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78
Journey Divided

Written for the LOTR-Community Light and Shadow Challenge, a gapfiller after the Breaking of the Fellowship. Beta by RiverOtter.

Particularly for Dreamflower.


~~~

Journey Divided


Sam rose from laying his final branch over the silver Elven boat, wiping his hands on his trousers. His Master was just dragging a large bough alongside the boat on the side looking toward the water. Once he had it placed to his satisfaction he also stood up, breathing heavily as he sought out Sam’s gaze. “Good enough, do you think?” he asked quietly.

“Nothin’ will ever be quite enough, I suspect, not with the way as the Enemy’s folks seem able to find what they’re lookin’ for. But I fear as it’ll have to do. We don’t have time to do things right, I’m thinkin’.”

Frodo nodded. “It’s time to go on,” he sighed. “We cannot stay here--if any come to the river’s bank on either side we would be seen.” With a gesture of his head he led the way southeastward around the base of the hill that rose here, giving a swift, almost regretful glance upwards toward its top before turning his gaze decidedly along their path.

Sam took a last glance westward, although from here he could not see the lawn at the base of Amon Hen from which they’d set out about an hour past. Frodo Baggins, he noted, had refused to look back at all, his posture stiff with purpose.

As they skirted the southern margins of the hill, the gardener asked, “I suppose as this hill’s got a name, too, same as the other one?”

Frodo nodded absently, murmuring, “Amon Lhaw. The Hill of Hearing.”

“And the other’s called the Hill of Seeing?” Sam asked.

“Yes.”

Something in the terse manner in which that was said caught Sam’s attention. Somethin’ happened up there on the hill, then, he thought, noting the way his Master’s jaw was now clenched. “Why do they call them such names?” he asked.

Frodo shrugged.

After a moment Sam tried again. “Who named them?”

At first Frodo didn’t answer. Only when the gardener came abreast of his Master as they passed around the trunk of a great tree, Frodo finally answered, “The old Kings of Gondor named them that, Isildur and Anárion, Aragorn’s ancestors. Since we came through the Argonath, past the two great statues of the first Kings, so much of what I learned of the old tales from Bilbo and there in Rivendell has come back to me, and is falling into place.

“On the west side of the river they named the hill Amon Hen, the Hill of Seeing, and on the top of it is a great platform, and on it a high seat. The King could come there and sit upon the high seat, and in looking out from it could see what went on throughout the realm. If he looked south and west he could see all that went on in Gondor; directly west he could look into the lands of Anórien and Calenardhon, which is now called--Rohan, I believe. Directly south he looked into a forested land--I do not remember its name. Through it runs the great South Road that leads to Umbar and Harad. North he could look toward a land called Rhovanion, where lie the Lonely Mountain, the Long Lake with Laketown, Dale, Mirkwood and the lands of the Eotheod and the Beornings, and, of course, Lo--the hidden lands of the Elves. And to the east, Rhûn, and southeast to--Mordor. The Black Gate is the entrance to that land, and lies at the northwest corner.”

He paused, looking back along the way they’d come for the first time, then up at the hill about which they walked. “I understand there’s a similar platform or pavement and high seat on top of this hill as well; and here the King would come to listen to the world about him.”

“Strider said as he thought you went up the hill over there,” Sam commented.

Frodo turned his attention to him, surprised. “Did he? You were with him?”

“Well, when Mr. Boromir come back and said as he’d seen you on the side of the hill, we all went off lookin’ for you, you see. Mr. Merry and Mr. Pippin--they went runnin’ off together, and Strider sent Boromir after them to see to it as they didn’t run into trouble. Was rather suspicious when Boromir said as you’d apparently put on the Ring and disappeared.”

Frodo paled, although his cheeks flushed the more. Sam noted that, and suddenly understood.

“He tried to take the Ring, didn’t he?” Sam hazarded.

His Master sighed and leaned his weight against the trunk of the tree beside which he’d paused, closing his eyes; and Sam realized just how much the events of the day so far had drained the older Hobbit. He knew his guess was right, but that Frodo Baggins would not wish to admit this. “He’s thought of it as a weapon he could use from the moment as he laid eyes on it in Rivendell,” Sam said.

“It’s no weapon--It’s a curse!” Frodo answered shortly, lifting his water bottle and removing its cork so as to take a drink.

“And that’s what got you screwed up to leave finally,” Sam mused. “He was lookin’ mighty shamed when him come back to us.”

Frodo merely looked at him over his water bottle as he swallowed. At last he dropped both eyes and bottle, almost savagely replacing the seal.

“I was lookin’ for you on the side of the hill, goin’ up the old path and steps,” Sam went on, “when Strider passed me. Told me to follow him, but I couldn’t keep up as he went to the top. That’s when I thought of what you’d do, and come back down again. When I saw that boat lookin’ empty but headin’ across the lake--I knew as I was right.”

“I was going to go alone,” Frodo said.

“I know. But you’ll need me--I know it. No one should do this alone.”

“I couldn’t take the rest with me--and especially not Aragorn. They need him--I know it.”

“And who’s the ones what need him?” Sam asked. “The others?”

Frodo searched his gaze before answering, “He’s meant to be king, Sam. Boromir’s right--they need him in Gondor. He is needed in the fight. I can’t take him to----” He paused and swallowed. “They need him there--alive.”

“And you’re afraid as the others wouldn’t survive in Mordor?” Sam suggested.

“I don’t want to lead anyone else to death.” Frodo’s eyes were steady.

Sam decided to follow his Master’s example and pulled out his own water bottle, saying as he uncorked it, “There’s no certainty as any of us’d die, Mr. Frodo, sir.” Frodo was quiet as he drank, and he turned his eyes away moodily to look up the hill.

“Well,” Sam asked as he recorked his bottle, “you think as you should go up this hill, too, like you did over there? Listen to what the winds might tell you?”

Frodo shuddered. “No!” he said in whispered vehemence. “His Eye almost saw me up on Amon Hen! I certainly saw--what he’s doing! There are orcs and armies everywhere, gathering in all directions. They are marching to war as we speak!”

He leaned forward intently. “I saw what he intends, and some sight of his land. It is terrible, Sam! I cannot say how it is that we will enter Mordor, much less how we can hope to cross its wastes to the Mountain, although we must at least try. I do not wish to hear him also, not more than I have already.” His hand was splayed over the place where the Ring lay under his shirt. “I already hear too much of his will--I do not need more. There can be too much knowing, I find.”

For the moment the intense fear Frodo felt was all too easily discerned by his gardener, and Sam felt himself quailing before it. If Mr. Frodo felt this way, what hope was there?

But then his own courage surged forward, and he knew it must do for both of them during those times when his Master’s own hope was beaten back. “Well, if’n you think as you’d learn naught as might help, then maybe you’re right as we should just keep goin’ around the hill instead. But I’m thinkin’ as you’ll need to rest soon enough. When we come t’some stream or somethin’ like, we’d best look for a place in what cover as we can find. From what Gimli said of the hills o’ rock ahead, we’ll not find much of comfort there.”

Frodo gave another glance upward, then turned his gaze purposefully ahead. “You are probably right, but I wish to go on now. I do not wish Aragorn or Legolas to find us, should they be following us.” So saying, he straightened and pushed himself away from the tree, and Sam followed him.

As Sam again came even with the taller Hobbit he said, “One thing, with but the two of us--we can hide better in the shadows than all eight.”

Frodo nodded, but said nothing as he found a way through the underbrush, continuing south and east. But Sam had seen the one tear that rolled down his Master’s cheek, and knew that Frodo felt grief at having left the others behind.

Near sunset they found such a place as Sam had hoped for. It lay just below the top of a gorge, shielded from view by low, scratchy bushes and a twisted, dying tree. A slender stream of water stayed a moment in a shallow stone pool before plunging over the side down into the larger stream that fed into the Falls of Rauros. Sam made certain Frodo ate a full wafer of lembas and was wrapped in both blankets before he filled the water bottles and set himself on guard.

Sam looked uncertainly at the way ahead, leading as it did over stark ridges of stone. “Looks right inhospitable,” he murmured to himself. “Don’t see as how we’re to get through all that. But we’ll do our best, we will. There’s nothin’ for it but to try.”

He pulled his Elven cloak more tightly about him.

He’d thought Frodo long asleep when he heard whispered into the dark, “Pippin, Merry, Aragorn--I hope you understand. I want you safe, there in the sunlight; not heading to darkness with me!”

Sam shook his head. What safety was there in these wild lands, really?

*******


Gollum had paddled his log into a sunless hollow between two great rocks lying off the foot of the great hill that formed the steep-sided island of Tol Brandir that split the great waterfall. Perhaps no Man had set foot on the Lonely Island, but Gollum was not a Man and had not been strictly mortal for a very long time. Once the Yellow Face went down he intended to climb the nearly sheer rocks. There were lots of birds that nested on the island--lots of crunchable birds and their eggses. He would eat tonight. And then, through the shadows, he would follow the Baggins that carried the Precious. He did not understand this Baggins--a different one from the thief who’d stolen his Precious so long ago. But he had the Precious--he could feel It pulling at him, calling to him.

Oh, but he would follow the Baggins. He would get his Precious back, he would. But first he must eat!

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