The next few days were largely uneventful. Boredom began to set in, but for the few, occasional mutterings from Frodo, as he roused himself from the all too natural stupor, and looked to the South. To Mordor. To the place where the fate of Middle Earth would be decided. To the place where HE would be the one to decide it.
Sam, in front of Frodo on Gwaihir, turned back, sensing his friend’s pensiveness. “Mr. Frodo?” His brow furrowed. “Are you alright?”
Frodo merely nodded, and Sam frowned. “No, you’re not…. Of course you’re not…. What’s wrong, Mr. Frodo? You’re not yourself….”
Frodo shook his head, agreeing. “No, I’m not, and haven’t been, since this thing began…. And won’t be, ever again, I’m thinking.”
Sam nodded. “It’s that thing. That blasted thing around your neck. We all know it. It’s getting harder for you, every second that we draw closer to that awful, dreadful, cursed place. We all know it. We all see it. We all think about it, and it is often all too clear upon our faces.”
“It will use me up, Sam, this quest….”
“We all KNOW about it…. And yet, we never, never talk about it!” His voice rose suddenly, heatedly, passionately. “Why?! Why don’t we talk about it?! It’s idiocy, it is, avoiding a subject so obviously on everybody’s mind!”
“If everybody KNOWS, as you say, what POINT in talking about it, Sam?”
“What point in NOT?”
“Silence can be so… reassuring….”
“And uncomfortable…. Both at once, sometimes….” He shivered. “I’m tangled, Mr. Frodo. A tangle of emotions, and fears.”
“What emotions, Sam? What fears? Death?”
“Death, no…. Of what will happen, should the Quest fail…. You fear it, as I do. No point denying it. I can read it on your face. In your eyes. Your mask slips, more and more, every inch closer we get. You’re AFRAID. TERRIFIED….”
Again, Frodo merely nodded. He looked over, to the Eagle on their right. Legolas and Gimli. No longer insulting each other, having grown weary of it, and resigned to merely sit silently, not speaking to each other, or the Eagle, or any of the others. And Boromir, behind them, gazing out lazily. The monotony of the trip got to him, Frodo thought, most of all. Even Aragorn, being a Ranger, was used to nearly constant travel. But Boromir, being the eldest son of the Steward, was used to action. Used to different tasks, other than sitting in one spot day after day, watching the smoke looming in the distance. Used to war, to court, to diplomacy. To addressing crowds. Now, he did none of those things. Though they were technically at war, they never did any fighting, save for Legolas and Gimli, fighting each other, and any others that got between them. The Valar knew, Aragorn had tried often enough, but without Gandalf, there was no hope for it. They merely side-stepped Aragorn, never having either the desire, or the nerve, to strike him, with blade, hand, words, or blunt object, and continued to fight. But the battles and name-calling had grown tiresome, even for the two hurling epithets at each other, and most everybody had remained silent for some time now.
Or had, anyway, until Sam had broken it.
Inwardly, he smiled. Leave it to Sam. Good old Sam, trustworthy, blindly loyal, quick to help, and, for the most part, even tempered. Except, of course, when it came to Frodo’s well being.
He turned, and looked to the Eagle on his left. Aragorn, in front of Merry and Pippin, leaned forward, and said something to the Eagle. His stomach twisted. They had had a third rider, on Gwaihir, once. he looked at the rope tied around his waist, which kept him from falling far, should he fall at all. He sighed. If only they’d had the rope a day sooner. Then, Gandalf would still be there. But, he was not, and so, they looked to Aragorn for guidance. But, at least, if not Gandalf, it WAS Aragorn, and not, for instance, Pippin. for that, he was grateful. he shuddered again. Pippin? In charge? Of something as important as this? He shook his head. Trust Pippin to organize a raid of Farmer Maggot’s fields, perhaps, but not the journey that would decide the fate of Middle Earth. No, for that, there was still Aragorn. For the time being.
Speaking of Aragorn, or thinking, rather, he sat back, now finished talking to the Eagle, who called something to the other two, in a language only the Eagles could understand. They started to descend, and landed in a grassy clearing in the forest.
They all gladly climbed off, and scattered. All, except Sam, who had finally fallen asleep after his brief talk with Frodo.
Frodo sighed, walking deeper into the woods. He watched his feet for a few moments, as he moved farther and farther away, from the clearing, the Eagles, the Fellowship (or what remained of it, anyway.)…. As he left behind his responsibility. His hand went instantly to his neck. No, not the responsibility; he still had the Ring. THE RING. HOW could he have forgotten? It was heavy. So VERY heavy, now.
And then, abruptly, all thoughts of the Ring were driven from his mind. The Light. the Light! So bright a white, BLINDING him. He looked ahead. He could barely make out a figure, using a staff to walk. His belly twisted. The White Wizard, then. Quickly, Frodo shouted for help. Aragorn came running, followed by Legolas, Gimli, and a rather disgruntled Boromir.
Aragorn bent toward Frodo, to say something, but he never heard it. It was never uttered, because Aragorn, glancing up, and seeing the Light, stopped all movement, stayed all speech. The others did the same.
Suddenly, Aragorn turned. “Do not let him speak! He has a sweet tongue, but it will poison you.”
They all nodded. Aragorn drew his sword, but dropped it. Boromir did much the same. Gimli threw his axe at the shining figure. It was easily knocked aside, as was Legolas’s arrow.
“Fools.” Called a voice, strange, but yet, somehow, oddly familiar. “Fools,” It repeated. “All of you, I think…. Attacking something you do not know…. And, not knowing, cannot possibly understand….”
The Light faded, and the Wizard stood plainly before them. Then, they all gasped. Aragorn moved forward, incredulous. “Gandalf?!”
The old man nodded. “Yes…. Though, not quite the same….” He surveyed the lot of them silently for a moment. “And neither, I think, are any of you.”
They merely stared at him, still and silent.
The Wizard nodded again, still surveying. “Changed…. Forever….” He moved forward more, speaking plainly. “I have been sent back,” He said, “because my work, as yet, is unfinished.” He smiled a bit. “But, now…. We are somewhat lacking in numbers. I see one hobbit, where are the other three?”
A voice drifted out from the trees nearby. “Right here.” Pippin stepped out, flanked by Merry, and, of course, Sam, who ran instantly to Frodo’s side, gapin at Gandalf, hardly daring to believe it.
Gandalf showed a slight hint of annoyance, and looked at Pippin. “Fool of a Took! I suppose you were never taught any manners? It’s impolite to eavesdrop.”
Pippin’s brows rose. “Why, yes, sir, I was taught….” He shrugged. “I just never bothered to learn….”
Merry laughed, until he looked up and saw the look on the Wizard’s face.
Apparently, the Wizard could not put into words the anger and annoyance he was feeling. He merely closed his eyes for a moment, before opening them, and turning away from Pippin and Merry. “Come, let us go back, I must speak to Gwaihir….”
They all nodded, and started back. Gandalf grabbed Frodo by the shoulder, holding him back, until he was sure they were all out of hearing range, even Legolas. Then he turned, and spoke, in a low whisper. “Even in total darkness, there is a light, Frodo….”
Frodo looked up, confused. “That makes no sense…. If it is totally dark, how can there be a–“
“Think, Frodo.” The wizard cut him off. “That is no ordinary toy, that the Lady gave you…. Though it is rather a fun toy.”
Dark brows knitted together, in a slight scowl. “What do you–“
“Take it out, and you will soon see, what I mean….”
Frodo nodded, and did as he was commanded, holding the yo-yo of Earendil in his palm. But nothing happened.
“Wait….” Gandalf said simply.