Breaking The Fellowship; a musing of Frodo Baggins told as a fireside tale.
Randir Baggins looked at the faces of his friends, lit by the glow of their campfire. Snow was drifting down in lazy spirals, infrequent clumps of damp flakes that melted swiftly when they touched the spring-warmed grass that covered the glade of Parth Galen. Lothithil, his twin sister, was beside him, breaking a twig and feeding it into the flames slowly. Frodo Gardner, friend and hobbit of many adventures, sat across from him, intently interested in his tale. Naugellon, Elf and companion from childhood, paced a ring about the cluster of travellers and their campfire. Kelvar Dunedain and his folk crouched nearby, half resting and half alert, listening to tales that had been legend when their fathers were infants.
Randir spoke with the art that was his own magic, and his voice is like the murmur of a well-tended memory.
“My father told me this tale; I will tell it to you all now, as he spoke it to me. A tale of fear and of Fate, and of strength of hope in friendship,
‘I remember being cold that night, lying on the ground wrapped in all my blankets and cloak. The warmth of the ground seemed unable to reach my bones. I had never felt so cold, even on Caradhras when the snows fell until they nearly reached above our heads! If we had been alone on that mountain pass without Gandalf and Strider and Boromir, we would surely have perished there.
‘It was more that a chill of the air and the dying of our fire, built small and kept to embers; I felt as though something were stalking me, following close and always almost about to pounce. I knew we had been followed since Moria; Gollum was as clever as he was persistent. Often I had felt him near, always lusting after what I bore. But this threat was different from the slimy pressure of his watery eyes. With every league we traveled it grew stronger, and their eyes were always on me when I looked about. All of my companions were watching me, clandestinely or overtly. I shivered, beginning to see dark designs even in Strider’s trustworthy face. I rolled tighter in my blanket and huddled closer to Sam’s warm back.
‘In lieu of sleep I recalled the Shire, reaching for that green memory that lay behind countless leagues of beauty and terror. I wondered if the flowers in the garden had bloomed this spring or if they had withered without me to watch and water them. Bereft of Samwise’s excellent care, the vegetable garden would be full of dust and weeds. Were there crows in the wasted acres, and did the paint peel on the picketed fences? I lay back in the darkness and felt hot tears creep down my cheeks and soak into the strange earth. I wished to be back there beyond all hope and time; to return to that place and the innocence I had lost when I opened that envelope, alone in the parlour of Bag End years ago.
‘When morning was grudgingly permitted in the dull grey sky, Strider called a council. I had been dreading this moment since we set out from Lothlorien; and the pain of the memory of that parting is enough to set me weeping again! My companions gathered round, and each face was grim but set. They knew where they wanted to go, but waited for my word to speak. I could see that they were not going to let me go.
‘What did they expect? That I would come this far, leaning on their offered hands and backs, and then quietly turn aside to Gondor? What would be the sense? No strength of men and arms could perform this task. And how much easier would eight travelers be to espy than one lone hobbit clad in elven grey?
‘My silence burdens them as the Ring burdens me. But how can I say, ‘Be off, and let me be?’ I cannot order them away, to turn aside from the vows they have made in their hearts, in pride or desperation, love or whim. What I have to learn now is how to escape them. But I have been unable to win even a moment’s privacy on this entire voyage; how can I elude my friends?
‘I beg for an hour of quiet thought, alone and unhindered by helpful speech. Strider grants my request with pity in his eyes. Of all of my companions, he knows most how impossible it is that we all might travel still together. He is torn between his oath to Boromir with his destiny in the White City, and his vow to me, to protect me and guide me where I must go. And I want to go with him, so much that if he spoke plainly that I should follow him to Minas Tirith I might do it! But he would never say this; we both know that we would fail.
‘Alone at last my mind shies from my decision. The woods are thick here; long overgrown the ancient paths and stone steps of whatever work of Man had once adorned this slope. I pick my way up the cracked stonework stairs where moss and discarded leaves lie, cushioning my steps so that the birds and small creatures heed me not. They are alive all around me, chattering, darting about on their errands, unaware or uninterested in a mournful hobbit. I am not alone, but neither am I forsaken. I fit here in this place, at this time, in peaceful accord with nature.
‘I find a flat stone in the center of a clear place. Buried stones, flagged but broken to fragments are edged with tufted grasses and gripped by ivy. I sit here, stone cool against my legs and the weak sun warm on my face, and I enjoy a moment of undisturbed serenity.
‘A moment only I am spared. The forest creatures fall silent, and I feel again the pressure of eyes on me with fixed intent. I turn quickly, my hand on Sting’s pommel. Boromir stands behind me; his arms loaded with firewood and his face busy with thoughts running wild.
‘This place is far from the camp where Strider waits; I had wandered for nearly an hour. If I called, would he hear and come in time to help? Boromir had more than once saved my life, but I felt no friendliness for him now. His face is kind and his word gentle, but in his eyes a fire is burning, and I feel his thirst for a sight of that which I know he covets. It calls to him in a silky voice and I feel strangely jealous. I refuse to discuss or reveal it, and as I knew that it would occur, Boromir is changed before my eyes.
‘I had seen it happen once before, when Bilbo had reached to take back the Ring in Rivendell. Then the change had been most alarming, not just in my dear uncle’s once friendly face, but in my own panic and possessiveness. Now this handsome face that was once noble and fair was twisted and dark; his voice was hard and desperate. Panic filled me like icewater and I danced away from his groping hands, clutching the Ring on its chain beneath my tunic.
‘He is too fast for me! If he lays a hand on me, I shall die in his passion before he could regain mastery of himself. Maybe, he would never regain it again. I slip the Ring on my finger as I flee, leaping away as fast as I can and move silently, so that he cannot follow for all his craft. The beating of my heart seems loud enough give me away; my tears are half of sorrow and half of joy. I am free. I have escaped them all.’”
Randir fell silent.
Lothithil gently prodded the fire that had fallen to glowing coals, and in the flames that reawakened Frodo’s eyes glowed like the shine of a beast’s eyes startled by a lantern or shaft of moonlight. Across the glade, watchful and silent, Naugellon noted the settling of every flake of snow on the burdened boughs above them. He had heard this tale before, from another point of view. Each telling was less easy to hear, but he listened, and as he attended Randir, he recalled things that happened before he was ever born. In his memory walked tales that were first wove before Moon and Sun were fashioned. Elvish memory awakened within him, and in a tremble he realized that the stories he remembered were not stories at all.
He was not allowed to pursue that revelation, however. Out of the trees burdened by snow came shadows leaping and feral. He shouted an alarm and drew his bow. The enemy had arrived.
For more adventure with Randir, Lothithil and their friends, please find in the scrapbook under Tales of The Ring: Legacy of the RingsBane. This teaser I have added at the (off-hand) request of a reader, who wanted to hear a little more that I had originally written in Chapter 14. - Lothithil