Frodo,” he said encouragingly.
Aragorn himself was full of indecision. He allowed the boat to drift along with his mind, which knew not yet which way would be his path. He had listened well to Boromir who yearned to return to his besieged city and argued strongly for the Fellowship to seek the safety of Minas Tirith. He knew that destiny would lead him there one day, but he did not feel certain that the time was ripe. He sat in the stern that day, alternately allowing the boat to drift on the swift current and paddling to keep straight its course near the safety of the western shore. He saw naught but the silver road he followed, his mind filled with the thoughts of what must be done.
The group travelled long that day, following the water road until well past dark. Aragorn allowed little time for stops and took little thought for his quiet passengers until, late in the evening, he heard Sam tell Frodo it would not be much longer. He roused himself to consider the needs of the others and watched with his keen eyes by the pale light of the stars for a likely landing place. He called to the others. “Boromir! Legolas! here seems a likely place,” as he saw a stretch of woodland, tall grey-skinned trees on a grassy bank, catching the faint light, on the west side of the river. They pulled the boats to the shore and stretched their cramped and weary limbs.
Frodo sat on the log beside Sam, listening to the crackling of the fire and watching the sparks dance above the flames. They had eaten well and now sat quietly, each reflecting on his departure from the haven of Lothlorien. “Never did I realize quite how perilous those woods would prove to be,” grumbled Gimli. “ Had I known the enchantress would capture me so completely, I do not know whether I would have gone more quickly to the woods or would have fled the other way!” Frodo listened distantly to Gimli as he pursued again this oft raised topic, the deep rumble of the dwarf voice carrying him back to the woods.
The perilous woods, he thought. The peaceful woods. There had he healed his loss, but now without the scents and sense of timelessness, his grief returned the sharper, clearer. Gandalf, he called in his head, as he had before. He leaped to his feet to quell the pain. “Are you alright, Mr. Frodo,” asked Sam, concerned. Frodo kept his face in shadow. “I’m fine,” he replied, his voice shaky but as close to normal as he could manage. “I just wish to stretch my legs a little.”
That night Frodo slept little. Between Sam and Merry he lay, toes warmed by the embers of the fire, and listened to the distinctive sleep-breathing of his companions. His mind remained full of Gandalf. He thought of the time he had arrived in the Shire for Bilbo’s birthday. With his eyes closed, Frodo was easily able to visualize leaning back against his reading tree, book in hand, realizing that he could hear the sound of a horse drawn cart and the faint singing of Bilbo’s traveling song. His heart warmed at the memory of his innocent happiness in those days, and he suppressed the thought that it would never be thus again. Instead, he allowed himself to sink into the memory, the feel of Gandalf’s rough cloak against his tender face, the faint smell of tobacco that came with it, the timbre of Gandalf’s merry laugh, the sight of the tall wizard dancing with tiny hobbit girls under the stars.
But Frodo could not maintain this happy fiction. Unbidden, the sight of fire and shadow entered his mind. Again his heart pounded as he fled the fearful horror through the great hall of Khazad-Dum. The Balrog roared its challenge after them. It had no need to run. It knew the company had no hope of escaping him. Frodo felt himself sweating in memory of that race, reliving the heat of the Balrog flames, the sounds of drums in the deeps, droom, drooming their way toward the bridge, and of the tears as he heard himself and others weeping; the terror. Frodo rolled over onto his stomach, hiding his face in his arms and stifling his sobs. He tried to force the memory from him, but suddenly he saw as if in slow time the Shadow falling, falling into darkness and in the split second before he could feel relief, the whip of fire lashed upward, slowly, inexorably toward Gandalf, catching him around his knees. He felt the cry rip from his soul, tried to stop it.
Then he lay listening to the silence before falling into exhausted sleep.