The Folly of the Wise - Part Three: Caradhras
I have never liked the snow.
Even in Gondor, which does not get much snow, I have never enjoyed it. Faramir, when he was younger, used to play in it, pelting me with snowballs and building what he called, 'snow-men,' complete with Gondorian clothes. Though I would join him occasionally, I never took great pleasure in it.
This accursed mountain has given me all the more reason not to.
Snow, snow...it is everywhere! I suppose I should not be surprised; it is late in the year and of course Caradhras has always had an evil name, known for its cruelty and fierce snowstorms. We have not encountered snowstorms yet, but more than enough snow.
We had just begun to climb the mountain that stood between Caradhras and us and the snow was up to my shins. Gandalf led the company, Gimli followed behind him, then Legolas, Merry, Pippin and Sam, myself, Frodo, and Aragorn trailing behind. Frodo had been up with the rest of the hobbits earlier, but he dropped back to speak with Aragorn. I watched out of the corner of my eye as Frodo quickened his pace to catch up with the hobbits.
Just as I was about to turn away, I saw the small hobbit slip on a hidden patch of ice that had tripped up Pippin just moments before. He lost his balance, fell, and began to roll down the mountain, too tired to stop himself. Aragorn ran forward with a cry, and I too, moved as if to help him up. But something in the snow caught my eye and stopped me.
I picked up the Ring, still hung on its fine Elven chain, lying in the snow.
I barely heard the sounds of Aragorn helping Frodo up as I held up the Ring, staring at its perfect shape and the beautiful golden waves created by the light. I was unable to blink or turn away...I could only stare at the lovely gold band hanging from the chain in my hand.
"Boromir..." How strange. It seemed as though I could hear the Ring speak. "Boromir..." This time I was sure that the Ring was speaking to me. 'What do you want?' my mind asked, and I heard the Ring chuckle lightly, sounding like the soft purr of a cat, soothing and gentle.
"Your name means 'Faithful Jewel,' does it not?" the Ring asks softly, with the sweet voice of a woman.
"And you are faithful to your country, are you not? To Gondor? You would do anything to save it...is that not true?"
I felt my heart skip of beat. 'It is,' I answered slowly. 'But what can be done? If there is still hope left, I cannot see it.'
The Ring purred happily again, and seemed to vibrate on its chain. "Hope is before you. You hold it in your hand, as you know fully. Use Me to save your fair city! How the armies will flock to your banner as you drive the hosts of Mordor away and restore the glory of Gondor! Take Me away from this Halfling who is too blind to see what he could do with Me. You...I have chosen you to be my Bearer now. To you I will give absolute power and wisdom, the Kingship of Gondor...Just put Me on."
My other hand began to slowly reach up toward the Ring. Unable to stop myself, I could only watch in suspense as it moved toward the golden band...
"Boromir," I heard Aragorn call. But I hardly heard him. Vaguely, as if through a dream, I heard my own words.
"It is a strange fate that we should suffer so much fear and doubt, over so small a thing," I murmured, not realizing that I was speaking my thoughts aloud. "Such a little thing..."
"Boromir!" Aragorn said again, more sharply this time. I was jerked out of my reverie, and became aware that everyone was staring at me. I blinked and looked up at Aragorn, my eyes wide.
"Give the Ring to Frodo," the Ranger commanded in a low voice. Still moving as though within a dream, I looked down at the small Halfling standing before him, and slowly approached. When I was within a foot of them, I could see mingled fear and distrust in Frodo's eyes...surely he could not distrust me? My heart clenched painfully as I suddenly realized what I had just been doing, and I wished that I could throw myself down at Frodo's feet and apologize.
But the more prideful part of me would not allow it. Instead, I said, "As you wish." I spoke lightly, but inwardly, I was groaning with frustration at myself. "I care not," I added, holding out the Ring to Frodo.
The hobbit grabbed the Ring from my hand, still seeming distrustful. I tried to give him a reassuring smile, but he would not look up at me. I became aware of Aragorn's piercing stare, and I looked up.
The Ranger's stormy green-grey eyes were hard and dangerous, and I could see his hands on his sword hilt. Surely, there was no need...? I met his stare for a moment, the boastful, proud part of me still in control. After a moment, I could bear it no more, and instead of appearing weak, I gave a snort, as though I truly did not care.
Then I forced a humorless chuckle and ruffled Frodo's hair, trying to assure him that it was all right, that I would not betray his trust. I hoisted my shield onto my back again, and turning, I went back to the others.
They were tensely watching still, and when we continued again, everyone was silent. No one spoke until we stopped for the night at the foot of Caradhras. As was to be expected, Pippin was the first to break the silence.
"I'm hungry," he announced, as brightly as though nothing had happened. With that, the spell was broken, and instantly, the old argument between Legolas and Gimli that had been going on since we'd left Rivendell, began all over again, although this time, they mercifully kept it quiet.
My watch was the first, and Gandalf had decided to share it. I grumbled silently about this at first, believing that no one trusted me any longer - and merely because I had but touched the Ring? - but he did not even look at me, or so it seemed, and simply sat, smoking his pipe in silence at the edge of the camp, and within an hour, it appeared that he had gone to sleep.
Sometime during the middle of my watch, I noticed that Frodo was shivering violently, despite being practically buried beneath several thick blankets, and nestled against Sam, Merry and Pippin. I watched him for a few moments, hoping that he would warm up and settle, but instead, his shivering simply got worse. I could hear his teeth chattering.
I quietly crawled over to him and pulled the blankets up closer around him, but still he shivered. I removed one of my gloves and placed my hand on his small forehead. It was slightly too warm and damp with sweat, and I frowned in concern. From what I'd heard from Merry and Pippin, Frodo had always been prone to illnesses as a lad, and the cold, snowy conditions on Caradhras probably were effecting him more than the rest of us.
Undoing the clasp of my fur-lined cloak, I slid it off my shoulders and draped it on top of the other blankets already covering Frodo. His shivering died down to small trembles within a few moments. I was still concerned about his slight fever, however, and I gently picked the small hobbit up, making sure that he was still warmly covered in the blankets and cloak.
I carried him back to the place where I had been sitting, and sat down, leaning my back against the cold rock behind me. Frodo's eyes opened slowly, and I could see, even in the dim light of the campfire, that they were just slightly unfocused and bright from fever. Blinking a few times, he slowly focused on me, and his eyes opened fully, fear showing clearly in their sapphire depths.
"Boromir?" he gasped hoarsely. "What are you doing?" His voice sounded nearly frantic, and I immediately knew what was troubling him. "Do not fear, little one," I whispered comfortingly, gently stroking his pale cheek with my thumb. "You have a slight fever, and I was just making sure you were alright."
Frodo stared at me a moment, as though trying to decide whether or not to believe me. Then, evidently deciding to trust, he nestled back down in my arms. He closed his eyes, but I could tell from his uneven breathing that he was not yet asleep.
I looked around, hoping that someone would awake and prepare him something for his fever, but no one stirred. I sighed, and looked back down at the little hobbit in my arms, to find him staring at me again.
"How are you feeling?" I asked softly. Frodo frowned slightly, and shifted in my arms.
"I feel...like I have a chill," he answered at last. "But it is not too bad. I'm sure that I only need a good night's rest..." A quiet laugh escaped me, cutting off his words.
"Oh, no you don't, Frodo," I said. "You need more than that. Though I do not doubt that it is merely a cold, I will take no chances. I'm going to wake up Aragorn; he knows many herbs -"
"No, Boromir!" Frodo cried, his voice low and hoarse. "Poor Aragorn has been so concerned for all of us lately, he never gets any rest. I'm fine. There's no need to wake him."
The voice of the object of our discussion stopped my words of protest. "You are correct, Frodo," Aragorn said with a smile, getting out of his sleeping roll and coming over to sit next to us. "There is no need to wake me, for I am already up."
Frodo sighed and lowered his eyes. Aragorn smiled and patted his small hand; I could see the fondness he held, as we all did, for this small, brave halfling. "Do not worry, Frodo. It is nearly my watch, anyway. I appreciate your concern, though," he added with a slight hint of a tease.
Frodo smiled slightly, and Aragorn turned to me. "What is ailing him?" he asked. I told him of Frodo's fever, despite the hobbit's weak protests that he was fine. Aragorn frowned, and placed a hand on Frodo's forehead, brushing back the dark curls. Frodo pursed his lips and resigned himself to the fact that he was going to be tended to, whether he liked it or not.
"I still have some athelas in my pack," Aragorn said after a moment. "I'll go fetch some and brew some tea to mix it into." He smiled again, and with another pat of Frodo's hand, he left. Judging by the hobbit's slight cringe, I assumed that the athelas did not taste pleasant.
It took a great deal of convincing from Aragorn and I before Frodo would swallow the athelas tea. After that, the fever receded, and he no longer trembled. It was not long before he had fallen asleep again.
"Do you think his illness is serious?" I asked Aragorn softly, after a long while of silence.
Looking down at the sleeping hobbit in my arms with a fond smile, Aragorn shook his head. "Nay," he whispered. "I think that 'twas merely a small cold. With warmth and the athelas tea, it should be gone by tomorrow."
There was silence again, broken only by Sam's soft snoring. I smiled. That hobbit never failed to fall into a deep sleep when we rested, although he usually awoke at the slightest stir from Frodo. How he did it, I will never know.
Strange, I thought suddenly, that Sam did not wake when Frodo began shivering. And he'd barely stirred at all when I'd picked his master up, nor had he reacted at all to our voices.
As though sensing the object of my thoughts, Aragorn smiled almost sheepishly, and suddenly, I understood. "Did you slip something into Sam's drink at supper tonight?" I asked suspiciously, one eyebrow raised.
Aragorn chuckled softly. "He needed the sleep. I've watched him; he's not slept at all for days. And he will need all his strength for tomorrow's climb."
I shook my head with a smile. "Perhaps we should do the same for you," I mused. "I'll be sure to mention it to the hobbits in the morning."
"We could do it for you, as well," Aragorn retorted. "Do not act innocent. I have watched you, too, Boromir. You've barely slept at all, either."
Now it was my turn to look sheepish. "I have slept," I protested weakly. But I knew from Aragorn's grin that he did not believe me. I sighed and looked back down at Frodo. His pale, Elvish face was peaceful, and the small frown of worry that always marred his youthful features was smoothed away. I smiled with relief; it was comforting to know that the hobbit escaped from his worries and burden at least once in a while, even if it was only in sleep.
"I'm going to put him back to bed," I whispered to Aragorn, who nodded, taking his pipe from his pack and lighting it. I will never understand that; the men of Gondor, for the most part, do not smoke, and I do not see the appeal in it. I tried once, when Pippin offered me his pipe and weed, but very nearly gagged within the first minute of using it, much to his and Merry's amusement.
I carefully laid Frodo back down in his bedroll, making sure not to disturb Merry or Pippin, who slept soundly beside him. I had no such fear for Sam, assured now that he would sleep until morning. Frodo barely stirred as I wrapped the blankets around him, but I heard him sigh softly, and Sam's arm immediately curled protectively over his master's side. As I was about to turn away, I heard a whispered, "Thank you, Boromir." I turned back around, but Frodo had buried his face in the pillow, and his deep, even breathing assured me that he was asleep.
I smiled as I returned to Aragorn, and found that the Ranger was watching the hobbits and smiling, as well.
"Perhaps I should take one of the hobbits to Minas Tirith with me," I said, mostly in jest, but with a touch of seriousness. "They would certainly cheer my father."
Aragorn smiled and took a puff of his pipe. "That they would," he agreed. "They could be pets."
I chuckled softly. "Yes, they would make very fine pets. They are certainly food-motivated; perhaps I could teach them to do tricks!"
We both laughed, and I felt a growing companionship with Aragorn. He seemed willing to forget about what had happened that afternoon and start anew, as was I. In this strange Fellowship of diverse cultures, it seemed to me that the only two Men should form a friendship.
We sat in pleasant silence for a long while, Aragorn puffing his pipe quietly. Without realizing it, I suddenly yawned. Aragorn looked at me with a smile.
"Take some rest," he said, giving me a pat on the shoulder. "Your watch is over now."
I was about to protest, but suddenly, I realized that I was indeed, very tired. Yawning, I nodded, mumbling something that sounded unintelligible, even to me, and walked sleepily over to my bedroll. I flopped down gratefully into it, and pulled the blankets up to my chin, pleased to have a chance to forget my worry and cares for a while. It was not long before I fell asleep, and remembered nothing until morning.
The next day, after a hearty breakfast provided by the hobbits, we began to climb Caradhras. Of the first day of our climb, nothing much was to be said. Frodo's fever had disappeared entirely, and although he was tired, cold and wet like the rest of us by that evening, there were no lingering effects, and he seemed perfectly fine.
It was on the second day that things began to worsen. Caradhras does not have an evil name for nothing; the snowstorm that engulfed us was fierce and unrelenting. The snow was up to our waists, and so Aragorn and I carried the hobbits, two each. I kept Merry and Pippin pressed close to me, trying to keep them warm and sheltered form the howling wind with my cloak. They did not complain, but they were too cold to talk, and by the afternoon (or as near to it as I could tell, with the sky grey and cloudy), we were all depressed and melancholy.
But only Legolas, the Elf, was not disheartened. I suppose that was because he was able to walk over the snow, instead of being sunk in it up to his waist. He trotted lightly ahead of us, and I couldn't help but grumble silently to myself. Gimli, trailing behind and leading Bill, the pony, voiced his grumbles aloud, even over the howling wind.
Legolas, well ahead of us, suddenly stopped and turned. "There is a fell voice on the air!" he cried over the wind. I strained my ears, and I could indeed hear a faint voice, chanting something in a foreign language.
"It's Saruman!" Gandalf shouted, just as a sudden rumble sounded loudly above us. We looked up to see a large group of boulders tumbling down towards us. Everyone quickly pressed close against the side of the mountain, and thankfully, no one was injured.
"He's trying to bring down the mountain!" Aragorn shouted over the wind. "We must turn back!"
"No!" Gandalf yelled back. The fool! Was he trying to kill us all?
Gandalf climbed out onto a snow-buried rock and raised his staff, shouting some sort of chant. It mingled with the first voice, chilling my blood even more than the snow and wind. I felt Merry and Pippin press closer against me, no doubt as unnerved as I. Everyone watched in silence, wondering what the wizard was doing.
Suddenly, the clouds grew darker, and a thick, blinding stroke of lightning hit the top of Caradhras, dislodging even larger boulders and gathering up snow as they plummeted down towards us. I saw Legolas jump forward and push Gandalf against the side of the mountain, as we all did the same. Then, there was a great roar, and when next I opened my eyes, we were buried under snow!
For a moment, I could not tell which way was up. I still felt Merry and Pippin clinging to me, and from somewhere in front of me, I heard the sounds of someone escaping from the snow. I began to burrow in the direction I hoped was upwards. Thankfully, I had chosen right, and within a few minutes, Merry, Pippin and I had broken the service and were gasping and choking on snow.
The rest of the Fellowship - including Bill the pony - were already out and doing the same. I looked down at Merry and Pippin, taking in their bright red noses and cheeks, snow-covered hair and faces, and my heart ached for them. I am not usually moved to pity, but these hobbits have the ability not only to display emotion, but also to invoke it in others.
I tried to warm them with my cloak again, though it was covered in snow, and I looked up at Gandalf. "We must get off the mountain!" I pleaded over the wind. "Make for the Gap of Rohan, and take the west road to my city!"
"The Gap of Rohan brings us too close to Isengard!" Aragorn protested. Gandalf said nothing.
"If we cannot pass over the mountain," Gimli spoke up, his beard white with snow. "Let us go under it. Let us go through the Mines of Moria."
Something grew in Gandalf's eyes that I had not ever seen there: fear. Still, he said nothing, and the rest of us watched tensely. I had heard of Moria, the great Dwarven-city of old, and it had nearly as much of an evil name as Caradhras itself. But I could see where Aragorn was correct: the Gap of Rohan was too close to Isengard, and we could not possibly hope to continue on Caradhras. But where then would we go?
Then at last, Gandalf spoke. "Let the Ring-bearer decide," he said slowly. "Frodo?"
Everyone turned to look at the small halfling, who stared at Gandalf in surprise. It did not seem fair to place such a decision upon Frodo; he already had enough cares on his mind. I saw him glance at Sam, no doubt taking in his red nose and cheeks, and chattering teeth; and out of the corner of his eye, I saw him look back at Merry and Pippin, as well.
Finally, he turned back to Gandalf. "We will go through the Mines."
Gandalf nodded slowly, as though Frodo's words were sealing some doom. "So be it."
For myself, I supported Frodo's decision. Surely the Mines could not be more deadly than Caradhras or the Gap of Rohan, and at least they would be warm. Gimli, also, was pleased with the verdict, and did not scold Bill the entire way down - I even heard him praise the little pony once.
It was a long and weary descent, but by the next day, we had at last reached the foot of Caradhras. We rested for a while, and when we started again, I looked back at the cruel mountain that had defeated us.
It glimmers maliciously in the winter sun, as though amused by our efforts to conquer it. It almost seems to laugh at us as we turn our backs, and trudge wearily after Gandalf.
I can only pray that the Mines will not be so cruel.
~To Be Continued~
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