The scramble up from the river was a distant memory. Or so it seemed as they trudged along. The ground had begun to get rougher, more rocks poking through the dirt. They were on the threshold of Emyn Muil. While they were still under the cover of the trees, albeit a little sparse, Sam thought this would be a good time to bring up his discomfort.
“Begging your pardon, Mr. Frodo,” Sam began, “Do you mind if we stop for just a bit?”
“Don’t tell my you’re tired already, Sam?” Frodo asked curtly. He was anxious to put as much distance between himself and those orcs. And Boromir.
“No, just a little damp.”
Sam was still dripping from his swim in the river; his shirt clung to his skin, his cloak heavy with water hung backwards pulling down on his throat, pack filled with water. Frodo could not believe he hadn’t said anything before now. But, that was Sam, easy-going, not one to make a fuss. In fact, he was still standing there, wet from head to toe, waiting for Frodo’s approval to stop.
“Sam, for pity’s sake,” Frodo scolded his friend as he relieved him of his pack, “You should have said something sooner.”
“I knew you wanted to go, you’re mind being made up and all,” Sam peeled off his coat. “Didn’t want to slow you down by complaining.”
Even though they were under the cover of the forest still, Frodo found a bright patch of sun to lay Sam’s cloak and shirt out to dry. He put the jacket on a log, hoping the breeze would dry that quickly. That left only his pants.
Sam looked up at Frodo and blushed. “Oh, no, Mr. Frodo. I’m keeping my pants, if you don’t mind. Look, they’re almost dry as it is,” and he wrung out his left pants leg, leaving a puddle beneath him.
“That’s dry to you?” Frodo asked with one eyebrow raised.
“Dry enough,” Sam mumbled. He changed the subject quickly by looking at his waterlogged pack. “Everything’s spoiled, Mr. Frodo. There’s nothing left that’s not sopping wet.” To illustrate his point, he pulled out a bag that at one time contained corn meal, but now seeped mush. “What a fool I was, wading into the river with my pack on. Now I’ll be nothing but a burden to you, Mr. Frodo.” He kicked at his soggy pack. “Samwise, you idiot!”
Frodo’s heart went out to his friend. He tried so hard to be useful by doing everything. When would he realize that all he need do for me is just be Sam? “We can find food on the way, forage off the land.”
Rolling his eyes, Sam said, “We’re going to Mordor, Mr. Frodo. I don’t think we’ll be finding strawberries and taters lining the pathways to that place.” He sat down hard, disgusted with himself. “If only I had grabbed some of that elven bread,” he mumbled to himself as he smacked his hand against his forehead in yet another self-depreciating gesture.
“Lembas! Sam, that’s it!”
“Of course, if I had gotten some on the other shore, it would be wet, just like everything else.” He began to smack harder.
“Sam, there is lembas in the boat we took down by the shore,” Frodo said excitedly as he staid Sam’s hand. “I’ll go get it.”
Sam jerked Frodo back. “Nothing doing, Mr. Frodo. Those nasty orcs could be swarming all over the far shore just waiting for a glimpse of you and the Ring.” He stood up. “I’ll go. I’m the one that put us in this mess in the first place.” Reaching for his shirt, Sam told his friend to stay put. “Don’t go anywhere. I had the devil of a time finding you the last time.”
Frodo sat down on the log as he was told. He didn’t have to like it, though.
Sam struggled into his still damp shirt. “I’ll only be a minute.” He dashed off back to the shore.
After several minutes of no activity, Frodo was a nervous wreck. He had to do something, anything to keep his mind occupied and his hands out of mischief. He began to rummage through Sam’s pack to see if his friend, gleefully given to hyperbole, was telling the whole truth about their food situation.
Sam had been right this time; everything was a soggy mess, including the small bundle of mushrooms he had carted with him all the way from the Shire. Only two things had survived his heroic plunge into the river, besides the metal pans and cloth that would dry: his gift from Galadriel and a small wooden box Frodo found wound tightly in one of Sam’s extra shirts. The rope was dry to the touch, as if it hadn’t been in the pack at all. Real elvish rope, indeed. The small box intrigued Frodo, but he set it aside, not wanting to invade Sam’s privacy. That was it, that’s all they had to take with them into Mordor. All the determination he had felt while standing on the far shore seemed to seep away as he looked at Sam’s empty pack. What had I been thinking? Without realizing, his hand drifted up to the chain around his neck. Searching fingers found the Ring. He had no desire to put it on, just now, but, feeling the coolness against his chest, the smooth simplicity of its design, calmed him. His shirt between, he held it, letting his mind go blank.
It was whispering, as it often did. It was teasing, promising, cajoling, pleading, threatening…
His eyes snapped open. He hadn’t even realized he had closed them. Quickly dropping the Ring, he replaced it against his chest, (how could something so cool to the touch radiate so much heat?), and went to check on the progress of Sam’s drying clothes. Not yet, he decided on the jacket, still very wet on the edges.
He felt rather than heard a disturbance behind him. Spinning around, he saw nothing save the scrub tress that had been with him all this time. Straining his eyes to penetrate the forest, he glanced in a wide circle about him, but spotted nothing out of the ordinary. The sound of something passing played with the leaves on the forest floor. The hairs on the back of his neck stood on end, and he found his hand clutching the Ring. The feeling of being the object of something’s intense stare bore into him and the need to hide was overwhelming.
He found cover behind the drying log, his body pressed against the lichen- covered bark. Calm for only a few moments, those staring, unseen eyes returned. Nearly stricken by the intense sensation of being watched, Frodo clawed at his chest to find the Ring. Not enough anymore to just hold it, he needed to feel the metal against his palm, in his hand where it belonged. Those eyes hiding out there in the trees wanted it, he could sense its desire to posses it. Panic was mingled with an almost desperate fear of losing the Ring. He could not let that happen, would not let anyone take the Ring from him. It was his burden to carry, it was his chore, it was his.
The Ring was poised over his hand, eager to slip onto his finger. It would be easy to disappear from those eyes. The Ring would help him escape that stare. Softly, a voice whispered to him, one that sounded like his own, reminding him that, if he did put on the Ring, another eye, only one greater and more malevolent, would be watching. And from that eye he would never escape, no matter where he hid. His finger fell away from the Ring and the forest around him came back into existence.
The sounds of someone lumbering up through the trees brought orcs back to mind, those bent on his destruction. Right now they were the bigger threat. Pushing himself further into the ground, Frodo had to believe that he was well hidden enough if the approaching footsteps were the enemy.
“Mr. Frodo!” Sam called as he rushed up the hill. Holding above his head a large pack filled to the brim, he shouted, “I found it, Mr. Frodo! And there’s enough in here for 3 trips to Mordor and back again.” Frodo sat up from his hiding spot behind the log, glad it had been Sam and not orcs who had come from the shore. Seeing him on the ground, Sam frowned. “Here now, this won’t do.” He dropped the lembas bread and ran to help Frodo. “What’re doing down there? Looks like you were hiding. Not from me, I hope.”
Frodo laughed at the weak joke distracting Sam and freeing himself from telling the truth. He realized, as he ran the last few minutes back in his head, how silly the whole thing would sound. No need to worry Sam needlessly, (for worry he would), or steal his thunder over his great deed.
“Just playing around, Sam,” Frodo answered, forcing a smile.
Sam knelt down by his almost dry pack and began to transfer the elven bread from one to the other. “Begging you pardon, Mr. Frodo, but that wasn’t at all funny.”
Frodo covered the awkward silence that followed by checking on Sam’s jacket. It was not completely dry, but it would do. “What did you see on shore?” he asked, handing Sam his jacket. “Any orcs?”
The lembas bread being safely stowed, Sam broke open one the leaves in which the bread was stored and handed Frodo a piece. “No, all was quiet down there. Strange thing, though, there was only one boat at the shore.”
“One boat?” That could mean nothing, or everything. Someone had followed them to the western shore. If they were lucky it had been Aragorn or Legolas searching for the two missing hobbits. Or the boat could have been used by the orcs and they were now combing these woods for him. Yet, neither of those could be, for both would have stumbled across them by now, or in one way or another made their presence known. The only alternative was…Frodo stomach fell to his feet as the feeling of being watched returned.
Sam stopped before he took his first bite. “Something wrong, Mr. Frodo?” All the color had run from his friend’s face and his eyes began to dart to and fro, searching the woods, for what Sam didn’t have a clue. “What is it, Mr. Frodo? Do you see something out there?” Nervously, Sam swept his eyes around, trying to spot what had caused Frodo’s reaction. There was nothing. “Tell me what’s wrong!” Frodo still did not respond, but seemed to shrink back from a demon that only he could see. His hand was clutching at the front of his shirt, his eyes wild. “Frodo, tell me what’s wrong?”
The eyes were closer now, drilling into his flesh. He knew who it was now, had felt that intense hatred and lust for the Ring before. “Boromir,” he whispered, knuckles white where they held the Ring, “Boromir wants it.”
Not quite clear on all points, Sam did understand that something, or someone, had frightened Frodo. Rushing as fast as he could, he began to toss everything into his pack. They had out stayed their welcome here. It had been foolish of him to have risked Frodo’s safety over something as trivial as his wet clothes. He wouldn’t let that happen again. “It’s time to go, Mr. Frodo. We’ve lingered here too long, as it is.” Without waiting for his assent, Sam grabbed Frodo’s arm and literally dragged him away. “We’ve got to leave now, Mr. Frodo.”
As Sam trudged up the hill, at a pace quicker than before, Frodo was gradually released from those watching eyes. Soon he was able to walk without Sam, and as they put more distance behind them, Frodo began to rationalize what he had experienced back there in the woods. Just a delayed reaction to Boromir’s treachery, that’s all it had been. Talking about it, telling Sam of Boromir, helped him ease the burden on his heart. Of course, his story made the color rise in Sam’s cheeks with anger, but there was nothing to be done. They were in the best possible position when it came to Boromir and his lust for the Ring: far away.
The end of day brought them to the last ridge before Emyn Muil. Both were too exhausted to face that ordeal just yet. A narrow outcropping provided them shelter for the night. Frodo was asleep almost instantly, but Sam lay awake straining to listen to all the night sounds in that unfamiliar place. Once he thought he heard a hissing, but brushed that aside as his own mind’s nonsense. Sleep eventually took him, and, as he drifted away, he told himself, in order to secure Frodo’s safety, he would have to learn the art of sleeping with one eye open.
A pair of eyes glinted in the pale light provided by a moon barely visible behind thin clouds. They watched the sleeping hobbits with contempt.
It had almost been ours, had almost touched it again, but that stupid, fat one came back and ruined everything. They thought they had tricked me, using the boat, leaving the others, but we were smarter then them, weren’t we, precious, yes, smarter. We followed the precious across the water, thought they could loose us in the woods, but no. We will always follow the precious, follows it no matter what. Get the precious back, back from those dirty, little thieves.
Those eyes filled with malice and addiction watched and waited.
No need to do it right now, no, not now. Must wait for the right time. Time when it’s safe for us. They we will takes the precious back! Take it back for us. Take it back, no matter what.
Frodo woke in the night, his hand wound around the ring. Sam slept soundly despite his awkward position. It was all clear to him now, the answer bringing no comfort. Boromir had not followed them across the river, it had been another. This one more tormented and obsessed by the Ring over his long years of possession. Even though the sun had yet to brighten the horizon, Frodo could not sleep. He lay on the cold harsh stone gazing out in to the darkness, one thought consuming him. We are not alone.